Fish and Fancy
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The Fish & Fancy Story..

During the winter of 1980 the Robinson Family of “Robinson’s Deli” and salad fame, purchased the property at 2406 Bay Shore Road (the present location of Fish & Fancy) Villas, New Jersey. A small general store/deli had already been in place and was a natural starting point for the opening of a seafood take-out business. The Robinson Family made the necessary improvements and the conversion to a seafood market and seafood take-out took place.

Fish and Fancy opened in May of 1980 and was well received by the local community. Seafood was still very in expensive and very few government restrictions existed in the industry at the time. Fresh unprepared seafood, prepared seafood, steamed crabs and fried seafood (only) was available from their opening in May through Labor Day. Fried only seafood remained the course until 1989 when a Broiled seafood menu was finally added. The broiled menu was very well received especially since many customers who did not care for fried foods had an alternative choice.

From 1980 to 1990, business fluctuated and largely depended on price, economic conditions and product. A niche had been carved out by the Robinson Family and a need had been satisfied in Lower Township more specifically the area in and around The Villas which had not seen a seafood business since 1970.

During the spring of 1990 the Robinson Family decided to lease Fish & Fancy for the following season. The store had been operated by Brian Clark a member of the Robison Family. They wanted to put more emphasis on the produce and deli business but they also wanted a very competent person in charge of the business.

Dave Robinson approached Bill Damiana (one of the present owners) regarding the lease/operation of the business. It was agreed that Brian Clark (Dave Robinson’s Nephew) would train Bill Damiana through the summer of 1990 and there would be a change over in management the following spring of 1991.

During the spring, summer and early fall of 1991, there was much trial and error to say the least. Not classically trained in the culinary industry, but armed with a solid background in the seafood industry and some business savvy, Bill and his staff worked diligently to improve the overall quality, service and interior of the building.

One of the main problems as the business evolved was the need for good staff, reputable seafood suppliers and solid product availability. Bill learned very quickly how hard it was to operate the business and what it takes to really be successful. Unfortunately it took several years to harness what it took to be a successful operation and to receive notoriety that unknown to Bill and Kelli would be forth coming.

Over the next several years, business also fluctuated and the menu evolved even more adding several new entrees and more fresh unprepared seafood choices. Fish & Fancy operated from May to October up to and including 1999. During the summer the market operated on a five day week from Wednesday through Sunday. From September through June Bill and Kelli, (both high school teachers) were continuing their professional career’s as Educators. Both Bill and Kelli hold masters degrees in education and have coached the youth in Lower Township, Cape May and Middle Township for many years to the present and will continue to do so into the future.

As time moved on Fish & Fancy became a labor of love. Business was moderate in the summer, sometimes busy but generally moderate. Most products were good along with the service and the quality of the food was good but never outstanding. Many people still never knew we existed and since Bill and Kelli did not own the property it was difficult to make the financial commitment necessary to improve the overall climate of the building and property. Staff came and went only a few stayed consistently through the years but generally the staff worked hard for Bill and Kelli. Fish & Fancy desperately needed something special to move from mediocrity to the top of the heap!

That special touch came in the spring of 1999! Bill and Kelli’s close friend and present business partner Lisa Swecker came on board and it would not take long to move from “pretender” to “contender”!

Lisa’s experience in the food industry ranges from local family style restaurants to corporate run establishments. What Lisa learned over the years, is the importance of customer service. Her philosophy is based on the idea of giving Fish & Fancy guests as many reasons as they need to pick their business over the ever growing competitive food market. What they do very well at Fish & Fancy is individualize their customer’s visit and needs the best way they can. Their goal is to have happy loyal customers and not one time visitors.

Realistically, Lisa was the missing piece to the puzzle and helped bring Fish & Fancy to where it is today; A high quality eatery that offers some of the best fresh, fried, broiled, sautéed, and grilled seafood that one could find any where!

Now, Fish & Fancy boasts one of the largest seafood take out menus in South Jersey. Great care is given as the staff and management work diligently to prepare seafood each business day. Fish & Fancy offers a very unique approach to prepared seafood purchases. Peering into a large display case, customers can choose on any given day as many as “twenty” plus seafood items ready to take home and cook or to have Fish & Fancy cook it for you at no additional charge.

Fish & Fancy also offers the customer the opportunity to choose their own fried seafood combinations. For example; some folks may prefer a combination of fried Grouper, Scallops, Shrimp and Baltimore Crab Cake rather then a traditional Fish & Fancy combination platter. Fish & Fancy really allows the customer more flexibility, value and quality then possibly any other Seafood-Take Out in the South Jersey area.

All of the preparation is done on the premises. Home made chowders such as New England clam, Manhattan clam, Lobster bisque, (when available), Maryland crab (when available) and their famous cream of crab, are made by Bill with special attention each day. Breaded seafood items are prepared each day by the ownership not staff! Amazingly enough, Lisa prepares all the breaded items each day. This long process starts early in the morning each business day. Truly an incredible feat when you take into consideration how many platters and Ala Carte items are sold on a daily basis! Fresh eggs, milk and fresh ground bread crumb are the norm and a must at Fish & Fancy.

As each month and each season passes Fish & Fancy strives for excellence and overall improvement. Whether changing or adding to the already extensive menu the management works hard to please their customers.

Behind every successful management team there is a great staff. At the present time Bill and Lisa have ten very dedicated employees that understand what it takes to be successful. Fry cook Mike Kennedy has stepped up to the plate and took on a sense of ownership. Under pressure on those busy nights, Mike has proven time and time again that he has what it takes in the food industry to keep customers coming back. Broiler chef Melissa Tilsner not one to be slighted, has also taken on a sense of ownership and has honed her culinary skills that also keep Fish & Fancy’s customer base coming back week after week! Melissa has started her fifth year with the business and remains one of the corner stones of the establishment!

Sautee’ chef Terri Payne has helped take Fish & Fancy to the next level. Terri continues to experiment and create new seafood dishes and dishes normally found only at some of Cape Mays’ finest restaurants but at a fraction of the price. Fish & Fancy continues to look for good things from Terri in the present and future.

In 2003 the management team enclosed the patio, added new seating and tastefully decorated the seating area with nautical items from near and far. The patio can now accommodate up to forty guests weather permitting.

During the 2003 season nation wide shipping was also added. Now you can send a taste of Fish & Fancy, fresh or frozen to that special someone! Although shipping charges apply what a great way to acknowledge a family member or special friend! How about some Jumbo Lump Baltimore crab cakes, maybe some fresh local sea scallops or home made chowders?

As Fish & Fancy moves into the 2004 season better customer service, new items and creativity will dominate the management agenda set by Lisa, Bill and Kelli! The “Blooming Onion” made its debut and compliments any entree! Creative dishes prepare by Chef Terri such as “Seafood Lovers Pasta” is a hit! A four ounce lobster tail sautéed with fresh local sea scallops and jumbo shrimp in a creamy seafood sauce over linguini is a must! Another hit “Tuna Happiness” grilled tuna topped with shrimp and lump crab in a creamy garlic seafood sauce, Mmmmm! Just another example of our commitment to customer satisfaction and creativity!

Fish & Fancy will also unveil it’s first ever Tee shirt designed by local artist Jim Stagg. It’s sure to be a popular item and most certainly will be in demand.

What use to be a four month business season has grown to a ten to eleven month operation. Plans for expansion to better serve rapid growth, will keep the ownership busy over the next several months. Theme weeks this season such as “Florida Keys” week will allow customers to sample seafood and seafood dishes from various parts of this great country.

Remember, Fish & Fancy is a first class operation that puts the customer and their needs first and foremost. Lisa, Bill, Kelli and their staff want to make your Fish & Fancy experiences the best they can be. They want you to keep coming back! The ownership team has made a long term commitment to the community and visitors alike. As a result, local customers and visitors a like have responded in a big way! Fish & Fancy is no longer Cape May County’s best kept secret! Over and over again, feed back from countless customers can all be quoted as saying “Better then, Better then…..”! If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Fish & Fancy, stop by, you won’t be disappointed!

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