At an early age Davy Lam received a few very important things from his father. The first was business advice he still follows today: “Pay for your own boat and never look back. Keep looking forward.
The second thing was the family business, Tai Foong, an international seafood distribution company that his father started in Toronto in the 70s. and now provides seafood to giants like Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway, Albertsons and major hotel chains like Marriot.
“We regularly see seven digits in terms of the pounds of fish distributed,” says Lam, a member of the Bellevue Club for over 20 years. The company also provides the Club with some of the seafood available in the restaurants, such as the Chilean sea bass.
Lam, now 57, sits at the helm of the operation, which sources fish locally as well as from Australia, Asia and South America. He estimates that he spends 80 percent of his time traveling outside of Seattle, his home and Tai Foong’s headquarters, meeting with fishermen and chefs. “We have some longtime contracts with fishermen from all over, guys in Australia, New Zealand, the South Georgia Islands, near the Falkland Islands,” he explains.
Outside of Seattle, there are two other Tai Foong offices, one in Hong Kong and one in Toronto, and he says the business thrives in those areas because his product fits a specific growing need that all three populations share.
“We look at the success we have in the U.S., and we see where we’re thriving. All the Asian products that are grab-and-go fit the young appetites of millennials. There is the same kind of evolution of change—no cooking at home, heat it at home in a very tiny space. In these countries, quickly grabbing and eating something with taste and value, that’s the name of the game,” Lam says.
But that doesn’t mean he trades convenience for a lesser product. Lam maintains that quality is king. One of his favorite parts of the job is that he gets to meet innovative, celebrated chefs around the world, including his good friend and TV personality Chef Martin Yam. Being a cook himself as well, Lam says he only sells fish he would eat or give to his peers.
“I only trust my own shrimp and fish. It’s what I enjoy myself at home,” Lam says. This idea is reiterated by the company tagline “Dine well. Feel well. Live well.”
With these principles in mind and business on the rise, Lam is now taking one more note from his father’s book; he is passing down everything he learned to his sons.
“The experience was good. I always like working with family. My father was a very smart man, and so was my brother,” Lam says. “So when it comes to my children, it means a lot. I feel lucky to have the oldest—he’s in Bali right now—coming this way to raise a family in Seattle and continue the legacy. I’m very fortunate, very grateful in that regard. Actually both my sons are working for me. I have two daughters too, but they are doing different things, one is a doctor and the other an accountant.”
He says one of the most important things he’s trying to teach his sons for the future of Tai Foong is to help educate the consumer.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about buying fish. The most challenging part of the business is to educate the consumer. I think they don’t know the best and worst quality. Unfortunately they buy by the price,” he explains, adding that consumers should look more for a natural color and shine when choosing seafood.
For more information about Tai Foong, visit northernchef.com.