Local restaurant’s “fish story” seasoned with good workers, theatrical touch

By Patrick Butler

Glenn Fahlstrom is both veteran actor and seasoned restaurateur.  So he didn’t have any stage fright when he opened what he describes as “Chicago’s pre-eminent seafood restaurant” after less than two years at 1258 W. Belmont Ave.

So is running Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market another form of performance art?

“Unequivocally yes. You can’t separate the two. The restaurant business is half art and half business.  And the restaurant operator who doesn’t understand that, his business will suffer,” Fahlstrom said.

And while he makes sure his 55-or-so employees get that message, Glenn Fahlstrom doesn’t preach.  “They learn by my example. How I talk to the customers, how I write the menus, and how I approach the business.  The employees see this.”

Not surprisingly, Fahlstrom considers his employees a key part of his business equation.  If there’s one thing he’s learned, he added, “it’s that the employees matter. From the front of the house to the back door. If you treat the employees right, it pays dividends every single day.”

Of course, part of the success secret also involves knowing how to pick a good employee.

“When someone comes in looking for a job, I look for an ability to communicate.  I ask them to describe a meal they ate in the last two weeks.  How they do that determines whether they get hired,” he said.  “If they just say it was a good meal, they probably won’t get hired.”

The lifelong Chicagoan who grew up around Montrose and Milwaukee, always knew he wanted to have his own restaurant as well as strut a stage.  Starting in his early 20s, he went to Washburn Chef School, the Goodman School of drama, and Second City.

Over the years, he’s owned a number of eateries, including Glenn’s Diner on Montrose and the Davis Street Fish Market in Evanston as well as a Restaurant Named Desire.  “It usually takes a few restaurants before you become successful,” he said.

Fahlstrom said he probably knew he was hooked on both theater and working at the Playboy Club as a chef when he took one of the Bunnies to Second City.

“She dumped me later when I cut my hair.  I had very long hair until then. That was back in the ‘70s,” he said.

Being Chicago’s “pre-eminent” seafood restaurant, he agrees, owes part of that renown to long hours (open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day) and having 16 different kind of fresh fish at a time when fish are becoming increasingly popular.

 “Doctors recommend seafood for an everyday diet.  People understand that better than ever.  It’s part of a global diet.  And it’s absolutely true it’s good brain food,” Fahlstrom said.

Customers themselves are becoming more aware of what they’re buying these days, he added.  “They’re asking more questions about how things are cooked.  Are they cooked in butter?  Olive oil?  Are they pan dried?  Deep fried?  They want to know

Asked what to look for in a good fish restaurant, Fahlstrom modestly replied “I’d never talk about any other restaurant but mine. But people should ask whether they display their fish.  Do they show it to you?

“You can see everything I sell as soon as you walk in the door. 

That says it all,” Fahlstrom said as he took a reporter to a retail area with rows and rows of fresh-caught fish.”

Fahlstrom looks around and says he must be doing something right.

 “After all, after two years in this location.  We’re still here.

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