Two Bronx Teachers Plan to Hire Students for Their New Seafood Cafe

By Patrick Wall on March 14, 2013 4:48pm 

MOTT HAVEN — If teaching a man to fish beats giving him one, what about teaching a man to sell fish?

Carmen Skrine and Steve Cabellero, two Bronx high school teachers, plan to find out when they open Fishnet Seafood Café, a new restaurant near the Hub where they hope to hire current and former students to serve healthy take-out.

“My focus has always been to train people to take care of themselves,” said Skrine, 57, who has taught phys ed and other subjects at the Monroe campus for 18 years. “We’ll teach these kids a better way.”

Cabellero, meanwhile, has spent 15 years at Monroe teaching biology and financial literacy — a mindset he hopes will equip future student-employees to save their earnings and, perhaps, reinvest them in the restaurant to become partial owners.

“They have to understand the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Cabellero, 47.

The two teachers, both colleagues and workout buddies, started floating the idea for a joint business venture several years ago. Each has an entrepreneurial background — Skrine as a former drink distributor, Cabellero as the owner of a small computer repair company.

After a few ideas, they settled on a seafood restaurant and found the space at 474 Willis Ave., a 15,000-square-foot former clothing store that had sat vacant for a few years.

A former Marine who coaches basketball and soccer and eats mostly vegetarian, Skrine is something of a health nut.

He worked with his son, Thomas Skrine, a 33-year-old Manhattan chef who goes by “Chef Twiggy,” to design a menu that would be affordable and appealing to locals, but also offer healthy options.

So below the $1 onion rings and fries on the menu, there will be $1 salads and $1.50 creamed spinach. Next to the 2 for $5 fish tacos will sit a pound of steamed vegetables for $2.99.

The salmon and shrimp will be available fried or steamed. And for $3.50, one can choose between three relatively healthy sandwiches: grilled chicken, fried whiting or a falafel burger.

“The focus is to shift from fast bad food to fast good food,” said Skrine, a South Carolina-native who lives on Long Island. “It’s all about training people’s palates.”

Starting the business has been a long process, the owners said — and a costly one.

Cabellero modified his mortgage and invested $31,000; Skrine dipped into his retirement funds to put in $28,000. They also took out loans and got backing from the person who did the store’s plumbing and from a 27-year-old former Monroe student.

They expect to be dishing out fish within a few weeks, after equipment installation and inspections wrap up.

In the meantime, Cabellero, a Trinidad-native who lives in Queens, expects to work more and sleep less — teaching during the day, then preparing the restaurant in the evening.

During his winter break, he labored late into the night on Christmas Eve installing a counter. He returned on Christmas Day to make some finishing touches.

Once the restaurant opens, he plans to arrive at 5:30 a.m. to help prep for breakfast, head to Monroe to teach from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then return to the café to work from 4 to 10 p.m.

He hopes that the students in his cell-phone directory, whom he intends to offer jobs and maybe one day a stake in the company, will be inspired by his example.

“As an entrepreneur,” he said, “it’s about doing whatever it takes.”

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