Crawford Ewing admits that a decision to expand the successful Ewing’s Seafood business in Belfast was “tinged with sadness” for the family. “We were sad because it meant we had to demolish a kiln that had been used by the family for many decades to produce delicately smoked and delicious fish for high-end restaurants, hotels, corporate clients and premium seafood devotees in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland,” he says.
“We’d no option. We had the business and we required a much bigger and more modern smoker to enable us to respond,” Crawford, a director of Ewing’s, the iconic fishmongers on Belfast’s Shankill Road, continues. “Our sales of organic smoked salmon, in particular, are soaring and we needed to make a significant investment to increase capacity. We needed the extra space to cure, smoke and then freeze our fish,” he explains.
“There really wasn’t any alternative but to demolish the old and relatively small kiln. But it was especially traumatic for our father, Walter, who grew up with the kiln and knows more than anyone the contribution it has made to the flavour and texture of our products,” he adds. Crawford runs the business with father Walter and brother Warren.
The old kiln, located behind the famous seafood shop fronting the road, had been used to smoke fish for the company since its foundation by the family in 1911. The shop has long been the first ‘port of call’ for fish and seafood lovers since then and provided fish for workers on the ill-fated Titanic and other Harland and Wolff vessels over many years. It’s now one of the last remaining specialist fishmongers in Ireland.
“The old smoker served three generations of our family business by enabling us to create the finest smoked salmon in the world. It not only satisfied our local community and our food service business to hotels and restaurants but we also sent smoked fish to the most influential people, including the Royal Family, We could never have imagined that my grandfather’s old brick shed with a tin roof would become a local institution.”
The business was founded by his great grandfather, William, in 1911. “The ethos of business since then and now is quality. This continues to be the primary ingredient,” he adds. “We then add our passion to be the very best at what we produce. We believe that our smoked salmon, in particular, is the world’s very best.”
Today, Ewing’s counts Sainsbury’s and many other high-end outlets among clients for smoked salmon and cod, products which have won a clutch of major national and local awards. It is also the prime supplier of organic salmon and other fresh seafood to more than 300 of Northern Ireland’s top restaurants. In addition, organic salmon smoked by Ewing’s has been used at high profile dinners in Britain and exported worldwide.
Travellers at Belfast International Airport, furthermore, have been able to take the attractively packaged smoked salmon on board with them from the Food NI/Taste of Ulster shop in the Departures lounge, the only fish available in the small shop.
Crawford says Ewing’s has seen growing demand for its organic salmon, in particular, because of its outstanding flavour which made the decision to invest in a new smoker, new packing equipment and other modern kit a “no brainer”.
“While we were reluctant to move from our historic smoker which has been at the core of our business for almost a century we needed a significant increase in capacity to meet orders from existing customers as well as many others seeking the salmon,” he explains.
“Demolishing the old smoker was still a bit traumatic because of the many decades of fragrant smoke and history in its walls.”
While the old kiln has now given way to a new and much larger smoker, which is also within the company’s historic Belfast factory and shop complex, Ewing’s retains its longstanding and unique curing recipe and continues to smoke slowly over oak and beech wood chips. The slow curing and smoking process takes around a week.
The new smoker, designed to the highest hygiene standards, recreates traditional methods and also features a purpose-designed high-care packing facility. The location of the old kiln has been cleared for the construction of a huge new freezer that will support the company as it responds to the growing demand for its flavour-rich fish and other seafood, products prized, in particular, by many of Northsrn Ireland’s top chefs.
The company sources premium salmon from Northern Ireland and Scotland and has developed attractive smoked salmon packs for retail that feature Walter, Northern Ireland’s most knowledgeable and widely respected fishmonger, as well as supplying fresh, chilled and frozen seafood for food service.
The excellence of the company’s approach has been endorsed by a string of national accolades for its cured fish. It has won UK Great Taste Awards for its organic salmon and a listing in the Top 50 Foods in 2014 for its lightly smoked cod loin.