Watch now: Fish monger fulfills his dream as seafood comes to Monroe Street | Economic news

Selling educational software to companies is in Jim Berke’s rearview mirror.

His days are now filled with fillets of cod, salmon and cobia, steaks of swordfish and bags of oysters, stone crab and prawns.

And while there are other places in town to buy fresh seafood, Berke thinks there’s more room in the market for a standalone seafood store in Madison.

That’s why he opened Berke & Benham Seafood Market at 1925 Monroe St. The 2,000 square foot store is in an affluent neighborhood, close to thousands of international students and faculty at UW-Madison and is on a commuting route for some of the 9,500 employees. who work at Epic Systems in Verona but live in Madison.

Jim Berke shows off a king mackerel at Berke & Benham Seafood Market, a store he opened in June on Monroe Street.


Berke isn’t deterred by the seafood offerings found at grocery stores like Metcalfe’s Market, Hy-Vee, Festival Foods and Whole Foods Market, the Seafood Center on Whitney Way or any number of smaller stores that cater to an international clientele.

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“I don’t know if there’s a separation between us, but there’s plenty of space for all of us,” Berke said. “Madison is a great food town with a varied palate.”

Unlike Lake Edge Seafood Co. on Monona Drive, which has a seafood counter and restaurant, Berke & Benham’s revenue comes primarily from those looking to cook at home. However, Berke has plans for an oyster bar and has just started selling takeout wine, beer and ciders.

He also wants to expand his small grocery section at the front of the store. The inventory includes pickled vegetables and cans of mackerel, sardines, tuna and octopus from Spain; cookbooks; and a variety of national and international seasonings. This line includes offerings from The Deliciouser, a Madison-based company that creates small-batch spice blends, salts and peppers.

Berke and Benham Seafood Market

In addition to fresh and frozen seafood, Berke & Benham Seafood Market offerings include cans of tuna, mackerel, sardines and octopus from Spain.


Berke, which opened its shop in June between Brasserie V and the Good Day Shop, also wants to create its own line of seasonings, sell homemade chowder and fish stock and use the expansive back room company for special events. whole fish butchering and oyster shucking courses; private dinners; and seafood and wine tastings.

“Our store is for any consumer who wants to buy fresh seafood, learn about fresh seafood, and (learn) how to cook it,” Berke said. “I am fascinated by the ocean. I love the idea of ​​being good stewards of a vital part of the planet.

Berke and Benham Seafood Market

James Brown of Berke & Benham Seafood Market started his shift on Wednesday organizing inventory in the display case. It included gulf shrimp, mussels and scallops.


Berke grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where he and his brother often fished the Fox River and a nearby pond for bluegill and catfish. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in biology, but gave up his corporate job in 2017 to pursue his longtime dream of becoming a fishmonger. He is also following in the footsteps of his entrepreneur father, who established his own janitorial services business after World War II.

Berke and Benham Seafood Market

Fillet and butcher knives are ready at the Berke & Benham Seafood Market.


Jim Berke’s first gig was at the fish and meat counter at Eataly Chicago, an Italian market on East Ohio Street in the city’s downtown. But after about six months, he took a job as a retailer at Wabash Seafood, one of the city’s most established wholesale fish businesses. It’s where Berke immersed himself in seafood culture and learned the nuances of the industry after Wabash set up a retail store.

“It hasn’t been that long, but the people I worked with at Wabash were fountains of knowledge,” Berke said. “They had no problem teaching me technical skills…but also supplier relationships.”

Berke and Benham Seafood Market

Berke & Benham Seafood Market is located at 1925 Monroe St. between the Good Day Shop and Brasserie V.


But when the pandemic hit, Berke lost his job and retreated from Chicago with his family to their 25-acre home between Mount Horeb and New Glarus. His wife works for a Chicago-based public relations firm and they have five adult children from previous marriages. The seafood store is a combination of Berke’s last name and his stepmother’s maiden name.

Berke and Benham Seafood Market

Fish prices may vary at Berke & Benham Seafood Market from day to day, depending on availability.


The fish in the shop are sourced from vendors in Chicago, Boston and across the country who bring in wild and farmed fish from around the world. On Wednesday, the on-ice offerings in the display case included fillets of yellowfin tuna, snapper, sea trout, clams, gulf prawns, scallops and Faroese salmon. Berke also sells wild whitefish, lake trout and walleye from Lake Superior, had just received a shipment of whole cod and stone crab, and had a cold room stocked with whole halibut, burbot and king mackerel.

“I’ve wanted to work in this field for many years, and if I didn’t do it now, I never would,” Berke said. “So I took the leap.”

Send tips and ideas for retail-related articles to [email protected] or call Barry Adams at 608-252-6148.

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