John Valk remembers when Catsmo established its salmon-smoking business in his town. “They had three employees, and now they’ve got more than 50,” he said.
The veteran town supervisor considers attracting the rapidly growing business to Shawangunk a triumph. A state economic-development package ensures that Catsmo will be expanded here rather than relocated elsewhere.
Catsmo CEO Marcus Draxler said a new three-million-dollar, 10,000-square-foot building on the site will accommodate product storage and processing. Some ten to 15 new employees are expected to be hired. Part of the package is a $200,000 Central Hudson grant from a program for retaining manufacturing businesses. According to an Ulster County press release, the new space will also allow the company to acquire more sophisticated machinery, improve production workflow, and satisfy food safety and labor standards.
Catsmo was formed in 1995 in Mount Tremper. Catching more fish than he and his family could eat, Catsmo founder Robert Simon taught himself how to smoke fish to preserve it. A cadre of notable New York City-based chefs, including Daniel Boulud, whose name adorns some Catsmo packages, encouraged Simon. The business soon outgrew the garage in which it was created.
In 1997, it moved to the town of Shawangunk, where zoning rules encouraged the redevelopment of old farms. The business thrived in an old dairy barn near an open field. Though it’s grown considerably, Valk noted, “No one even knows it’s there.”
Catsmo was acquired by New York City-based Solex Fine Foods in 2012. The Solex product line included truffles, specialty vinegar and oil, heritage pork, and wild game such as mountain hare and wood pigeon.
Catsmo struggled to meet market demand for artisanal smoked salmon from Whole Foods and other substantial customers. Company leaders including CEO Markus Draxler and Sebastien Simon (Robert Simon’s brother) began sending out feelers for assistance. Economic development officials in Ulster County began talks in 2013.
Meanwhile, the business kept growing, and the company projected substantial future demand. “New Jersey was very attractive” in terms of inducements, Draxler conceded. But New York State officials offered inducements sufficient to retain the homegrown business, CFO Frederic Pothier said.
Catsmo salmon, primarily from Scotland and Chile, is shipped fresh to the Shawangunk facility, and is smoked and aged before being packaged and sold to restaurateurs and retailers. Locally, the fish can be purchased at Adams Fairacre Farms locations, as well as My Market and Gadaleto’s in New Paltz.
Space for aging the smoked fish has been a major driver of Catsmo’s expansion plans, Draxler said. They fish sit for a few days after salting and smoking. All told, each fish spends about ten days in the Shawangunk facility on Myers Road.
Hiring employees will be a challenge, Draxler said. “We would prefer local workers, but it’s not easy to find them.” Finding manufacturing workers has grown more difficult as the Hudson Valley shifts more to a tourist-based economy. Many young people are leaving the region. “We struggle all the time,” Draxler said.
Solex is a privately-held business, and sales figures are not publicly available. Draxler declined to provide them, but said that he anticipates more sales growth in the future. He’s confident the company will over time create the new jobs it is projecting.
Production has grown significantly year after year and company projections call for continued growth. As the company’s executives began planning for their expansion, they were actively courted by economic development officials from the State of New Jersey. However, the company, which had been in contact with county executive Hein’s office since 2013, reached out for assistance. After receiving commitments of support from Central Hudson and Empire State Development, it decided to continue growing its business in Ulster County.
The Catsmo’s expansion will provide additional storage space needed for the company’s award-winning smoked salmon products. The new space will also allow the company to acquire larger and more sophisticated machinery, to improve production workflow, and to satisfy ever-increasing food safety and labor standards.