Tanner Saraspe doesn’t dine out a lot. Late nights don’t mix well with a fisher’s early morning schedule, but when she does, it’s often at Juniper & Ivy.
Her choice of eatery is no coincidence. Saraspe is part of the third-generation fishing family that supplies the Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant with local seafood like spiny lobster, halibut, bluefin tuna, and California spot prawns.
But it’s not just the professional connection that gets her in the door. It’s the relationship she’s cultivated over the years with executive chef Anthony Wells.
“She’s very genuine,” says Wells about Saraspe. “She’s easy to talk to, easy to work with, and she’s very honest…every time [she] swings in, we usually sit outside and chat for 20 or 30 minutes and talk about food and fishing.”
Saraspe recalls one of her more meaningful visits to Juniper & Ivy. “For my grandma’s 82nd birthday, we brought her there with the whole extended family, and they just took care of us. Anthony came out and said hello to everyone. It was such a special experience.”
For Saraspe and Wells, a normal day means they might not even run into each other. They’ve worked together for so long that Saraspe simply texts Wells with the day’s catch and lets herself into the kitchen with his order, wrapping up the fresh product in containers and organizing them in the walk-in.
She laughs at the casualness of it. “The days he is there, he always goes out of his way to say hi and talk to us for a little bit. It just brightens my day when you get moments like that.”
That trust, carefully cultivated over the years, is unusual in the hospitality industry, but Saraspe and Wells recognize the significance of mutually promoting sustainable seafood.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the United States imports more than 80% of the nation’s seafood, often from countries that have little to no oversight over the industry. But as of this May, 100% of Saraspe Seafoods’ catch stays in San Diego. This includes the prized spot prawns. Fewer than 20 permits in all of California were issued for spot prawn fishing, and Saraspe’s father holds one of them.
His harvesting technique for all species minimizes bycatch—an important aspect in promoting safe and sustainable fishing and one that Wells emphasizes as part of the Juniper & Ivy message.
“For us, local is the right thing to do,” says Wells. Saraspe agrees, although she admits that it would be easier (and more profitable) for her family to fish outside of American waters. But with customers like Wells, who value long-term ecological accountability, it’s worth it.
“We’re able to tell a story,” explains Saraspe. “It’s special.”
Wells hopes to one day take his crew out on a fishing excursion with Saraspe to give them a firsthand look at where their seafood comes from. She says she’s ready anytime.
Perhaps the next Juniper & Ivy special will be a chef-caught tide-to-table dish.