What if we were to tell you that some of the highest quality, freshest, and healthiest seafood in the nation can be found right here in Osceola, Iowa? Well, according to specialty restaurants and discerning chefs throughout central Iowa and the Midwest, the father-son team running Mayhew’s Market, located on the square, have taken the Midwestern seafood market by storm, offering the highest quality shrimp and fish caught fresh out of the Atlantic and Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
The story of Osceola’s Mayhew’s Market starts more than two decades ago when Rob Mayhew, serving in the Army and studying biology and biochemistry, set roots in Osceola. Here, he found the tight-knit community and family values that suited his growing brood. After retiring from the military, and with his son Mitch – also a military man (Air Force) – the team capitalized on the entrepreneurial axiom, “Find a need and fill it.”
Seafood Excellence for Discerning Customers
The Mayhews found that in land-locked Iowa, and the rest of the Midwest for the most part, customers had to settle for imported, slow frozen, seafood leftovers. That was simply unacceptable, especially for Mitch who’d experienced some of the finest seafood dishes while stationed around the globe, including his favorite, Paella, a Mediterranean shrimp and rice-based dish.
“The lack of access to quality seafood in Iowa, just to cook our own dishes, provided our ‘AH-HA’ moment,” said Mitch. “Once we got started, we spent months developing the connections and creating the pathways to get the freshest shrimp and fish we could, right here in Osceola.”
From initial shipments (or exhausting, round-trip journeys to The Gulf and the Atlantic) and customer feedback from the Clarke County Farmers Market, the team was able to refine their sources and increase product quality, as well as the health and safety of all of their offerings. 2019 demand quickly grew from occasional local markets and shipping product via their customized ambulance, to their current 2023 brick-and-mortar Mayhew’s Market, on the square. There, customers can get the finest seasonal shrimp including head-on White Brown and the highly sought after Royal Reds.
“The health and safety of our seafood is priority number one,” said Rob Mayhew. “When it comes to fresh-never-frozen seafood, the margin for error is razor thin, and we choose to exceed health and safety standards instead of tip-toe down that line at the risk of our customers. That’s just good business.”
While some Midwest seafood resellers will ship product from the coasts that’s been thawed, subsequently to re-freeze or repurpose lower-quality pieces, the Mayhews refused to cut corners on quality. By opting for individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimp and fish from a select group of providers, they not only reduce the health risks of bacteria and germs, but also maintain the “direct-from-the-sea” quality and flavor lost in slower, redundant shipping and storage methods.
2X the Iowa Ties
As if the Mayhew’s Osceola roots weren’t enough to consider unique in the seafood world, in late 2022 the team partnered with Popsie Fish Company out of Alaska. Owner, Tony Neal, or “Popsie” to his grand-kids, also hails from central Iowa. Having moved from Des Moines to Homer, Alaska in 1987, Neal’s company will become an additional source for Mayhew’s Market, specifically for sockeye salmon, cod, sablefish and halibut.
With the 2023 season just about to get started, the Mayhews are expanding their focus from specialty, local Iowa restaurants and markets to deeper into the Midwest to include cites like Omaha, Kansas City, Chicago, and Minneapolis. With cooperation and in collaboration with the Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC), the team is also looking to increase their distribution to commercial chain stores like Fareway and others with the use of a state certified commercial kitchen and a state processing license. Discussions for that venture have been included the plans for new Technology Center currently in development in Osceola.
“It’s entrepreneurs like Rob and Mitch who make doing business in Clarke County exciting,” said Bill Trickey, CCDC Executive Director. “Providing the infrastructure and resources to become a force in restaurant, hospitality and tourism just puts our community front and center when businesses decide to develop here.”