Octopus, cuttlefish and squid. Hard as it might seem to believe now, Frank Gullo built a thriving, million-dollar wholesale seafood business out of just three items. Indeed, over its two decades of existence, Westbury’s Gullo Specialty Foods has become the place for many restaurants around the country to go for all things octopus, thanks to the quality of the specimens themselves, yes, which are mostly caught off the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. But Gullo also puts the mollusks through a proprietary tenderizing process, tumbling them in an ice-water and sea salt solution that significantly reduces the chances that your carpaccio appetizer will arrive as a mass of tough, rubbery tentacles.
Around this time last year, however, people stopped ordering carpaccio appetizers and restaurants stopped going anywhere for all things octopus, at which point Gullo had to brush up on his own unlikely success tory, reminding himself of how much he’d made so much out of so little.
"With only three items, we knew we had to be the best," he said. "We were always driven by quality, so when we decided to change our model a bit, we had to do nothing but the best."
The model changed more than a bit. Not only did Gullo begin to sell directly to the public via a new website, freshfingourmet.com, he also significantly expanded his product line to include pizzette and arancini, cassatelle and cannoli. And that’s just the site’s "Trip to Sicily" page. Elsewhere, one will find light yet meaty Maine lobster ravioli ($24.98 for a dozen), bracingly fresh wild-caught shrimp ($23.88 for 1 lb. of 13-15 size), and of course fine octopus carpaccio ($15.98 for 100 g.) and cooked octopus legs ($44.98 for 500 g.)
Gullo is leveraging relationships in the fish and seafood industry to bring home chefs the freshest fish at the lowest prices, he said.
"What makes us unique is we have no middleman. Because we import and process a lot of this product ourselves, we can get fish faster to their doorsteps. The quality speaks for itself." Gullo sells fluke he purchases directly from Montauk boats ($13.95 for an 8 oz. filet) and red snapper ($18.98 for one 1-2 lb. fish). The latter is from Florida.
"We have direct contacts with fishermen down there. We purchase it, they ship it to us by truck, and the consumer receives it. It’s only a couple of days turnaround in terms of fresh fish."
As for his wholesale business? "The distribution level is starting to come back in the last couple of weeks" as restaurants expand capacity, he said. "We are starting to see the light a little bit." Even when the restaurants start biting again, however, Gullo expects to continue fishing for seafood- and Sicily-loving home cooks near and far.
Details at freshfingourmet.com or call 516-938-0243.