Octopus supplier Superior Fish Co. is going out of business
Al Sobotka, famed Red Wings Zamboni driver and octopus wrangler, demonstrates his signature style at Joe Louis Arena.
The octopus was a big part of the Red Wings’ identity when they regularly resided among the NHL’s best. So maybe it’s fitting that, with the Wings in rebuilding mode, the business that sold the cephalopods that wound up on the Joe Louis Arena ice is closing up shop.
Superior Fish Co., on 11 Mile near Main Street in Royal Oak, is going out of business – its last day is Saturday, June 16 – after 80 years, according to owner Kevin Dean.
“As the planets align for certain events, everything was aligning that now is the time to come to shore for Superior Fish,” Dean said.
He and his brother, David, are selling the 16,000 square-foot building and about three-quarters of an acre of property.
Most Wings fans know why the octopus tradition began in Detroit. Back in the days of the Original Six teams, there were only two best-of-seven rounds of playoffs, meaning it took eight wins to capture the Stanley Cup.
Detroit fish market owner Pete Cusimano did the math and figured an octopus with its eight arms was the perfect representation of what it took to snag the Cup. So, in 1952, Cusimano threw the first octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium during the Wings’ run to the championship.
Superior Fish Co.’s involvement with the Red Wings goes back a little over 30 years.
In 1986, after being one of the NHL’s worst teams for most of the previous 20 years, Detroit hired Jacques Demers as coach. He led the team – which featured Steve Yzerman and Bob Probert – to the Campbell Conference Final in 1987 and 1988.
Dean remembers that either the Detroit News or Free Press was planning a photo shoot with Demers and a big octopus, and Superior Fish Co. was called upon to supply the key prop.
“It just snowballed from there,” he said.
Over the next 30 years, Superior became the place where Red Wings fans flocked to buy octopi and then toss them to the ice at Joe Louis Arena, especially during the playoffs.
And when Detroit won successive Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998, the business began to get international attention.
Among Dean’s most memorable moments during those two years:
* When Don Cherry and Ron MacLean taped a segment for CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada’s” “Coach’s Corner” at his store.
* When a Japanese TV show hired actors to recreate fans buying octopi from the store (during the summer).
* When Russian and Swedish media outlets did features on Superior Fish Co.
“It’s been quite a run,” Dean said. “We’ve been very fortunate, and we don’t take any of it for granted.”
But it is a difficult, slimy and smelly task to transport an octopus, conceal it, get it into an arena and then toss it onto the ice from the stands, so …
“I came up with the ‘Octo Kit,’ ” Dean said.
Which are instructions and supplies to help pull off the above tasks.
It included instructions on how to boil the octopus, a plastic bag to put it in, tips on concealing it and the correct way to throw it.
Dean and his employees also developed relationships with former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman and many players, who were customers for the store’s other seafood offerings.
Dean says the store also hosted events on how to properly cook octopi and tastings that featured octopus chili, octopus salad and octopus spread.
Countless octopi have landed on the Joe Louis Arena ice over the years, including 52 in the last game there, the Red Wings’ 2016-17 season finale.
Now Saturday will be the Superior Fish Co.’s finale.