October 1, 2022

A fish taco, hold the fish — San Diego company serves up award-winning plant-based tacos

Mike Perez and Felix Alcaide are not vegan. Both were raised in cultures where meat was part of almost every meal. So why did they start SeaCo Catch, a plant-based fish taco company?

They knew they wanted to work side by side, but they didn’t know it would be the vegan food that brought them together.

Over the years, Perez and Alcaide worked together from time to time in the restaurant industry, and they were always eager to find opportunities to collaborate again. So when Perez was asked by a local business to start a lunch program for its employees, he turned to Alcaide.

The challenge was to create an entirely vegan menu, meaning dishes without meat or any animal products. Together, they were inspired to get creative and try out a plant-based fish taco recipe.

“We weren’t looking to start a company,” said Perez, who is CEO and co-founder of SeaCo. “We wanted to serve something delicious and fish tacos. We did, and then we really started looking at it.

They remade the vegan tacos for a few hundred people at Burning Man, the annual creative-focused community event held in the desert, and they were a hit. This led them to enter – and win – local contests with their fried vegan taco.

The positive feedback they received on their food gave them the confidence to pursue a vegan food business.

The white “meat” of the SeaCo “fÿsh” crumbles like an everyday fish taco. It is made from coconut meat. It has as much crunch as a “normal” taco, but this one is fried with a special gluten-free and soy-free batter. Perez noted that SeaCo’s fish tacos are free of the the eight most common allergens.

They have also focused on using whole ingredients and are not highly processed, which happens to many plant-based foods in an attempt to mimic the non-vegan version.

That said, SeaCo is not trying to create a protein supplement for people who don’t eat meat or fish in their daily diet.

“Whatever we lack in protein, we make up for in…deliciousness,” Perez said.

While the taco has garnered the most attention for SeaCo, Perez said his ultimate goal is to sell the fish itself and even the paste widely to consumers and restaurants.

Felix Alcaide and Mike Perez, co-founders of SeaCo Catch plant-based Fysh Tacos in their mobile food trailer.

Felix Alcaide, left, Mike Perez, right, are the co-founders of SeaCo Catch. They serve their plant-based “fysh” from their mobile food trailer at local events.

(Charlie Neuman/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Even though Alcaide and Perez both eat meat, they recognized that there is a growing demand for plant-based foods.

They each have three children and personally they try to reduce the amount of meat they eat. because they see it as a way to reduce their impact on natural resources.

“For us, we really look at what it does to the environment, we have kids, we want to make sure our kids live on a habitable planet,” Perez said.

Whatever the reason people choose to consume plant-based foods – whether for ethical, health or environmental reasons – the founders of SeaCo saw an opportunity to create a company that offered more options for respond to these desires.

Vegans and non-vegans lined up outside the SeaCo truck at a recent Vegan Food Popup Market at the Local Roots Boochyard in Vista.

“I tried it and it was pretty good,” said Jorge Valdez, who is not vegan but loves fish tacos. “I was like a man, I want another and I ordered another.”

A SeaCo fish taco is $7, which is a bit more expensive than an original fish taco at Rubio’s, which is around $5. In addition to tacos, they also sell ceviche and fish and chips.

Before Caston Turner became a vegan, she loved to eat fish tacos. She said the coconut texture and fried coating of the SeaCo taco is reminiscent of that same experience.

“We treat our vegetables just like we treat our animals when we cook,” said Alcaide, president and chief executive of SeaCo. “We marinate it… We give them love because it’s the secret ingredient. That’s what makes our product different from others I think because we give them time to get the full flavor.

Alcaide said it took about a year to get the taco recipe right and as a company, SeaCo has been selling fish since 2019. SeaCo’s founders are aware that people may be skeptical at first, but hope that customers keep an open mind.

It has won awards against non-vegan tacos in competitions, the most recent being the judges’ and audience awards at the 2021 San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. It was the first time a vegan taco beat the competition and the first time a single team won both awards.

Dominique Delgado of Fallbrook carries two plates of three vegan fish tacos each.

Dominique Delgado of Fallbrook carries two plates of three vegan fish tacos each that she just bought from the SeaCo Catch food trailer to share with her kids.

(Charlie Neuman/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Although Perez and Alcaide met over a decade ago while working in the restaurant industry, they noted that this business is a learning experience unlike the day-to-day operations of a physical restaurant.

They rent space and time in a communal industrial kitchen in San Marcos three days a week. SeaCo employs 12 part-time staff to help them prepare fish and work at events. It’s a balancing act of preparing enough fish each week while maintaining the freezer space they need to store it.

On top of that, the duo and their third business partner, Scott Holtgrieve, also work full-time outside of their “side business” SeaCo. But they have big dreams for the company, which has been a popular self-funded enterprise.

Soon they will need more kitchen space to scale production to a point where they can make bigger deals and partnerships for their product. Perez estimates that they currently produce about 4,800 pieces, or 120 pounds, of fish each week.

SeaCo fÿsh is available at Eris Food Co. in Oceanside as well as Gracias Madre in West Hollywood – a trendy vegan Mexican restaurant frequented by celebrities.

They are also part of the gang of local vendors selling vegan products weekly at the Vegan Food Popup Market in North County. This Saturday, SeaCo Catch will serve fish at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas from noon to 4 p.m.