Earp’s keeps it in the family
by Catherine Currin
photography by Smith Hardy
“The only thing that has changed is the generation,” says Kimber Salmon Stewart, granddaughter of Earp’s Seafood founder Herbert Earp. Her grandfather started the fish market 52 years ago on the corner of S. Saunders Street and Maywood Avenue. Even if you haven’t been inside, you’ve seen it: A white building hooded by a blue roof, Earp’s Seafood written in bold, no-nonsense letters, that has become a landmark as you approach downtown. The structure has origins in the 1960s, before Saunders Street became a major thoroughfare.
“My mother worked at a hair salon in a house in Historic Oakwood, and she gave my grandfather $500 to start the shop,” says Stewart. She says her grandmother Mary Earp was the backbone of the business, even making homemade preserves for the regulars in the shop. “It was the love and hard work that she put in that made it so successful.” Her parents, Nancy Earp Salmon and David Salmon (yes, she just happened to marry a man named after a fish), eventually took over the business.
“Having the Earp name out there and carrying that on makes me feel proud. As a granddaughter, I feel like I’ve made my family proud,” says Stewart. Now, her husband Dan has been managing the market for eight years, and the shop has only closed long-term one time, when a tornado hit in 2011. The market was rebuilt, and the family business continued on. In 2017, the building’s exterior got a facelift—a bold seascape mural by Sean Kernick that greets you as you approach it from the south—as part of Raleigh’s Public Arts campaign.
Inside, the space is clean, chilly and lined with dozens of stainless steel bins, filled with the latest coastal haul. “Everything we sell is wild caught and fresh. Our motto is ‘We hook it and you cook it.’” The store boasts only the freshest fish and shellfish from the East Coast: crabs from Maryland, snapper from South Carolina, oysters from North Carolina. Stewart says that oysters are especially a hit right now—millenials love an oyster roast. “And we always say, ‘Eat fish, live longer; eat oysters, love longer,’” Stewart says coyly.
Stewart says business is thriving, and she loves seeing loyal customers coming back year after year—especially when customers who used to be kids start bringing their own children in for a visit. “It’s puts a smile on everyone’s face.” And the plan is to keep it in the family: Next in line is Dan and Kimber Stewart’s 16-year-old son, Presley. “We have tried our best to keep it going as a family business, and he’ll be the fourth generation. It’s a beautiful thing to have.”