Founded in 1945 by John and Huldah Cross, John Cross Fisheries has provided fresh and smoked fish in northern Michigan to restaurants and retail trade. Family patriarch John was a hardworking, sometimes stern man who built the foundation of what is today still a family-run business. For many years, Huldah ran a successful restaurant, the Nautical, now defunct, on the property. The fishery is now run by John's son, Jack, and Jack's wife, June. A family business that spans four generations, even John's great-granddaughter is learning the business when she's not at school.
METRO TIMES: Legend has it that it could sometimes be difficult to do business with John. Is that true?
JUNE CROSS: If he didn't like you, he wouldn't sell you fish, but he was really a sweetheart.
MT: Tell me out the evolution of Cross fisheries.
CROSS: John, a fisherman, founded the company in 1945. His wife, Huldah, ran a successful restaurant, the Nautical, on the property for years. She was famous for fish because there was no one doing it. No one has ever fixed fish the way she did. She deep-fried it and when she took it out and put it on paper; there was no grease, because the oil it was cooked in was so hot. She'd put it in, take it out for a few seconds so the oil would not lose its heat, and then put it back in. It was so good.
MT: To me the Cross name is synonymous with whitefish. Some of the restaurants even say "John Cross Whitefish" on their menus. Do you have any competition around here?
CROSS: There's people from up north across the Straits [of Mackinaw] that come and sell fish. If you buy fish from us, you can put your name on it. If you buy somebody else's fish, our name comes off the menu. We know the fish we put out is fresh.
MT: How are the fish caught?
CROSS: They have gill nets and trap nets which are used mostly by the smaller boats. They go out and set them and go back and lift them and dip the fish out. We lost a good friend a few years ago. He was lifting and it was kind of rough out and his foot got caught. They really can't lift when it's rough. Sometimes when the weather's bad, we're short of fish. Some people don't understand that. We divide up the restaurants, especially for the whitefish. Some people get angry. But my customers are all special. They come in year after year. I tell my help you should always have a smile for them. Sometimes they come in a little crabby. I tell them, "You should smile. You're on candid camera."
MT: Discuss health issues — good and bad — with seafood. When I'm up here, all I eat is whitefish. I think of it as healthful. It's fresh and it tastes delicious regardless of what you do to it. There's no substitute for freshness.
CROSS: It's fresh. Most restaurants get fish every day — fresh fish. As far as health goes, doctors say if you're pregnant, don't eat it. I asked the agriculture guy about it and he said that if you take the skin and the fat off of it, it's healthy. My daughter, she ate fish at least twice a week when she was pregnant. It didn't hurt her. What you do is you take the skin off and the fat.
MT: How often do you eat fish?
CROSS: I try to eat it at least two times a week, but most of my kids don't like fish.
I cook it on the grill on foil. If I'm cooking it in a skillet, I use half-flour, half-cornmeal, salt and pepper and a shake of garlic. If I want it hot, I put on red pepper. I fry it in canola oil.
MT: A few weeks ago I saw a sign in town for "Mrs. Cross's Fish Fry." What's that about?
CROSS: We started it when they were remodeling the church. We do cole slaw, French fries, Huldah's special secret carrot recipe, all the fish you can eat and lemon pie, coffee, rolls, all you can eat for $9. We can only afford to do it once a year.
Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
John Cross Fisheries is located at 209 Belvedere Ave., Charlevoix. For more information, call 231-547-2532.