A visit to Steveston isn’t complete without a walk down the pier to the familiar Pajo’s yellow umbrellas. Without even realizing it, you’re just drawn towards that familiar sea salt air and the comforting smell of deep-fried goodness. But for me, what really does it, is the joy that comes from enjoying fish & chips while literally floating on the ocean. As Pajo’s Fish & Chips approaches their 30th anniversary in 2015, they are not resting on their laurels. In fact, they continue to push themselves and by setting the standard for the Steveston business community and across British Columbia.
The Vision for Pajo’s
I had a chance to sit down with Andrew Stokes, Pajo’s Operations Director. We talked (and ate) fish & chips and much more. While today it seems like a no-brainer to have a fish & chips joint floating on the water, it didn’t come about easily. When Patricia Branch, the founder of Pajo’s initially put in the request to have her business there, she was rebuffed numerous times, but she persevered because she knew it was the perfect place. Her husband, Larry was a fisherman and their daughters also worked on boats growing up so she just had a gut feeling about it. 29 years and four locations later, her gut was definitely right.
The Move Towards Sustainability
Pajo’s is a Steveston institution and takes its role of leading by example quite seriously. The Branch family and Andrew decided that the best course of action was for Pajo’s to become part of the Ocean Wise program and promote the importance of sustainability. However, they felt it was one of those things that you either go all the way or not at all. So, while it did take almost two years of working with their various suppliers to make it happen, Pajo’s only serves fish that is 100% sustainable. In fact, they are the only fish & chips restaurant in the Lower Mainland that is 100% Ocean Wise certified.
While it makes for a good marketing strategy, Pajo’s felt this was simply the right thing to do. In the past, if there was inexpensive halibut to be had at wholesale, it would be purchased because that’s the way it has always been. There wasn’t the information we have access to nowadays how our purchasing decisions have potentially long-last effects. With the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program slowly becoming a part of everyday conversation, businesses and consumers are more aware that their decisions have an impact. Andrew informed me that Pajo’s still receives offers from fishermen who offer a great deal on some fish, but if it’s not sustainable, it’s not going to set foot in their kitchens.
Local, Local, Local
Going sustainable through Ocean Wise was really just a natural progression for Pajo’s. Their fries come from Kennebec potatoes and are grown just a few miles away in Delta. They come straight from the farm and right into their deep-fryer. Everything within their power is bought locally. And really, when it comes to fish and chips, if you’re fish and potatoes are local, you’re pretty much buying everything local!
The sense of local doesn’t stop in the restaurant. Pajo’s is quite active in the community, in which they support schools, festivals and events. Pajo’s welcomed all comers last year when they hosted an open invitation party for the Steveston Merchant Association
. It’s these types of initiatives that promote local businesses to come out and get to know one another in the hopes of being able to support one another. While the location right on the wharf is what Pajo’s is really known for, they do have 3 other locations. In fact, they have a second location in Steveston right in Garry Point Park
. It’s another beautiful setting with tons of free parking as well!
Fish & Chips
But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the food! If the scenery wasn’t enough reason to visit Pajo’s, there is also the Canadian Living Best Fish & Chips search in Canada
last year in which they came in 3rd place. The recipe for the fish & chips hasn’t changed since they first opened in 1985 and it’s a well-guarded secret! While I am a huge fan of a very crispy batter, the Pajo’s batter is a nice change as it’s much lighter. I sampled the cod, halibut and salmon and I certainly noticed that I was able to appreciate the fish much more as I didn’t have as much batter to go through. While it’s tough to beat a classic piece of halibut, my favourite was the salmon. It may have just been something new that I hadn’t had in deep-fried form before, but I found it much flakier and perfect for dipping into their classic tartar sauce.
More Reasons to Visit
Even though the fish & chips are the bread & butter of Pajo’s, they continue to develop their menu and offer something for everyone. Andrew’s pride and joy is their new seafood chowder and I certainly tasted why. Until recently, they had a chowder that by their own admission wasn’t as good as it could be. Well, they don’t have to worry about that anymore. Their new seafood chowder definitely trumps their previous chowder. It was fantastic and chock-full with chunks of fish, clams and corn which provided a nice crunchy texture.
Pajo’s also didn’t have a salad until recently, but they solved that problem with a Roasted Garlic Salmon Caesar. I was skeptical that a salad needed to be on the menu of a fish & chips joint, but I became a believer. If need be, with a couple squeezes of lemon, that salmon salad would satisfy even the hungriest of carnivores.
With almost 30 years behind them, Pajo’s continues to honour their past, but continues to move forward and lead by example.
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About Our Guest Writer: Ethan Adeland is a freelance food and travel writer and the voice behind FeedingEthan. He shares his honest adventures in the kitchen, behind the camera or iPhone and wherever his travels may take him. He has never turned down an opportunity to Instagram a sunset or his next meal.