By Kim Ploughman
You won’t catch the salty whiff of the Atlantic Ocean upalong in Ontario. But if Jody Oram has his way, locals won’t have to go far to taste the bounty of his Atlantic Canadian home. As owner and operator of Jiggin’ Jody’s Seafood, Jody has been on a near one-man mission the past four years to jig more seafood onto the plates and into the hearts of Ontarians.
In mid-August, we caught up with Jody over the phone as he manned his colourful mobile fish trailer in Guelph. Our conversation would be occasionally interrupted as the fishmonger shouted out to browsing customers, “You lookin’ for seafood, or wha?”
Jody grew up in Glovertown, NL, where his father was in the fish business in the 1970s. After spending time away in the US and Alberta, Jody moved home in 2007. Eventually, he started a moving company, bringing goods to Ontario. People starting asking him to bring along Newfoundland fish on his trips.
“After a while, I did a bit of research and realized the seafood in Ontario was generally overpriced, not good quality and not selling well,” Jody says. He started hauling crab in a freezer up to the mainland, and folks were getting hooked. In a few short years, he went from saying, “I think I can do this!” to “Man, the brand is growing like crazy!” he says.
His branded mobile shop, Jiggin’ Jody’s Seafood, is a common sight on Canadian Tire parking lots in Ontario, and he has a permanent hut outside the Orangeville store. “I have a good working relationship with this Canadian company, as I am not competing with them. I am selling cod fillets versus their products, like shovels,” Jody says. When he’s on the move, he advertises his pop-up locations on his Facebook page for his more than 4,000 followers.
Jiggin’ Jody’s Seafood now sells more than 40 products - shrimp, halibut, mussels, fish cakes, snow crab and more - from Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond, including bacon-wrapped scallops from Nova Scotia, king crab from Alaska, and even orange roughy from New Zealand.
“My cod is the best in Ontario,” Jody proudly claims, adding that most fish sold in Ontario is not from Canada and is often “defrosted, bruised and expensive.” His customers are reassured by his authentic accent - a Newfoundlander, of all, should know good fish. “My strong accent goes along with the sniff of fish,” he laughs.
For love of fish and family
While this hard-working entrepreneur spends months on end in Ontario, he still has a home back in Paradise, NL, where his wife and nine-year-old son, Cole, live. The family recently spent some time together in Ontario, before the start of the school year. “It’s tough living away from home; but Cole loved it up here this summer, helping out with all aspects of the business,” Jody says.
He credits his 70-year-old father back in Glovertown with being a rock-solid help in securing his fresh Newfoundland seafood, then getting it onto refrigerated trucks and ferries and into cold storage. “Fish don’t jump in the freezer by itself,” Jody says.
A proud Newfoundlander, Jody has shown he is also especially “fish-proud.” (A colloquial term used to denote being self-satisfied because of a large catch of cod or good profits from the fishery.) “It’s a lot of work; but there’s a lot of potential, and it can be done, but it will take time,” he says about continuing to grow his business.
Jody admits that he lies in bed with many expansion ideas streaming through his head. “Then I have to remind myself to slow it down, as I don’t have the people or the time myself to do it all.”
While he operates the Orangeville hut several days of the week, Jody makes time to haul his trailer to other areas with demand for Jiggin’ Jody’s Seafood, such as Acton, Arthur, Fergus and Guelph. “This allows me to gauge where better sales potential lies,” he says, adding, “I’m getting calls all the time to set up in towns, and even for festivals and other events.”
As good as he is at running his enterprise, Jody is also good at naming it. Jiggin’ Jody is fitting for a fella who gets customers hooked and reels in their business.