GRAND RIVERS -- Caviar is king for Murray resident David Fields after he underwent a major career change seven years ago, moving on to sell fresh fish and create America's Best Caviar.
Fields is the owner/operator of Lake City Fish Market and America's Best Caviar in Grand Rivers, near Kentucky Dam. The business produces thousands of pounds in American paddlefish and sturgeon caviar annually and attracts local customers for catfish, buffalo fish and other seafood demands.
The caviar has been served in glamorous settings such as the Trifecta Gala, a Kentucky Derby party in Louisville.
It all began in 2012 when Fields left his post as assistant principal and athletic director at Murray High School for a new opportunity in a different field after years of teaching, coaching and administration. He had no prior business experience, but took a "big risk" to wade into the fish market and caviar industry after buying the operation from its previous owner.
"In 2012, it was a wholesale-only company," he said. "We were wholesaling to the four corners of the U.S., to Los Angeles and Miami, Seattle, New York, with the majority of it going to New York. We sold some in Chicago, some on the East Coast, but we were selling in bulk."
A few years later, Fields' operation started to branch out with America's Best Caviar. He went on to sell caviar on the Internet and through retail, so it was available to the general public, chefs and other customers.
He reached out to food writers and caught the attention of a Louisville Courier-Journal writer, who wrote a piece on his business and the caviar industry that later reached USA Today. The exposure helped lead to a segment on "NBC Nightly News" that aired in February. It resulted in a quick spike in sales and hundreds of orders.
His story took the spotlight at the Paducah Rotary Club's meeting Wednesday. Fields spoke about his experiences in the fish and caviar business, changing careers from education, national media exposure and having pride and passion.
"It just all kind of came together," Fields said on "NBC Nightly News." "It wasn't something that we went out and tried to do. They found us. Obviously, since then, the exposure has just been tremendous."
America's Best Caviar prides itself on attention to detail and quality, as Fields wants to put out a quality product so customers come back. He's also open to trying new methods for processing caviar.
"We're definitely quality-oriented, always trying to do the best we can," he said. "We're not fishermen so we spend our valuable time trying to make the process better, trying to make the eggs better."
He explained that several factors affect quality of the unsalted roe, or eggs, such as time and temperature, as the amount of time between capture of the fish and arriving at the fish market makes "all the difference in the world."
"We extract the eggs," he said. "We put them in a pan and the fish goes to the processor. … We immediately take the eggs, take them back into the processing room and start screening them. Once we screen them, we wash them and then they're salted because the salt cures them and makes the product OK, safe."
It then goes to the cooler to cap off a roughly 20-minute process. The caviar is packaged and goes for lucrative amounts -- a 4-ounce jar of the American sturgeon caviar costs more than $100 retail.
The business comes with challenges though, such as the impact of Asian carp on the caviar source, river flooding and Chinese caviar flooding the U.S. market. America's Best Caviar's highest production was 13,300 pounds in a year, while its lowest production was 8,700 pounds.
"Since I've been in the market seven years, I've seen it completely crash twice," he said. "Which basically means it goes from high dollar on the wholesale market to less than half of what it normally is."
Fields has "no idea" where the industry will take him, but he does have a goal to get a complete, total caviar company. He also enjoys meeting unique people through the caviar business and traveling to new cities, including Moscow.
"I don't expect everyone in Kentucky to try it," Fields said. "However, it's a product we're having some success with in Louisville, and I hope there's some other places that are kind of on board and adding it to menus. I think we're just starting to see the beginning."