~ By Maryellen Dever, Photography by Mindi Sokoloski
On a recent early spring day, the bright sky and perfect blue water of Plymouth Harbor teased people with the promise of the coming summer. By 11:30am, the lunch crowd, including a busload of senior citizens from a neighboring town, lined up at Wood’s seafood, eager to taste summer too.
The daily catch, delivered from Boston earlier that morning, was already displayed at the fish market; ready to be cooked to order for each hungry customer. By noon, the line was almost out the door, with people ordering anything from fish and chips to fresh lobster rolls, served with “just a little mayo on top,” according to owner Jay Kimball.
Wood’s has been a fixture at the Plymouth Town Pier since the 1920’s, starting out as a fish market. The restaurant, overlooking Plymouth Harbor, was added in 1957, and has, in Kimball’s opinion, the best view of any restaurant in the area.
Kimball, Wood’s fourth owner, purchased the restaurant and fish market in August 1989. He had been the listing real estate agent selling the business, but during the real estate market crash of the time, prospective buyers could not get financing from banks. He knew a good opportunity when he saw it, and was able to get the financing to purchase the business himself. Wood’s had been closed from Friday night to Sunday morning for a few years before his tenure, so that was the first change he made to jump-start the business. He cheerfully points out that he’s open “every day of the year except for three – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.”
Kimball says his 55-seat restaurant has the ambiance of a “typical New England clam shack”, with the quality of the food first and foremost. The menu includes fried whole clams, fried Plymouth oysters, seafood platters, a variety of grilled and broiled fish, steamers, chowder and bisques, non-seafood items, and even a “clambake for one”. Meals, ordered and picked up at windows next to the fish market, are served fittingly on paper plates. When asked whether alcohol is served, the answer is yes, but “it’s wicked simple – Bud, Bud Light, O’Doul’s, and four different wines.” A meal at Wood’s will be “not fancy, but excellent.” Customers who choose to eat at the restaurant’s clean wooden tables are seated on a first come-first served basis.
His location in Plymouth Harbor is convenient to boaters as well. Wood’s is located at the town’s transient boat dock, so visitors can tie up for an hour and come in to the market or restaurant, or better still, they can call in an order from the boat and it will be ready for pick up when they tie up.
Jay Kimball has worked hard to build Wood’s fish market into “one of the top quality fish markets south of Boston.” He has fresh fish delivered daily from three different companies in Boston and New Bedford. His selection includes all types of shellfish, scrod, haddock, swordfish, tuna, wild Alaska salmon, halibut, and other varieties as they come into season.
He buys from locals too. He’s the only licensed scallop buyer in Plymouth, which means he’s the only local seafood business able to buy all the day boat scallops that come into Plymouth Harbor. And he buys all they bring in. He also buys scallops from New Bedford, which is the largest scallop port in the world.
Although there’s a dwindling commercial fishing fleet in Plymouth, Kimball said Plymouth is on the forefront of the growing aquaculture industry. The town developed regulations and began leasing shellfish beds in 2011. He said there are now “excellent” quality oysters being harvested in Plymouth, and sold at Wood’s. Additionally, there are 44 commercial lobstermen in town. He said he buys from 3-5 of them on a regular basis, and has live lobster in all sizes daily. When the lobstermen come in with their catch every afternoon, he said it’s become an event. “Visitors in Plymouth love to watch [the lobster] being sorted.”
Jay has expanded Wood’s business to include shipping his seafood, lobster and clambakes anywhere in the country. His popular off-site clambakes are fully catered for groups of 50 or more all over the South Shore, for both personal and corporate clients. He said all the cooking is done on-site, and served by his staff buffet-style. “We have an excellent reputation locally for the fish market and the services we offer.” It’s not surprising to hear that Wood’s is already booking clambakes for the spring and summer.
During the summer, Kimball has about 30 employees, led by two of his three daughters, Ashley and Brooke. He said “both run the place 100% in my absence.” His 20 -25 part time employees are mainly high school and college students who return year after year. Sometimes, even siblings will work one after the other as the years go by. Kimball believes it’s important to have employees with a good work ethic, because that in turn means customers will be treated with care.
Kimball’s customers are very important to him. During the offseason, he has a “large, faithful local, clientele who come in twice a week to the restaurant or the fish market.” In season, the restaurant can be a busy place. Customers’ patience will pay off, Kimball says, when they eat. “Everything is based on the quality of the food. Nothing is pre-made or pre-cooked. If we’re busy, it will take longer.”
Wood’s Seafood is located on the Town Pier in Plymouth, MA. The Fish Market is open daily 9am – 7pm. The Restaurant is open daily offseason from 11am – 8am, and 11am – 9pm from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
15 Town Pier, Plymouth
508-746-0261 or (800) 626-1011