Smoked fish has many histories – and ours officially began back in the 90’s. To celebrate our 20-year anniversary, we have collected stories from all over Northern Waters Smokehaus for every year we’ve been in business. Our deli opened its doors in 2001 and basically hit the ground running. We’ve been selling smoked fish, meats, salumi, and sandwiches out of that little location for so long that some regulars call us an institution (thanks, y’all). However, our company was actually founded in 1998 on separate banks of Lake Superior almost single-handedly by co-owner Eric Goerdt.
Fresh from his experiences in Alaska and Hawaii, Eric had already begun to make his way into the Twin Ports community. He worked for the Coast Guard inspecting ships for safety and had started several key relationships through this work. As a petty officer, he wasn’t required to wear his uniform on inspections. Eric, ever the rebel, would run around ore boats in his civies, scampering from rivet to trivet, cracking jokes and making folks laugh. “The food on those ships is AMAZING,” said Eric when I asked him about those days. “They ate like farmers – piles of gravy, pork chops, pies: they didn’t have that much (pastime) activity, so food was a big deal.”
Eric consequently started selling the sailors smoked fish – a perfect fit for his burgeoning career. By the end of 1998, he had fine-tuned some recipes and had enough of a business plan to get to work, smoking salmon in small batches at a nondescript business center in Superior, WI. His limited equipment meant a lot of cleaning: he had to fully hose down the one cooler he used in between raw and cooked, so he was constantly busy. As he smoked and cleaned, drove and hustled fish at the ports, his local following grew. “I put the fish in a little cooler in the lobby,” he remembered, “with a bucket beside it for the honor system – it worked!” People from all over the Twin Ports began gobbling down the miraculous kippered fish. When the fish was cooling, he would head over to a tiny brew pub, Twin Ports Brewery, to socialize and drink microbrews (Eric knows as much about beer as anyone I’ve ever met, and even had some rough plans to run his own pub until he realized he might miss out on some elements of family life if he was at a bar until the wee hours). It was at TPB that he met even more people – people who would become close friends and customers. The adventure had begun!