Thirty-five years ago, Captain Brian Bochan opened a small seafood market and takeout food place in southern Manatee County.
Until then, he had made his living as a commercial fisherman and boat captain.
Today, Captain Brian’s Seafood Market and Restaurant, located at 8421 N. Tamiami Trail, is one of the Bradenton area’s oldest restaurants under continuous ownership.
“I had never worked in a restaurant before,” Bochan, 63, said of opening Captain Brian’s with just a couple of tables at the suggestion of his mother. The restaurant has been in the same shopping center since the beginning.
Even though Captain Brian’s is located along one of busiest corridors between Bradenton and Sarasota in a small plaza tucked against Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, it can be tricky to find.
Not that its location has kept the 150-seat restaurant from attracting a loyal following of locals, visitors and airline crews, as well as drawing from the Asolo Theatre, colleges and businesses near the airport.
Among the regulars is Tom Cook, who has known Captain Brian since at least the 1980s.
“I knew him when he was basically just an old fisherman,” Cook said after finishing a plate of grouper. “I like the fish here because it is fresh.”
Bochan was born in Connecticut and graduated from Sarasota’s Riverview High School in 1974. Prior to opening Captain Brian’s, he captained the Flying Fish Fleet in Sarasota.
In 1987, Captain Brian’s became a full-fledged restaurant with a dining room, along with one of the area’s largest seafood markets.
“Every year our sales go up. It’s a constant upswing,” said Bochan, noting that many restaurants have opened in recent years. “There are a few of the older restaurants still around that opened about the same time, including Jo-To Japanese Restaurant and Primo’s.”
When so many restaurants fail, how is that Captain Brian’s has succeeded? He says it’s the fresh seafood from local waters and New England, and the Bochan family’s hands-on approach to running the business.
“I know everybody in the fishing business,” Captain Brian said as he filleted a large deepwater grouper in the seafood market while two salmon rested in a sink, waiting their turn. “This grouper comes from pretty far out in the Gulf of Mexico, probably 100 miles out.”
Captain Brian’s son Bryce, 31, works with him in the family business.
“Almost all of our fish are wild caught,” Bryce said. “The secret to our success is fresh fish, working hard and not cutting corners. We keep it simple and do what we can do. We have several generations of the same families who come here.”
Among the always-popular offerings at Captain Brian’s are the smoked fish and the seafood chowders made from the restaurant’s own homemade fish stock.
Top of the menu this week were appetizers such as fish tacos for $9.95, smoked fish dip for $6.95 and lobster bisque for $7.95 a bowl.
Shellfish offerings included wild-caught Cape Cod clams for $6.95 for a half dozen or $12.95 a dozen, and Moondancer oysters for $11 a half dozen or $20 a dozen.
Chefs picks included Bouillabaisse (Provencal fish stew with lobster tail scallops, shrimp, mussels and clams) for $24.95, Florida Red Snapper for $23.95, baked stuffed shrimp for $17.95 and more.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is closed Sundays.
For more information, visit captainbriansseafood.com.