SUMMERTIME IS CALLING: Getting to know Mike Insco of East Coast Seafood Market By Chris Wirszyla, LOL contributor

 

Mike Insco is a busy man. He built and owns East Coast Seafood, located on Dawson Street, which his wife Michelle says is the oldest, single-owned seafood market in Wilmington. When Michelle—with whom I work at Cape Fear Elementary School—learned I am a clammer, from way back to my days on Long Island, it sparked a conversation about her first date with Mike.
“He took me driving at Freeman Park, and backed his blazer up to the water,” she recalls. “He was fiddling around in the sand—I had no idea what he was doing. He then came back with a bunch of, what I now know are littleneck clams. He took out a clam knife and opened them. All I saw was little pieces of clams wriggling around on the shell, which he popped into his mouth. I was grossed out!”
And they’ve been happily married for 27 years.
Mike started fishing for spots in the waterway at the ripe age of 8. As he got a bit older, his uncle would take him out on his shrimp boat in the great Atlantic. He’s been in love with fishing and the water ever since.
After working a variety of jobs, including at Buffaloes, which was a deli store all the college kids came to for their groceries, A to Z rental and Everette’s barber shop, it wasn’t until he was 16, when his father told him to get up and get a job, he married his love for the water with moneymaking. Mike’s uncle was hiring at Sea Coast Seafood on Airlie Road.
“I was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day,” he says. “I would go crabbing before school, come home and shower, go to school, then work in the shop after.”
His uncle owned Sea Coast Seafood Number Two in Leland and Number Three in Carolina Beach, as well. Locals might remember a big fishing boat, “Full of Flowers,” that sat in front of the store. When Mike was 18, his uncle wanted out, so Mike bought the place and changed the name to East Coast Seafood. When the landlord decided to sell the property, Mike found the Dawson Street property. He built his shop and has been there since March 1987.
Like everything else, the seafood business is constantly changing and evolving. Mike has to stay abreast of rules and regulations, laws and restrictions, and codes from agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Quality, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.
“The biggest influence on the protection of the species has to do with flounder size limit,” Mike says. “Vendors would sell baby flounders and the species was getting depleted. Now the size limit is 15 inches—and it is strictly enforced. Just last week I was on Kure Beach Pier and there were officers checking sizes.”
A stable and long-standing neighborhood business, such as East Coast Seafood, has to put up with “weekend warriors.” “They’re roadside peddlers—guys who hold regular jobs but fish on the side and need somewhere to sell their catch,” according to Mike. “Everyone and their brother thinks there is big money in the seafood business.”
A stable and long-standing neighborhood business, such as East Coast Seafood, has to put up with “weekend warriors.” “They’re roadside peddlers—guys who hold regular jobs but fish on the side and need somewhere to sell their catch,” according to Mike. “Everyone and their brother thinks there is big money in the seafood business.”
His biggest competition is all around. Just within a mile of East Coast Seafood are four other markets.
Much of Mike’s business comes from the neighborhood. For 31 years, people have come into his shop and are treated fairly and faithfully. Six days a week, a thousand pounds of ice are laid out with seafood arranged for customers to select—pan fish, flounder, croakers, spots, salmon, sea bass, mullet,oysters, clams, shrimp, and live blue claw crabs. Mike sells hard-to-get items, too, such as conch, frog legs and crawdads. And if East Coast Seafood doesn’t have it in, Mike usually can get it fresh within 24 hours, since he has built up a network over the years. Larger fish such as grouper and sushi-grade tuna are on the list, too. Prices are competitive, too.
“We can usually beat Whole Foods prices for filet by $2 or $3 a pound,” Mike tells. “And it is fresh, caught that day.”
A friendly and helpful staff, affectionately known as “Bulldog” and “Sweet Daddy” (John Hughes and Charles Corbett), makes East Coast Seafood a true neighborhood market. Corbett has been there over 20 years, and Hughes for 11. They are Mike’s right-hand men, and run the place in the boss’ absence. “I have complete confidence and trust in them,” Mike tells.
Though Mike loves to fish still, it is strictly for recreation and relaxation. He usually surf casts, mostly off Topsail Island, mostly for drum, flounder or whatever is running. He also gets out to the Outer Banks.
And he loves his seafood any way and any day, but like most Southerners, he prefers it fried. His favorite is popeye mullet—just like his mama’s—with sides of sweet potatoes, rice, cornbread, and roe—a.k.a. the “poor man’s caviar.”LOL

BREADING PREFERENCE FOR MIKE’S FRIED SEAFOOD
Plain and simple: just toss it in the House of Autry Seafood Breading, and either deep fry or fry in a frying pan.

MICHELLE’S SHRIMP SALAD
½ lb peeled, deveined, cooked and chopped shrimp
½ to 1 cup mayo
¼ cup finely chopped onion
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz cooked shell pasta
Mix all together and chill, then enjoy!

KATHRYN WIRSZYLA’S CHEESY SHRIMP RICE
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 c mayo
8 oz sharp grated cheddar
1 c uncooked rice
Small can of diced or sliced chestnuts
Six slices cooked bacon
One large onion, diced and sautéed until browned
One pound medium or large shrimp, peeled, deveined and sautéed in butter until done
Mix tomatoes and mayo. Cook rice according to directions. Mix everything together with half the cheese. Place in a buttered baking dish, top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Then go to heaven, ’cause it don’t get better!