Ukrainian emigre aims to be America's beluga caviar king

Wed Mar 6, 2013 3:27pm EST
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By Tom Brown

BASCOM, Florida (Reuters) - A decade after he began his quest to produce beluga caviar in America, Mark Zaslavsky coos with pleasure as he surveys the fish swimming in row after row of large galvanized steel tanks on his aquafarm in this tiny town in the northwest Florida Panhandle.

"Look at this fish. Look at how beautiful it is," Zaslavsky said, as a large beluga sturgeon, bony-plated and with a long snout, poked its head above the waterline.

"We hope that in two or three years we will be producing a lot of beluga caviar, good quality beluga caviar," the Ukrainian emigre said.

Zaslavsky, 60, owns a successful Miami-based specialty food import, export and distribution business called Marky's. His obsession, however, is with beluga caviar - a delicacy now banned in the United States due to environmental restrictions.

If an application he submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service on December 4 wins approval, he will be well on his way to becoming the first person in the United States to build a business around the domestic production of beluga sturgeon.

Connoisseurs have long considered the roe of the primordial beluga to be the best caviar anywhere, and Zaslavsky could be crowned as an undisputed 'caviar king' by cornering the market for the pricey eggs.

Zaslavsky, who fled his communist-ruled homeland in 1980, came to Miami with only about $50 in his pocket and worked as a dishwasher and short-order cook, among other odd jobs, before scraping together enough money to open a small deli-grocery.

He co-founded Marky's with his partner, Mark Gelman, in 1985 and it has grown into a gourmet foods business with annual revenues that Zaslavsky estimates at about $20 million. One of the leading caviar merchants in the United States, offering a wide range of domestic and foreign varieties, Marky's boasts about 2,000 customers. Its clients include some of New York's best Russian restaurants, such as Brasserie Pushkin and Onegin.   Continued...

Biologist Robinson Orozco moves a 400 lbs (181 kg) female beluga sturgeon to spawn with males at Sturgeon AquaFarms in Bascom, Florida February 8, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger