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Funky design for fishy business

Quebec fish shop takes name and decor inspiration from literature

Stéphane Fillion isn't afraid to take up a business challenge.

So when someone sold him on the idea to open a novel fish shop in the Quebec City region, the young Quebec entrepreneur and two partners, including his father, dove right in.

"We've been rowing hard," Fillion quipped this week from Némeau, his unique fish and food store in Lévis, directly opposite Quebec City on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Opened in Feb. and named for French novelist Jules Vernes' dark fictional character, Captain Nemo, who roamed the oceans of the world in his submarine, the shop sells both fresh and prepared fish and seafood products.

In addition to exclusive fresh offerings like Arctic Char from northern Quebec, it sells a wide variety of fish and seafood dishes made in the large commercial kitchen in the back of the store.

But it's the store's decor that really has people talking.

Created by award-winning Montreal interior designer Jean de Lessard, the shop has a structural glass ceiling and is wrapped in blue-and white-coloured glass prisms that refract light to evoke both the ocean and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea-like adventure.

On the floor, fresh fish products are encased in casesshaped like icebergs and sit atop ice-topped tables.

The cases can also be filled with water to house shellfish and other live species.

According to Fillion, de Lessard's fee, plus the cost of the funky glass and fridges, came to a cool $120,000, or roughly a quarter of the total project cost.

"It was a lot more than what we had originally planned," said Fillion. "But the store is absolutely unique and beautiful (and) many customers say they love it and our products."

An entrepreneur who owns and operates a restaurant/bar, construction company and automobile repair shop started by his father, Alain, in Fermont, a mining town on Quebec's border with Labrador, Fillion said he and his dad bit on the idea of the Lévis store four years ago.

"A friend with a fish shop put the shrimp in our ear," he joked.

He added that he and his father's lack of experience in the retail food business was never a concern, partly because their new partner, François Vermette, has spent 20 years in the food business.

"My dad and I have done very well in fields we knew nothing about when we entered them," Fillion said.  "We're open to challenges."

He added that the store has landed plenty of regular customers over the past several months, and caught some corporate clients.

"Our business seems to be growing through word of mouth," he said.  "So far so good."

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