A family business for more than 85 years, Schwarze Seafood is the market’s longest-running stall. Current owner Dennis Schwarze is a third-generation trader who stocks the highest quality seafood from the wholesale market each Market day. With a sumptuous range of 90% Australian and 10% New Zealand sourced stock, Dennis specialises in restaurant quality produce.
Dennis’ story begins in 1930 when his grandmother Alice and her sister Joyce purchased an existing butcher shop at Dandenong Market before reinventing it into a seafood stall. Alice & Joyce worked at the Market every Tuesday and spent the rest of the week at a fish and chip shop the women owned in Prahran.
Back in the 1930s Dandenong Market was a thriving stock and cattle market, operating only on a Tuesday until 2pm. Farmers would travel for miles to purchase and sell their stock while using the opportunity to stock up on their weekly meat and vegetable purchases.
Dennis’ father Merv spent a lot of time as a youngster helping his mother and aunty in their shop and when she became too ill, Alice handed the reins onto Merv and his wife, Pat. The dynamic duo worked hard to establish Schwarze Seafoods within the Market by offering cooked fish and chips in addition to their fresh stock.
Dennis has fond memories of the Market including helping his grandmother by feeding potatoes into the chip machine at age five and foodies lining all day long for his mother’s delicious homemade fish cakes.
These memories are a result of Dennis spending much of his childhood at the Market. During the school holidays, he and a former trader Raymond would spend their time playing at the footy field (now the Aldi car park) and visiting the stockyards. Dennis also loved to interact with the traders – especially one trader who would bring his pet monkey to the Market.
Dennis left school at 16 to become an apprentice pastry chef but when Merv needed extra help in the shop, Dennis jumped at the opportunity to join the family business.
Dennis and his dad would work full time at the Wholesale Fish Markets in Kensington. The pair would start from as early as 2am and wouldn’t finish until 7am before starting their day at the Market.
In the 1970s Saturday trading started up, the stock/cattle market had ceased trading at the Market and moved to a new site. Both Merv and Dennis stopped working full time at the Wholesale Fish Markets to concentrate on Schwarze Seafoods, although they would still get up early enough to buy their produce from the wholesale market on Market days.
When Merv passed away in 1992 and Pat retired, Dennis took over the shop and removed the fish and chips section of the stall to focus on fresh seafood.
After 40 years in the business, Dennis has seen a lot of changes in the Market. He has seen traders come and go, has witnessed the influence of Jewish traders in the Market during the 80s and 90s, traders from his childhood selling pets including cats, dogs and birds, and the structural differences from the old-style Market to the current day.
Schwarze Seafoods still has a very loyal customer base. Some of his customers have been buying their fish for years, including one customer who has been shopping at Schwarze Seafood for 62 years. Dennis equates his success in the Market to the good rapport he has built with his customers and the knowledge he gained from his work in the fish market.
Dennis recognises quality produce and is able to source the best products for his customers.