Bearcats Fish House on Velp expands space, offerings
By Jen Hirthe
HOWARD – Bearcats Fish House on Velp Avenue in Howard began its journey as a seafood market in Algoma opened by Bearcat and Linda Berkovitz in 1986.
Much has happened since – new owners, a second location, the loss of the first spot to fire.
What current owners Billy and Nicole Smith, who took over ownership in 2012, said remains the same is Bearcats’ desire to provide its customers with the freshest seafood options through top-notch customer service.
The Smiths hit the ground running when taking over the reins of the Algoma store when the Berkovitzs retired, and while expansion wasn’t necessarily on their minds in the beginning, when the opportunity arose, it was one Billy Smith said they couldn’t pass up.
In 2019, the Smiths acquired Seaway Foods Company in Howard and opened Bearcats’ second location at 2223 Velp Ave.
“Our expansion into the Green Bay (area) took place in 2019 when we acquired Seaway Foods from the Tonnon family at our current location,” Billy Smith said. “We love having a store location in the community we live and raise our children in.”
Billy Smith said they are thankful to have been able to bring Bearcats favorites to the Green Bay area, while continuing to carry on the family tradition established by the Tonnons in 1956.
Though the Smiths had to permanently close their Algoma location in July 2021 after a major fire, they were able to remodel and expand their Howard location earlier this year.
“We were operating a smaller storefront of 400 square feet,” Billy Smith said. “We have had an overwhelming amount of support from the community since we acquired this location. We wanted to improve our customer experience by creating a clean and comfortable environment where customers would have the opportunity to browse a much larger and expanded seafood selection.”
Smith said the expanded, now 1,100-square-foot retail space better represents who they are as a business and what they have to offer.
Billy Smith said Bearcats is a retail/wholesale seafood company, with connections to seafood distributors that allow the store to supply products from around the globe.
He said Bearcats offers ready-to-eat smoked products, fresh fish, frozen seafood, appetizers and other seafood essentials – including salmon, crab, shrimp, walleye, cod, perch, grouper, tuna, scallops and lobster.
Billy said their most popular items are smoked fish and smoked fish spreads.
“We smoke all of our fish on site and offer hot-smoked and cold-smoked seafood products,” he said. “We are well known for our smoked salmon, and we have state-of-the-art processing equipment that allows us to smoke thousands of pounds of fish weekly. Some of our smoked products consist of 10 varieties of boneless hot-smoked salmon, lake trout, rainbow, cisco, herring, chubs, whitefish and sliced cold-smoked salmon. Most of our smoked products are enjoyed as a meal, a party centerpiece and often gifted.”
Billy Smith said Bearcats prides itself on friendly customer service.
“We have a wonderful team who is happy to assist customers with questions, recommendations and cooking instructions,” she said. “We are excited to be able to offer a much larger selection of seafood products in our new expansion. We enjoy being a part of the community and are thankful for the overwhelming support.”
Each week, the Smiths post pictures or walk-through videos of the store to give customers a peek at what’s in the coolers and on the shelves.
The best way to keep up with the store and its weekly seafood offerings is to follow Bearcats on social media @bearcatsfishgb.
Born and raised in Alaska, Billy Smith said he came to Green Bay during high school to play junior hockey for the Green Bay Gamblers and attended Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.
Nicole and Billy met in high school and settled into the Green Bay area after they got married, where they now raise their three children – Ashlyn, Lyla and Merit.