A plant-based fish taco? This San Diego company is serving them.
The white “meat” of the SeaCo “fÿsh” flakes like an everyday fish taco. It’s made from coconut meat.
Mike Perez and Felix Alcaide are not vegans. Both were raised in cultures where meat was part of almost every meal. So why did they start SeaCo Catch, a business making plant-based fish tacos?
They knew they wanted to work alongside each other, but they didn’t know it would be vegan food that brought them together.
Over the years, Perez and Alcaide worked together on and off in the restaurant industry, and they were always eager to find opportunities to collaborate again. So when Perez was tapped by a local company to launch a lunch program for its employees, he brought in Alcaide.
The challenge was to create a completely vegan menu, meaning dishes without meat or any animal products. Together they were inspired to get creative and test out a plant-based fish taco recipe.
“We weren’t looking to start a business,” said Perez, who is CEO and co-founder of SeaCo. “We wanted to serve something that’s delicious and fish taco-esque. We did that and then we really started looking into it.”
They made the vegan tacos again for a few hundred people at Burning Man, the annual creative-focused community event held in the desert, and they were a hit. This led them to enter — and win — local contests with their fried vegan taco.
The positive feedback they got about their food gave them the confidence to pursue a vegan food business.
The white “meat” of the SeaCo “fÿsh” flakes like an everyday fish taco. It’s made from coconut meat. It packs as much crunch as a “regular” taco too, but this one is fried with a special gluten- and soy-free batter. Perez noted that SeaCo’s fÿsh tacos are free from the top eight most-common allergens.
They’ve also focused on using whole ingredients and not being highly processed, which happens to a lot of plant-based foods in an effort to mimic the non-vegan version.
That said, SeaCo is not trying to create a protein supplement for people who don’t consume meat or fish in their daily diet.
“Whatever we lack in protein we make up for in ... deliciousness,” Perez said.
While the taco has garnered the most attention for SeaCo, Perez said their ultimate goal is to sell the fÿsh itself and even the batter widely to consumers and restaurants.
Even though Alcaide and Perez both consume meat, they recognized that there is a growing demand for plant-based food.
They each have three kids and personally, they try to reduce the amount of meat they consume as they see it as a way to reduce their impact on natural resources.
“For us, we really look at, like, what it’s doing to the environment, we have kids, we want to make sure that our kids live on a planet that’s habitable,” Perez said.
For whatever purpose people choose to consume plant-based food — whether it be for ethical, health or environmental reasons — the SeaCo founders saw an opportunity to build a business that offers more options to meet these cravings.
Vegans and non-vegans alike were lining up at the SeaCo truck at a recent Vegan Food Popup market at Local Roots Boochyard in Vista.
“I tried it and it was pretty good,” said Jorge Valdez who is not vegan but loves fish tacos. “I was like man, I want another one and I ordered another one.”
A SeaCo fÿsh taco costs $7, which is a bit pricier than an original fish taco at Rubio’s, which costs about $5. In addition to tacos, they also sell ceviche and fÿsh and chips.
Before Caston Turner became a vegan she used to love eating fish tacos. She said that the texture of the coconut and the fried coating of the SeaCo taco is reminiscent of that same experience.
“We treat our vegetables exactly how we treat our animal when we cook,” said Alcaide, SeaCo’s president and executive chef. “We marinate it … We give them love because that’s the secret ingredient. That’s what makes our product different than others, I think because we give them time to get all the flavor.”
Alcaide said it took about a year to get the taco recipe right and as a business, SeaCo has been slinging fÿsh since 2019. The SeaCo founders are aware that people may be skeptical at first, but hope customers keep an open mind.
It’s won awards against non-vegan tacos in contests, with the most recent being the Judges’ and the People’s Choice awards at the 2021 San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. It was the first time a vegan taco beat out the competition and the first time a single team swept both awards.
Although Perez and Alcaide met more than a decade ago working in the restaurant industry, they noted that this venture is a learning experience unlike the daily operations of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
They rent space and time at a shared industrial kitchen in San Marcos three days per week. SeaCo employs 12 part-time staff members to help them prepare the fÿsh and work at events. It’s a balancing act of making enough fÿsh each week while also maintaining the freezer space they need to store it.
On top of that, the duo and their third business partner, Scott Holtgrieve, also work full-time jobs outside of their SeaCo “side-hustle.” But they have big dreams for the business, which has been a grassroots, self-funded venture.
Soon they’ll need a larger kitchen space to scale production to a point where they can pursue bigger deals and partnerships for their product. Perez estimates that they are currently producing about 4,800 pieces, or 120 pounds, of fÿsh each week.
SeaCo fÿsh is available at Eris Food Co. in Oceanside as well as at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood — a trendy vegan Mexican restaurant that is frequented by celebrities.
They are also among the swath of local vendors selling vegan goods each week at the Vegan Food Popup market in North County. This Saturday, SeaCo Catch will be serving up fÿsh at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas from noon to 4 p.m.
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