Stephens City seafood market casts net across valley

By Josette Keelor

Fish in a Barrel hasn’t been open long, but owner Gentry Bozsan said word of mouth has already flooded his Stephens City store with business.

Outside of Winchester, it’s the only seafood market in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Bozsan said. But according to repeat customer Mary Anne Sanders, even the 10-minute drive makes a difference.

“We need this here in Stephens City,” said Sanders, who shopped there twice during its first week.

“The Maryland crab is the best Maryland crab I’ve ever had,” she said, “and I grew up in Maryland.”

Bozsan opened the market because he said he got tired of waiting for someone else to do it. His parents had always talked of opening a business, but then his father died in February and Bozsan realized he didn’t want to put off his family’s dream anymore.

A contractor for the last 20 years, Bozsan sold his motorcycle for money and did all the contracting work himself. He hired his 17-year-old daughter Krystal and convinced his mother Jacqueline “Jackie” to leave retirement in Daytona Beach, Fla., to run the kitchen using German and Hungarian family recipes she wouldn’t divulge.

“They are top secret,” she explained, praising European-style techniques for their attention to quality. She doesn’t have any formal training, but according to her customers so far, she can count herself among the greats.

“Everybody likes my Maryland crab cakes,” she said. “The crab cakes, I can’t make them fast enough.”

Bozsan said he sells almost any kind of fresh fish caught in U.S. and Canadian waters, and his product changes from week to week. If it’s not in season, he said he gives suggestions for a replacement.

“If you absolutely have to have your halibut, I can get it,” he said. But he warns the price might deter customers from requesting it out of season.

On a recent afternoon, the display case at Fish in a Barrel was stocked with red grouper, North Carolina lump crabmeat, wild king salmon, Canadian farmed salmon, scallops, wild rockfish, local select oyster, Atlantic flounder, mahi mahi and Alaskan cod in prices ranging from $10.89 to $21.89 a pound.

The shrimp from Hatteras, N.C., is “right out of the water,” he said, and on the day Sanders came with her son for lunch and takeout, another customer picked up a special order of walleye. Bozsan said his Washington supplier also delivers to five-star restaurants around the metro area.

“It’s the best of the best,” Bozsan said. “A little higher in the price, but way higher on the quality.”

He compared his pricing to what customers would find at Wegmans, which he said has wild king salmon for about $25 a pound, as opposed to $21.89 at Fish in a Barrel.

Wegmans’ closest locations are in Leesburg and Fairfax, but although Bozsan might corner a market in the valley, “I don’t want anyone to find that we’re too rich for their blood.”

“I want everyone in the Shenandoah Valley to come here to buy their fish,” Bozsan said. And Fish in a Barrel is equipped for that outcome, he said.

He serves lunch until 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with fish sandwiches, platters, sides of coleslaw or chips, and a soup of the day, but Bozsan stressed that his goal is to provide a market, not a restaurant.

“We’re asking that people understand what we are,” he said. “We are a seafood market.”

Fish in a Barrel is located at 381 Fairfax Pike, Unit 3758, Stephens City. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The market is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 540-869-6969 or visit www.facebook.com/fishinabarrel13.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com