Adam Caslow fishes in Wyoming

Caslow fishing in Wyoming. (Photo: Provided)

Lox, Stock, and Barrel: Hotelie Runs Fourth-Generation Food Firm

Adam Caslow ’05 is co-CEO of a venerable Brooklyn-based fish seller

By Joe Wilensky

Although Adam Caslow’s family has owned and operated Acme Smoked Fish for decades—processing and selling lox, salmon, and other fish products to retailers and customers—the 2005 Hotel alum had never pictured himself taking the reins.

“It was kind of smelly, and Dad got up early and was home late,” Caslow recalls of his earliest memories of the firm. “It was this New York-based, ethnic food business. It was a big part of our family, three generations, and it provided for us, and that’s what I knew about it. But it didn’t speak to me.”

Today, though, Caslow is a fourth-generation owner-operator and co-CEO of the company, which has grown dramatically in recent decades: it now sells about 20 million pounds of smoked fish annually to more than 2,000 retail outlets (including Costco, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, Albertsons, and Stop & Shop) and directly to consumers; operates six facilities on three continents; and has 1,100 employees worldwide.

Acme employees Rogers Suarez, left, and Harry Kanhoye at work in the company's main processing facility
Acme employees in the company’s main processing facility. (Photo provided)

Acme was founded by Caslow’s great-grandfather, who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1906 and started buying fish from smokehouses throughout Brooklyn and Queens and selling it to “appetizing” stores from a horse-drawn wagon; he launched the company in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood in 1954 with his sons and son-in-law.

By the 1990s, Caslow’s father and uncle were running the business, primarily as a New York metro-area provider of smoked fish products to supermarkets, bagel stores, and appetizing shops. “They had one facility and a small fleet of trucks,” Caslow says. “Week in, week out, it was kind of the same thing.”

Exploring his options

Adam Caslow pictured with his sister, Emily Caslow Gindi, father Robert Caslow, and mother Miriam Caslow on a visit to the Cornell campus
Caslow (second from left) with his parents and sister during a visit to campus his freshman year. (Photo provided)

As an undergrad on the Hill, Caslow sampled a variety of non-Hotel courses, from meteorology to woodworking. One summer, he interned at a law firm (long enough to learn the field wasn’t for him); another, he was a concessions supervisor at Shea Stadium, home to his beloved New York Mets. While the family business beckoned—a cousin had joined the company in the ’90s—he wanted to explore other avenues.

“My father had this expression: he graduated on Friday and went to work on Monday,” says Caslow, who took a hotel bartending job in Aspen, Colorado, after earning his degree. “That wasn’t going to be me.”

Meanwhile, Acme was growing. His cousin had increased the facility’s throughput and efficiency, and the company took advantage of new vacuum-packing technologies that extended shelf life from around a week and a half to more than a month, which allowed it to expand distribution far beyond New York.

In 2006, Caslow accepted his cousin’s invitation to join Acme—with the aim of putting their own stamp on the business and growing it in new directions. He facilitated the acquisition of a Florida smoked fish firm, an expansion that was fueled in part by increased demand. “Consumers were changing their eating habits to find alternative and healthier proteins,” says Caslow, who became the company’s co-CEO in 2016, “and salmon was an easy foray into seafood.”

Consumers were changing their eating habits to find alternative and healthier proteins, and salmon was an easy foray into seafood.

Acme’s wares now include many varieties of salmon and flavors of lox (such as those with “everything bagel” seasoning) as well as whitefish salad, spiced herring, sable, and more. The company has added facilities in the U.S. as well as in Chile and Denmark, as it sources fish—mostly salmon, both farmed and wild—from the global supply chain.

“It’s not lost on me that our business is predicated on the consumption of a natural resource,” observes Caslow, noting that Acme recently hired a sustainability officer. “Some wild fisheries are threatened by climate change, and overfishing can be a threat to the communities indigenous to those areas.”

A (Big Red) family firm

Caslow’s colleagues at Acme include two fellow Cornellians, both CALS food science alums: Gabriel Viteri ’99, the company’s chief operating officer, and Matt Ranieri ’06, PhD ’13, the technical services director and head of quality assurance. Acme has also partnered with Big Red faculty—particularly food science professor Martin Wiedmann, PhD ’97—to understand the risks of pathogens in fish processing and to develop state-of-the-art safety practices.

“We’re now able to get the fish from raw material into finished product in under 48 hours,” Caslow notes. “And the decrease in that exposure time has allowed us to extend shelf life without additional preservatives.”

Dan Pace of Zucker's bagels and Emily Caslow Gindi and Adam Caslow of Acme Smoked Fish during the 2018 attempt to set a world record for the largest bagel-and-lox sandwich ever made
Caslow (far right) during the 2018 attempt to make the world’s biggest bagel-and-lox sandwich; sadly, the creation missed the mark on the grounds that it didn’t beat the record for largest standalone bagel. (Photo provided)

In 2018, Acme partnered with one of its customers, a bagel shop, to try to break the world record for the largest bagel-and-lox sandwich ever made. Timed to coincide with National Bagels and Lox Day (February 9), the massive creation—assembled before a crowd at Acme’s Greenpoint facility and weighing in at just over 213 pounds—comprised some 40 pounds of cream cheese and 30 pounds of smoked salmon, plus ample amounts of tomato slices, red onion, and capers.

While the giant sandwich failed to be certified by Guinness—having been disqualified on a technicality—Caslow has fond memories of the attempt. “It turned into a wonderful community celebration,” he says. “Food is meant to be shared with family and friends, and the best part of the event was cutting that giant sandwich into pieces for everyone.”

Top image: Caslow fishing in Wyoming. (Photo provided)

Published February 3, 2022


Comments

  1. Howie Jacobson

    Awesome article. Great family and great company. Adam’s dad & I ( Cornell ‘71) have been friends since 1967!

  2. Michael Sharkey

    We have known Robbie for about 45 years he worked in a refrigerated building all week and we all skied in freezing cold weather every weekend. From what I understand he is still doing the same thing.

    Michael & Loretta

  3. Frann Shore, Class of 1979

    My local fishmonger Small World Seafood introduced me to Acme products during the pandemic and I love the lox!

  4. Jerry Diener, Class of 1969

    Sorry I never med Adams dad while at Cornell. Have enjoyed their products since I was a kid. Hard to find a deli where they still hand slice the lox so thin you can see through it. Wish the prepackaged product could also be sliced so thin. Just doesn’t taste the same. Glad they are thriving because I’ve wondered how they could survive when it’s so hard to find places that sell the hand sliced product.

  5. Geoffrey Hewitt, Class of 1979

    Loved their products all my life even as a buyer for Hyatt Hotels and Rainbow Room after graduating in 1979 w an MPS from Hotel School , now retired living on NC

  6. Bruce Lynn, Class of 1997

    Neat story….wishing you the best of continued success….and look forward to seeking out your products next time we are in the NE/NYC area.

  7. Theresa Brown-Edwards, Class of 1997

    What an inspiring article that simply made me feel good! How lovely and joyful.

  8. D. Vu Nguyen, Class of 1995

    Great story! Except the fish in the picture looks like a cutthroat trout, not salmon. 😜

  9. Ken Fields, Class of 1965

    Great story. Was pleased to find Acme Smoked Whitefish spread in my local Publix here in Florida since the huge container Costco sells would go past expiration before I could finish it. I have a suspicion other local grocers selling the spread under their own label are really using Acme.

  10. Nathan Ladovsky, Class of 2018

    We love ACME Smoked fish – especially the Pastrami Cured lox! Our guests demanded that we stock it and it’s been flying off our shelves ever since. From one 4th Gen operator to another, congrats on the continued success!

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