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Hook, Line and Seafood: A deep dive into COLO’s new oyster bar and other offerings at the North Market

Hook, Line and Seafood: A deep dive into COLO’s new oyster bar and other offerings at the North Market


Ian Holmes always wanted to be a Fish Guy.

Fish Guys is the name of a business where many flocked for fresh seafood in Downtown Columbus. As a seafood lover, Holmes admired the company and embraced its urban surroundings.

“There’s something magical about the Downtown North Market,” he said. “I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew if it ever opened up, I wanted to be a part of that.”

This dream would come to pass and he became his own “fish guy” in a way. Twelve years ago, Holmes founded Coastal Local Seafood, a wholesale brand that supplied restaurants and markets across the state, including his beloved Fish Guys. 

“About three years ago, right before COVID, we were going into our first retail store in Bridge Park,” he said. “During construction there, the Fish Guys at Downtown North Market went out of business.”

The exiting entrepreneurs offered their location to Holmes, who had already been working on a Coastal Local Seafood retail and dining location in Dublin’s Bridge Park.

“We weren’t in any position to be taking on retail spots,” he said. “But I’ve supplied the Fish Guys at North Market for a decade. I know that once that opens up, it’s going to be a long time before somebody else takes it over again.”

And so, he dove in, hoping to make a splash. 

Photo by Heidi Oliver
Photo by Heidi Oliver

“We had the one in Bridge Park planned out for a year,” he said. “We were moving toward opening that one and then this other one fell in our lap.”

The two ultimately opened within a month of each other. But that wasn’t the only surprise: A company founded by Jeff Bezos sent him a cease-and-desist letter, demanding he stop using the name Coastal Local Seafood. 

And so the brand name COLO was born.

“The wholesale company is still called Coastal Local Seafood,” he said. “They told me that they don’t care about that. It’s the retail company that didn’t want me to use the word ‘coastal.'”

COLO’s unique approach to its two locations distinguishes the dining experience for customers. The Downtown has a bigger oyster bar and a larger fresh display, while the Dublin location is “more of a food hall experience.”

“There’s more public seating in Dublin,” Holmes said. “You go to get a lobster roll and a beer there. For the Downtown location, you get a lobster roll and a beer, and you take home a piece of fish to make for dinner.”

The Downtown location has also been recently updated, having moved across the aisle in the market from its original location and adding a new 10-seat oyster bar.

And when it comes to oysters, Holmes said there are people every single day who approach it nervously, only to end up discovering that they enjoy it.

“We give the same spiel all the time,” Holmes said. “It’s just going to taste cold and like the ocean. You don’t even have to put anything on them. We put a drop of lemon and a drop of hot sauce on it. And normally if somebody’s on the fence about it, we’ll do one with them and give them one for free. It’s time to break the ice.”

Although the 10-seat oyster bar is a central feature, there’s more to COLO than that.

“We do a lot of lobster rolls,” he said. “We do the main style, which is a cold, mayonnaise-based lobster salad. And then we probably do three times more of the Connecticut lobster roll, which is just warm buttered lobster on a toasted bun; that’s probably our most popular item.”

But Holmes is most proud of their fish and chips.

“We’re getting the freshest fish in town,” he said. “If it sits in the sand for one day, it gets breaded and goes to the kitchen, and we restock the case with new fish every day. You’re never going to get a better fish and chips than you get with ours. You’re never going to get anything better in the Midwest.”

The point is diversifying the locations to follow customer trends.

“It seems like the clientele in Dublin is there to have someone cook for you,” he said. “Downtown, we get the same loyal customers that have been going there for 30 years that pick up their bread and their piece of seafood, and they cook for themselves.”

He also loves educating people in fun ways.

“We all pride ourselves on how knowledgeable we are about everything we have, whether it be the fresh seafood portion of it or the oysters – we’re able to tell you the differences between each and every oyster.”

It’s the perfect place to enjoy some wine with a date, he said, highlighting the sense of connection and community. 

“That’s half the reason why I wanted to open an oyster bar in Columbus – I love the oyster bar experience in Boston or New York City. I like the banter and I wanted to bring something like that here.”

Although the Downtown location of COLO has moved, Holmes found a great use for that original spot: a butcher shop: COLO Butcher and Deli, which also houses a smash burger restaurant.

“There’s been a lack of a butcher shop for the better part of a year now. So we took on the burden of carrying all the fresh proteins for the whole market,” he said. “There’s a full line of beef, pork, poultry, and seafood.”

And so far, it looks like the COLO team has found success.

“Judging by reviews on Yelp and Google and all the things, it seems like half the reason people will come in is just to hang out and have a good time with us,” Holmes said.


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