Meet Eswin Lopez: The Most Passionate Seafood Guy

Meet Eswin Lopez

It’s not uncommon to hear people who’ve had a long career in a field say they practically grew up in it. Well, for Eswin Lopez, a specialist in our Valley Village seafood department, that’s literally true — he started working in his mom’s butcher shop as a 12-year-old boy. “I’ve been cutting meat all my life, so when I came here, I knew all about the different cuts and good customer service,” he says. “In Guatemala, in the place where I grew up, you see the same customers daily, and I really learned how to treat people. Thank God I have those good roots: I use those skills every single day here.”

In fact, in our conversation with Eswin, every road — every promotion, every decision he makes, every interaction — seems to lead back to his customer-service philosophy: “The key for good customer service is a great attitude,” he says. “Bring the best of you every day, not just today, and treat everyone the same way. Give them the best of you, give them a good reason to always come back and shop in our stores.”

Case in point: The way Eswin has traveled through a bunch of departments at Gelson’s to get where he is today. When he joined us, 28 years ago, there weren’t any positions open for meat cutters. They don’t come up very often, mainly because people love working in the meat department, and they stay for years. So, like many, many people here, he started in the front of the store. “I was bagging groceries and pushing carts, but I did my part to escalate things,” he says. “I've been working so hard. I put so much love into my job, so much time into it, because that was the only way to do it — to show my customer skills, to make sure I have a good relationship with my managers and coworkers, and to become a value.”

All that hard work paid off, and Eswin found a spot in our meat department, which is more like his mom’s butcher shop than most supermarkets. At Gelson’s, we have a full-service meat counter, and there are meat cutters there all day, every day, cutting, preparing, and grinding meat, and helping customers figure out what to cook for dinner. To learn the Gelson’s approach to meat cutting, Eswin completed a 2-year apprenticeship program, and then went on to become an assistant manager and, finally, a manager — and then, did he stay in the department forever, like so many do? No, like a flying fish, he made the leap to the seafood side of things. “My manager said that I had the potential to become a great seafood guy,” he says. “And I am proud to say that I love what I do. I enjoy every day, and I run it like I have ownership — the best cuts, the best merchandising, and the best quality.”

A big part of Eswin’s job is ordering and receiving fish. One of the things that makes Gelson’s seafood department special is that we take deliveries six days a week — sometimes seven in a busy week — so that we have the freshest fish and seafood possible. When an order comes in, Eswin inspects every item to make sure that it meets our specifications. “I'm a very particular guy,” he says. “Anything that comes in the door has to be the best of the best, otherwise it’s not going in my case!”

So what’s he looking for? “I look at the temperature, the freshness, and the quality of the way it looks,” he explains. “For a swordfish loin, I’ll look at the way it was trimmed, and the firmness of the flesh. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about quality — by reading about all the fish and talking to our vendors. Now, I really know good quality, and my philosophy is: don’t put it in the case if you wouldn’t buy it for your family.”

Gelson’s is fairly unusual in that we do get in whole fish and giant swordfish loins, and our fish and seafood folks are experts in cutting, boning, and preparing the fish. “We process the whole fish into fillets and steaks, and we debone them,” Eswin says. “We also do some cooking, from peeling and steaming our shrimp to making the salmon roulades — it’s all processed fresh, in-house.”

When it comes to merchandising, or arranging the fish and seafood in the case, Eswin says there are a lot of decisions to be made. He separates the cooked and raw shellfish, centerpieces his fresh fillets throughout the case, and makes sure the color breaks between the fish are pretty. He might put a bright orange salmon next to white-fleshed halibut, for example. “This is the part of the day I enjoy the most, it’s so entertaining for me,” he says. “I have 20 feet of case, and there’s so much I have to do to keep it in good shape, and I like to look back at the end of the day and see it looking really good.”

“This might sound funny,” he adds, “but it’s something good that I can do, to leave it in an outstanding presentation, so the next person, my coworker, can just focus on customer service.”

Eswin also likes merchandising because it gets him out on the floor, where he meets our customers and talks fish with them — flavor profiles, cooking tips, and the like. He says salmon, halibut, and swordfish are all customer favorites. “Swordfish is my kids’ favorite, too,” he laughs. “They have good taste. It’s the best on the grill with some mango salsa. Oh my god! Do you agree with me? Very yummy.”

It’s always fun to introduce people to a new fish. Eswin gets to know his customers, what they like and don’t like, so that he can make a recommendation they’ll enjoy. Right now, his favorite recommendation is sablefish. “It’s such a good fish, but a lot of people don’t know it,” he says. “It’s a very delicate, buttery fish, so the best way to cook it is to bake or broil it with some garlic, parsley, sea salt, and pepper — all the simple things. Fish is a meat that just doesn’t need much, and you want to enjoy the good flavor.”

Eswin says that between the fish, the case, and the customers, his days go rushing by. “And suddenly, I’m driving home, happy that I had another great day,” he explains. “Does that sound funny? There are hard days, too, but my attitude toward my work is positive all the time. I come with a good attitude, and I go with a good attitude.”

According to Eswin, that’s how it has to be if you want to succeed in whatever you do. “You have to enjoy your work to do it well, to put that feeling in it, that love,” he says. “I have such a passion for what I do ... even though I go home smelling like fish. My wife and kids say, ‘Ewww, you stink like a fish.’ I say, ‘Don't worry, I’ll take a shower. This is what I do.’”