Swordfish might be among the coolest creatures in the sea. The largest one ever caught weighed a whopping 1,182 pounds, and they have those incredibly long, pointed bills. They’re also delicious when they’re served as a steak or in the starring role on a plate of tacos. Since 2015, the people behind Chula Seafood have been ethically fishing swordfish (and other species) outside of San Diego, then bringing them to the desert — and, in turn, to Chula’s customers.
“In 2009, my father-in-law had started his own distributorship in the commercial fishing industry,” co-owner Mandy Heflin says. “Typically, you come to shore and someone just buys your whole boatload of fish, and then they take it to the next Point A, B or C. That year, Jim Heflin” — Mandy’s father-in-law — “decided he would start supplying some local San Diego spots, and that’s what got our minds rolling.”
Six years later, Heflin and her husband were making day trips to and from San Diego in a refrigerated truck to supply local markets with the freshest fish imaginable. They started with the Saturday market at Vincent’s on Camelback Road while trying to make inroads with local chefs. The Heflins were primarily marketing swordfish, but their focus quickly expanded to include tuna and salmon. Eventually, they found a bricks-and-mortar location, at Hayden Road and Roosevelt Street in Scottsdale, that housed their wholesale operation for years. A second location, at Uptown Plaza in Phoenix, followed in 2019.
“Our ‘fish fam’ mentality really developed,” Heflin says. “We’re all just a team working together to better serve the community with fresh fish.”
While Chula now occasionally uses airplanes to transport its fish, the fish fam’s guiding philosophy remains the same, and it’s rooted in sustainable
fishing methods. “Sustainability in the fishing industry can mean a lot of things,” Heflin says. “We harpoon and deep-set-buoy fish. The main point there is that there is no bycatch. What we’re getting is everything we’re targeting — usable fish. We’re not getting all sorts of fish, or turtles and whales and sharks.”
Within hours of being caught, those fish make their way to Chula’s locations and are made available for wholesale purchase or as ingredients on the restaurants’ extensive menus, which regularly feature poke bowls, tuna melts, seared scallops, swordfish burritos and much more. The menus also highlight other local culinary creations, such as Cutino hot sauce, Big Marble ginger beer and Noble bread.
“The community is what brought us here today,” Heflin says. “They’ve helped us make this dream a reality. The local people, the local purveyors, the chefs, everyone just kind of meshes into one. We want to share the love and give them a place to have a hope for their products. It all just marries so well with the support of the restaurant industry as a whole. We’re not only concerned with our own well-being. We want the whole community to thrive.”
8015 E. Roosevelt Street, Scottsdale
100 E. Camelback Road, Suite 172, Phoenix