Beer-thirty means cold fingers wrapped around Bud Lite cans in the back of the walk-in. The freezer kicks on and the whrrrrrrrr of the fans drown out employee conversations. I stand next to a fish tub full of ice and disembodied fish heads. The snapper that Mike Lapierre is fileting for his next farmers market lies split in half on the metal table, its wide, unblinking eyes translucent under fluorescent lights. If I were to touch it, my hand would slip and slide over the deep red of its uncooked flesh: sorry bud. I lean a bit closer, only to make sure its hazy crystal pupils aren’t revealing any secrets about the deep blue sea. Lapierre shakes me out of my fishy seance with a large laugh that bounces off the aluminum walls of the cooler as he, with careful nonchalance, slices his filet knife through a hunk of pink muscle.
Lapierre owns his own company, Brightside Seafood, as well as working alongside Peter Caswell at the seafood counter of Richmond Market; a store that just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and is owned by Caswell and his wife, Jeanine. Caswell is a semi-retired tugboat captain, deckhand, and quahogger/ fisherman who hired Lapierre because, “This guy loves fish.”
Caswell’s build is sturdy but he moves easily between obstacles with the grace of someone who has navigated his way through six of the seven seas — and it makes sense, because he has. Lapierre is young, tall, and light on his feet, always turning around to flash his infectious laugh. Caswell and Lapierre have a symbiotic relationship that stretches further than the bounds of typical employer and employee; both learn and grow from the other’s love for all things ocean, and all things beer, which is how we all end up at Alainas Ale House in Richmond on a Friday night.
Three seats sit empty at the end of the round, wooden bar. Lapierre takes the corner and Caswell pulls out a chair for me to sit in the middle of the two. “How serious does this have to be?” He orders us all shots of Jameson. “Don’t throw it back, this is sippin’ whisky.”
“As serious as we want it to be.” Lapierre grins side-eyed as we all take a sip. The ponytailed bartender bustles around behind the bar, a man across from me raises his glass to his lips and the Bruins play hockey on the TV for an audience of liquor bottles.
Lapierre grew up with no siblings, just dogs. He would spend most of his days running through the woods, imagining his grown-up self, a famous explorer, stuck in the wilderness having to “eat a seal or something weird.” When he wasn’t running with the wolves he would join his dad at his family-run fish market. “I would play hockey on the ice in the walk-in freezer. I would eat oysters raw, scallops raw, they would cut out eyeballs of the swordfish to put in a water bottle for me just to play with. All weird shit dude; I grew up in like the weirdest seafood world.”
The adventurous curiosity of Lapierre’s childhood set him up for a beatnik adolescence that had him taking off after high school to hitchhike across California because he “couldn’t sit still:” an expedition that left him thumbin’ the breakdown lanes, with pockets full of stolen muffins and saddled with trash bags of weed from random farms where he gigged.
The Sal Paradise of Lapierre’s early 20’s closely mirrored Caswell’s own, but his a bit more Hemingway.
A young Caswell was down in Florida lifting weights, working on boats, and drinking beer. He eventually began working and traveling on yachts as a deckhand, admonishing, “you gotta see the world man, there’s people that haven’t been out of Rhode Island THEIR WHOLE LIFE.”
I’m still sitting in between them, but am no longer there. As the beer glasses drain their conversation bounces over me, from Caswell’s experience standing on the back of a whale shark trying to free it because it was caught in his boat line, to Lapierre’s disgust for dragger boats that waste netfuls of “undesirable” seafood. Comparing notes on being a father, “What’s wrong with society?” and where to dive for the best oysters, the topics are as endless as the sea that they are both inextricably drawn to; something Caswell, pointing to Lapierre, refers to as being “in his veins.”
Lapierre, the extraterrestrial fishmonger, definitely has a bit more than blood in his system. A caricature of a decked-out scuba creature submerging to the murky depths to find you the best seafood; taking something out-of-this-world and making it fit for your dinner table. Whether for himself at Brightside Seafood or working behind Caswell’s counter, Lapierre is passionate about rewiring the preconceived notions of edible seafood by striving to prepare and sell things that differ from the standard American menu of a few fish. “You know buying and selling fish is one thing, but really putting your body into it and cutting it and fileting it and taking all the bones out and doing all the stuff that people need to do to be fed. You need a good fishmonger in life. You need a good fishmonger in your life dude.”
The value and access of well-cared for seafood is not a lost art for these two, which is why Lapierre is so confident about his and Caswell’s success. “I love Peter man, I literally think me and Peter are going to rule the RI seafood scene. I love it dude. I love seafood. I think Peter loves me enough to love the seafood that I want and we’re going to fucking kill it.”
You can find more information on brightside Seafood at brightsideseafood.com, as well as Richmond Market at richmondrimarket.com. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram at facebook.com/Richmondfarmsfreshmarket. facebook.com/BrightsideSeafood11. Instagram: brightside_seafood. Instagram: richmondrimarket
The two stand in their office, Lapierre cutting fish on the left and Caswell hangin’ on the right
The Extraterrestrial Fish Mongerer with his latest catch