On a quintessential sunny Sunday in Mill Valley, Hook Fish Co. is buzzing with lunchtime activity. Every seat in the house is taken, while a (manageable) line of patrons snakes around the front door eagerly awaiting to eat.
On the patio, large and small parties of cheerful diners sit hip-to-hip on built-in benches lined with flower boxes that are bursting with well-kept native plants, courtesy of the nursery next door. The crowd is the usual mix of salty-haired surfers popping in for a post-surf meal, groups of friends catching up over a beer, and young families whose children run around with agua fresca-stained lips.
People love this spot. And it’s not hard to see what makes it so special. The fish is always fresh, the crowd is always relaxed, and the atmosphere feels both familiar and welcoming. Uncoincidentally, these are all the things that reflect the owners’ personality and values.
Co-owned by childhood surf buddies Christian Morabito and Beau Caillouette, Hook Fish started with a clear mission to create a more sustainable seafood system by building deep relationships with suppliers, understanding their fishing practices and stories, and passing that information along to the consumer.
Their inspiration sprung out of a three-month-long bicycle trip down the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas that Christian took with his brother. Along the way, the brothers surfed for fun, fished for sustenance, and camped on the beach along the coast. Beau eventually met the brothers in Cabo with a truck he’d taken down along a similar route. For both partners, the trip solidified a newfound appreciation for the ocean and the relationships they made with fishermen along the way.
From there, Hook Fish started as a passion project pop-up concept in 2014. In its early days, the two friends would hawk tacos made with locally sourced fish for around a $10 suggested donation in various retail shops around San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood, where the pair lived and surfed. While both had worked in the food business at local produce supplier The Fruit Guys, neither had any real restaurant experience. Slow and steady, the team was determined to build something sustainable.
The brief pop-up stint eventually landed them a regular gig in neighborhood restaurant Cajun Pacific on Sundays when the restaurant was closed. Cajun Pacific’s owner retired shortly after, and leased the space to Christian and Beau, who officially opened the original Hook Fish location in 2017. It was a hit from the start, allowing the pair to open the Mill Valley location two short years later.
Sustainability in seafood sourcing is at the heart of Hook Fish’s mission. Taking a page from other progressive local food companies, like Niman Ranch—pioneers in the grass-fed beef movement—and Fully Belly Farms, which preached good sourcing practices, Hook fish’s main mission is to have transparency in its sourcing.
It starts with establishing long and deep relationships with the fishmongers so that the restaurant can trace where the fish was caught, on what vessel by which method, and getting specific about the species so that all that information can be passed along to the consumer.
Having this knowledge, Christian says, allows the business to be in partnership with the fisherpeople, as opposed to only having a transactional relationship. “So as things change, we can be flexible and adaptable in a way that allows the supply chain to stay healthy,” Christian explains. “They are the on-the-ground stewards of the fishery, and they have a vested interest in making sure it exists year over year. If we’re in constant contact with them, we know what products we should or shouldn’t be sourcing.”
Featuring these fisherpeople and their practices on the menu at the restaurant allows Hook Fish to relay that information along to the consumer in a way that Christina hopes has a lasting ripple effect. “Having an understanding of where your fish comes from creates more awareness over your local food system, which can lead to other informed decisions down the line,” Christian says. “The hope is that if you’re at the supermarket or traveling, you might think differently of what kind of food you’re purchasing and why.”
Hook Fish’s seafood sourcing practices aren’t the only way in which the owners focus on sustainability. From the reclaimed redwood tables, to the recycled astroturf lining the patio, to the repurposed Bay Bridge construction materials used in the ceiling paneling, to the planters bursting with wild native flower varieties, the restaurant feels distinctly Bay Area—and that’s because everything is.
All the condiments are sourced from local Bay Area companies, as is the robust beer and wine selection. All the takeout materials are 100% compostable, and the dine-in plates and cutlery are multi-use. “Whether you notice it or not, I think it all makes a big impact on your subconscious,” Christian said.
While most beautiful afternoons and evenings are busy at the restaurant, there are plenty of times when it’s not packed. There’s usually plenty of seating on the outdoor patio, or space at the tables and bar benches inside.
Ordering is counter service. You walk up and choose from a simple and concise selection of dishes that always include a poke, crab cakes, tacos, burritos, ceviche, and the crispiest fish n’ chips. Above the register, there’s a line of white boards detailing the fresh fish selection of the day, which includes all the information on how and where the fish were caught. The knowledgeable staff will answer any questions on what fish you should choose for the dish or preparation you’re interested in.
Favorites include the poke, which is spicy and flavorful, and served up with housemade tortillas that have been sliced and freshly fried into crispy chips. The fish tacos can be customized to include the poke or prepared grilled or fried with the fish of the day. The fish and chips are also standout, as they’re not overly greasy and use a slightly spiced battery that’s light and fluffy.
The drink selection offers a diverse assortment of local beers and wines, as well as a daily agua fresca, and the prices on everything are purposefully affordable. Popping in for a happy hour drink and a snack is always recommended. It’s truly an everyday neighborhood spot with or without a crew.
As for where they’re headed next, Christian said that he and Beau have decided to grow the company slowly and sustainably—like everything else. “Our goal is to build the business at a pace that allows us to stay attentive to details, and remain true to progressive sourcing practices and our core values,” he said. So far, mission accomplished.
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