9 Custom House Wharf in Portland, Maine has been the site of a fish market since sometime in the late 1800s. It became the Harbor Fish Market when the Alfiero family purchased it in 1966, a joint venture between Ben Alfiero, Sr. and his older brother John Alfiero. John handed over the reins to Ben in 1975, and through the next few years, Ben’s three sons Nick, Ben, Jr., and Mike joined in. They worked as a team of three brothers and father until Ben Sr. retired in 2000.
Once the three brothers were involved, the market started expanding. In the early 1980s, restaurants were becoming more popular destinations as the appreciation of good food spread. Harbor Fish started selling more rare species to restaurants always on the lookout for the dish that could set them apart.
Growing up in an Italian-American family, with Ben’s wife Gloria in the kitchen, the Alfieros had already been exposed to a lot of these exotic species in their youth, so they knew how to entice their local chefs with species like squid, tuna, and monkfish. Their upbringing also inspired them to impart to the public that good food is important to health and well-being, and that’s been the philosophical backbone of the market through the decades.
Business thrived through the 80s, as fish was plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The Alfieros moved their processing operation to a larger facility on Commercial St. to add the capacity for larger customers like A&P, Grand Union, ShopRite, and distributors in Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, San Francisco, and more. They even added a second retail location in North Deering.
As the effects of conservation efforts grew in the late 1980s, wide cutbacks hit the seafood industry, and Harbor Fish refocused their wholesale operation, continuing to serve a national range of clientele, while compacting the physical processing and distribution back to the original (newly expanded) Custom House Wharf location. After a late-80s fire claimed the North Deering retail location, the entire operation—wholesale and retail—remained housed at 9 Custom House Wharf for decades.
In March 2022, The Alfiero family embarked on a new adventure, opening a retail outlet in Scarborough as a joint project with Rosemont Market, another locally-owned food business that has earned the trust of the discerning Greater Portland public. As that location grows and thrives, it continues to be run by a family born and raised in Portland, who still won’t sell anything they wouldn’t bring home themselves.