Providing the Midwest with the opportunity to experience the satisfaction of fresh seafood in a landlocked state, Greg Lindberg has been bringing seafood and a family atmosphere to Omaha since 1970.
Everyone starts somewhere. For Lindberg his start in the business meant driving between Omaha and New Orleans, selling shrimp from the back of a refrigerated truck.
“I’d drive to Louisiana and back every two weeks. It’s a terrible way to make a living,” he said.
For seven years he made that trip before starting the Absolutely Fresh Seafood Market and selling to restaurants. More than 200 restaurants around Omaha purchase seafood and fish from Lindberg’s company.
In addition to the market, Lindberg owns restaurant and catering business Bailey’s Breakfast & Lunch, as well as three Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar locations.
“Many people are still somewhat afraid of seafood in general, especially in the Midwest,” Lindberg said. “In our fish market, we try to simplify things, and let them know that cooking seafood is just as easy as cooking a hamburger. And at Shucks, we encourage them to try something different, but understand that many people want to stay in their comfort zone.”
Buying good quality raw fish is similar to buying good quality vegetables, according to Lindberg.
“If it looks bright and fresh, and smells like the ocean, it’s probably a winner,” he said.
Weathering the Pandemic
The three brands were forced to weather the COVID-19 storm with doors closed for a time before gradually reopening.
“We got lucky,” Lindberg said. “People come [to Absolutely Fresh] to grab something and move on. It’s not a fancy steakhouse where it takes two hours.”
Lindberg said COVID-19 was a shock to them as it was to most people.
“We didn’t know if we were going to make it, or what the world of restaurants would look like post COVID-19,” he said. “I’m happy to report that business is booming. Sales are up considerably over 2019.”
Despite being completely open now, it continues to feel the impact of the pandemic.
“We have been very reluctant to raise prices,” Lindberg said. “We try to not price gouge because we have to stay in business.”
Like many restaurants in business, supply chain issues are causing the team to rethink its menu.
“It’s a little different being in the middle of the country. Some things have vanished like king crab legs — Russia has all the king crab rights,” he said.
Current factors include U.S. sanctions on Russian seafood as well as Alaskan supply shortages.
The fish sold in the market as well as the restaurants is shipped from many places, including Louisiana, Texas and the Gulf Coast.
In some cases, shipping the freshest products can also be a huge risk. Take for example a recent shipment of shrimp.
“We used the exact cargo containers from the airlines,” he said. “On Northwest Airlines I got a call that one of the boxes with 200 pounds of shrimp and 100 pounds of ice spilled out of the container.”
The shrimp had to be shoveled off of the tarmac and discarded.
The most popular items on the menu are shrimp and salmon. Absolutely Fresh also sells other unique items, such as alligator, soft shell crab, and candied salmon. Lindberg said one of the popular items in the restaurant is a po boy sandwich.
“The hard thing is taking things away from the menu,” he said. “I hear about it especially from those who drive far to get their favorite.”
Lindberg said he’s most involved with the presentation of the dishes.
“How do you make a restaurant different?” he asked. “I love to eat and cook, but not in the restaurant. Presentation is where I get involved.”
Customers are Key
With restrictions relaxing, friends and family gathering to dine together has become more frequent.
“We do have regulars,” he said. “There are a lot of first names known.”
The familiarity with customers can be seen on a visit to Shucks where Lindberg could name many of the customers and converse with them about their lives.
Part of that relationship includes community involvement, and for the past 14 years Shucks has been holding a monthly fundraiser for different organizations.
“One way we try to help is with our First Tuesday Fundraisers. We give 15% of sales to local charities on the first Tuesday of each month,” Lindberg said.
For continued success, Lindberg believes it’s smart to plan far ahead instead of living only for the month or quarter.
“Another Shucks would be nice, but we are patient,” he said. “If we see a perfect location, with reasonable rent, you never know.”