Superior Fish Co. on 11 Mile near Main Street in Royal Oak is closing. The last day of full service is Saturday, and there's to be a sale on frozen fish — and pieces of the store "just as they sell the seats to the Joe Louis (Arena)" — the following week.
"We've been very fortunate to have that relationship with our Red Wing fans," said co-owner Kevin Dean. "We became known as the 'O-Fish-Al Octopi Supplier,' and we came up with the 'Octoquette,' which is the proper etiquette for propelling a cephalopod."
They'd even provide a kit, with the eight-legged sea creature in a plastic bag, along with a pair of rubber gloves and hand wipes. The store, which opened at a different location in 1940, had by the mid-'80s become a popular place for gutsy hockey fans who would sneak octopuses into Joe Louis Arena under their jerseys, hats or even in baby carriers, and throw them on the ice after a goal — especially during the playoffs.
"Or, it's really cute: A lot of families would come in and buy an octopus as their children would play pee-wee hockey or ice-rink hockey in their backyard," Dean said. "And also, we'd have people come in and buy octopus to throw at weddings on the dance floor. I've never understood that one, but they're allowed to do what they're allowed to do."
During the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals between the Red Wings and Washington Capitals, they sold more than 100 octopuses per day. Dean recalls one day as the Wings played during a postseason that more than 15 photojournalists — from as far as Japan, Sweden and Russia — lined up to film the "Red Wings fervor" at the fish house.
Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price paid $8.26 for a boiled octopus from Superior Fish Co. in spring 2008, the last time the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup. He stuffed it into his pants to sneak it through security into Joe Louis Arena, he wrote in a June 2, 2008 piece. He handed it to a high school senior, who threw it over the glass and onto the ice after the anthem.
Price wrote that "ever since a Red Wings supporter tossed an octopus — eight arms symbolizing the number of playoff victories then needed to win a Stanley Cup — onto the ice in 1952, the smuggling and hurling of the slimy beasts has been the best fan expression of all."
A family business
Dean and his brother, David, worked at Superior Fish Co. since childhood. Their father, John Dean, returned from World War II and began making deliveries for Neuenfeldt Frog Legs in Detroit before he was invited into the Superior Fish partnership in the 1950s.
Over the years, other members of the Dean family have had an active role in the business. As of Thursday, there were still about 25-30 varieties of fresh fish available, and several live lobsters were in the tanks.
Dean said his favorite varieties are Alaskan halibut and lake perch. He has three daughters in their 20s — all of whom have put in time working at the fish company — but none were interested in taking over the family business, he said.
The business sold retail and wholesale fish from the Great Lakes and across the world, and among its restaurant customers were Lily's Seafood Grill and Brewery in Royal Oak and Vintage Tavern in Port Huron.
Like the Deans, Scott Morton and his brother, Robert Morton, have both been running Lily's as a family business. They've been at 410 S Washington in Royal Oak for 19 years. And the whole time, they've been buying from Superior Fish Co.
Scott Morton said he'll miss them, and he wasn't expecting the news.
"Devastated would be a strong word, but very, very shocked and surprised," he said of his reaction. "There's plenty of other purveyors that I would use. But no neighborhood fish houses like those guys were."
Dean declined to disclose the selling price of the 16,000-square-foot building and roughly three-quarter-acre property. He said they were approached by a buyer and that the family is glad to "end on a high note."
He said he doesn't know what the plans are for the property. Across 11 Mile, a large development is planned, with the old city hall and police station to be demolished, making way for a green space near a new office building and parking structure.
"It's hard to manage a city when you've got to accommodate more traffic, but from a business perspective, it's good to have more people in this area," Morton said.