Faces of the Sea: Norah Eddy, Laura Johnson, and Gina Auriemma
Santa Barbara’s Salty Girl Seafood Goes from Start-Up to Success
“No one who has ever done anything great has had it easy,” observes Norah Eddy, cofounder and chief marketing officer of Salty Girl Seafood (saltygirlseafood.com).
And there was no doubt in Eddy’s mind that the vision she and cofounder Laura Johnson dreamed up three years ago was anything but great. That vision was to create a seafood company that would motivate consumers and fishermen to embrace seafood sustainability on a global scale.
“There was so much potential that it seemed a waste not to pursue it,” says Eddy. So Eddy and Johnson took on Salty Girl Seafood (SGS) as a passion project on top of their thesis and coursework for the master’s program at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Eddy recounts that they squeezed in phone calls with chefs between classes and spent their weekends driving to restaurants.
From the beginning, Salty Girl Seafood’s approach has been “to find the best people and elevate the company that way,” says Eddy. Finding the best people has not been a problem for SGS. “It helped that we started as students. It helped being the outlier — the non-tech, female-run seafood company. And it helps that we are very approachable and very coachable,” Eddy claims.
But anyone who has ever met Eddy, Johnson, or Gina Auriemma, chief information officer for SGS and former classmate of Eddy and Johnson’s, will tell you that help came to these fledgling entrepreneurs for good reason. It’s not only the strength of their business model and their impassioned vision that has attracted Santa Barbara’s best folks to Salty Girl Seafood. It is also the entrepreneurs themselves.
Eddy oozes fiery charisma and is a quintessential salty girl with a big sense of humor. Johnson tempers Eddy’s spicy with Chicago sweet and the quiet calm of a glassy sea. Auriemma grounds the group with an earthy, easygoing aura that makes you want to grab a drink, sit down for hours, and become best friends. All three have an incredible work ethic, strong personalities, and passionate souls and possess the entrepreneur spirit in bucketloads.
Most people wouldn’t be eager to leave graduate school and shoulder mounting debt to start a business that may or may not pan out. But Eddy, Johnson, and Auriemma have all made a sort of peace with uncertainty that is rooted in their experiences as daughters of successful entrepreneurs. Auriemma says that growing up the child of an entrepreneur gave her a different attitude toward jobs than most of her friends. “I grew up believing you could literally do anything you want.”
There’s no reason for Auriemma to stop believing now. Two years after defining what they wanted to do, Salty Girl Seafood is on the verge of doing it. Their three sustainable, traceable, simple-to-prepare seafood products — Coho Salmon with Lemon Pepper & Garlic, Black Cod with Sweet & Smoky Teriyaki, and Pacific Rockfish with Garlic Fresh Veggies — can now be found in the frozen food aisles of major retailers, such as Bristol Farms and Whole Foods.
Selling more fish is, of course, good for business. But it is also essential for Salty Girl Seafood to achieve its mission of incentivizing seafood sustainability across the globe. “We’re getting to this point where we can buy more and more fish and have more buying power,” Eddy says excitedly. More buying power is what SGS needs to dangle the carrot of steady purchases at a higher price in front of small fishing communities around the world and encourage them to adopt sustainable fishing practices.
Salty Girl Seafood is close enough to smell the salty scent of success, but Eddy admits that it will be another few years coming, and the company is entering another round of fundraising to fuel future growth. Until success comes, the team is just “focusing on the now,” says Auriemma. As Eddy puts it, “Once you birth this thing, it is all-consuming — good and bad.”
Still, doing something great was never going to be easy. And, two years down the line, there is no doubt that this Santa Barbara start-up is doing something great.