Maker Story: Mike Mondello, SeaBear Smokehouse
It’s a relatively common story among Made In Washington makers—a backyard hobby or kitchen sink passion project finds some strong footing. Friends and family begin sniffing around. They ask you how and when they can get more. Before long, what began as a research-heavy personal curiosity becomes something more.
So starts the story of SeaBear Smokehouse in Anacortes, at the heart of Washington’s fishing industry. In 1957, the company’s founder, Tom Savidge, and his wife Marie built a smokehouse in their backyard. Tom smoked salmon for local taverns, and since Anacortes was then a small-ish fishing village, he quickly became a local institution. Specialty Seafoods (the company’s original name) was born.
Business boomed. The tavern owners wanted more fish at once. They wanted to be able to keep it longer, so Tom invented—and patented—Specialty Seafood’s famous Gold Seal Pouch, which SeaBear still uses today. The gold pouches vacuum seal fish inside, allowing it to cook in its natural juices. The result? A juicy, delicious, protein-rich snack that requires no refrigeration.
With its new innovative packaging, Tom’s smoked fish could not only last longer at Anacortes’s taverns but it was also shelf-stable enough to be taken home by tourists traveling through the Northwest—or shipped to family and friends.
It’s probably not surprising to you, then, that SeaBear Smokehouse’s fish has been shipped to all fifty states—many times over.
SeaBear Smokehouse and Made In Washington
Here’s the long and short of it: SeaBear Smokehouse and Made In Washington have been together for decades. We’re part of the same ownership group. You could even call us sister companies.
The companies are so close, in fact, that the subject of this Maker Story, Mike Mondello, is the current president of SeaBear and the former president of Made In Washington. He is about as expert as it gets at both businesses.
One of the first things Mike likes to make clear about the beautiful relationship between SeaBear and Made In Washington is how smoked salmon is a foundational Pacific Northwest symbol and cuisine. It isn’t just a core category for Made In Washington. “It is the core category,” Mike said.
Made In Washington is filled with wonderful local artists, but there are some categories that are intrinsically Washington. Salmon, wine, blown glass, and coffee are all signature categories. “Of those, salmon is the most iconic,” Mike reinforced.
Salmon is “one of the world’s truly great food traditions,” Mike told us. “When you think of salmon, you think of Native people smoking it over a fire,” he continued. “Salmon is who we are in this region. It’s been part of our culture for 1,000 years, and there is no one category that represents our state so well. It’d be like coming to Texas and not talking about BBQ.”
And, if you’ve ever set foot in SeaTac airport, you might have followed the salmon trail through the B concourse toward baggage claim. Welcome to Washington!
An Environmentally Conscious Smokehouse
One of the many things that’s set SeaBear apart from the beginning is its commitment to the future. The company doesn’t just lend lip service to the conversation either—SeaBear walks its talk individually and collectively.
We’ll get into more detail about one of the main relationships that sets the team apart, but more broadly, SeaBear:
- Uses the whole fish—a fin-to-tail approach—ensuring nothing is wasted. Even the backbones and non-usable trim pieces that come out of production get sent to partner firms for pet food and other uses.
- Avoids Styrofoam coolers for shipping. Overwhelmingly, the items SeaBear ships to customers (like us) and consumers (like you) across the U.S. that require dry ice or other coolants are shipped in Coldkeeper bags and boxes.
- Regularly scrutinizes its whole line. This includes assessing raw materials, finished products, and packaging with an eye toward continuous improvement.
SeaBear Smokehouse and The Marine Stewardship Council
Aside from the relationship between SeaBear and Made In Washington, one of the company’s most enduring partnerships has been with the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC for short. Many SeaBear products feature MSC’s global sustainable fishing certification. MSC is a non-profit partner to SeaBear, as Mike said, “much like how companies are partnered with FairTrade to offer FairTrade-certified products.” And, with 62% of Americans believing people should consume fish from sustainable sources only, this partnership is more important than ever.
The little MSC blue fish label on products and menus means wild, certified, sustainably sourced seafood, harvested from healthy populations, with minimal environmental impact. For Made In Washington shoppers and beyond, the MSC label is an easy indication that you’re about to enjoy sustainable seafood. Look for the MSC labels on your favorite SeaBear Alaska salmon products and know you’re eating healthily while taking care of the ocean and the planet. Now, that is a winning combo.
Mike (and SeaBear’s) Favorite Thing About Washington
And, finally, this wouldn’t be a Maker Story without asking Mike to tell us his favorite thing about Washington. Remaining right on brand, he said: “The water. Whether I’m walking my dogs or on my kayak or on a ferry to see my son in Hansville, I try to enjoy the beautiful water every day.”
SeaBear Smokehouse products are proudly designed, crafted, and made in Anacortes, WA.