Story and Photos
By Sara Hall | NB Indy
Hiding on a floating dock under the Coast Highway bridge that spans Newport Bay is a small market that offers fresh seafood and a unique experience.
People either love Pearson’s Port or they don’t know about it, in the words of one customer.
“We have a very loyal following of people,” said co-owner Terese Pearson. “We’re definitely here to serve the community… That’s what we do.”
Pearson’s is at the end of a short dock in Newport Harbor, under the bridge that separates the harbor and the Back Bay. Many customers refer to it as “Newport’s hidden gem” because most people literally don’t see it unless they paddle by in a kayak or cruise by on a boat.
“We get people in every single day that say they’ve passed us and never knew we were here,” said Terese Pearson.
With lobster season now open, fishermen up and down the coast are busy, including Pearson’s Port.
She works with 12 boats up and down the coast, said Pearson, and many local fishermen, including her husband, Tommy. Everything is fished seasonally, she added, and lobster season is one of the busier times of year.
Pearson’s Port has been serving Newport Beach for 39 years (they will celebrate their 40 year anniversary in February). The family-owned business is the last floating fish market in California.
Not just Terese and Tommy Pearson, but the Pearson children, Hayley and Carley, put in their fair share of work as well.
Carley said she started helping out at the market when she was just 7 years old. It has taught her a lot, she said, about life, family, business and the value of hard work (and being able to enjoy your time off).
“My family, when we’re not working, we party,” joked Carley, 13, whose Oct. 5 birthday coincided with the start of lobster season. She doesn’t usually mind the interference with her birthday plans, she said, because the market is a part of her family’s life.
“We live according to what the market needs,” Carley said.
“Our kids have given up a lot,” said Terese Pearson. “We need to start making some family memories and not just (memories) with the market.”
It takes a lot of work and dedication to make sure the market runs smoothly and customers get the freshest food possible. This means getting up often before sunrise and not closing up shop until the sun is setting just beyond the market’s front door. Terese even once swam out to her husband’s boat and floated the barrels back so the market could have the first lobster of the season on the shelves by noon.
The market was started in 1971 by Tommy Pearson’s parents, Roy and Vi. Roy Pearson worked as a machinist during the war and then in the aerospace industry, but was a fisherman at heart. Vi began selling what he would bring home, Terese explained.
Roy Pearson built the market and began fishing full-time. The shop was originally an open-air market and was located a few feet away from where it stands now. Most of the dock and building blew away in a bad storm, but the pillars from the original dock can still be seen. Roy Pearson later added walls to the market to enclose it, got the whole family involved, and the market quickly gained popularity.
The story behind Tommy and Terese began when they were just kids. They grew up only three houses apart from each other in Huntington Beach. The two didn’t start dating until their 20s, she said.
Tommy and Terese Pearson took over the market in 2000 after the death of Tommy’s father in 1999. Daily operations have Terese in the market running the storefront, with the help of their children and one employee, Chuck, and Tommy out on the boat fishing.
“(About) 15 years I’ve been coming here,” said Jane Jones of Newport Beach. “I tell people all the time, if you want good fish, go to Pearson’s.”
Jones said she stops by the market every couple of weeks or so, more often in summer when she has family visiting. She loves swordfish in the summer and lobster in the winter, she said.
Swordfish, salmon and white sea bass are all customer favorites, Terese Pearson said.
“If you don’t like seafood you’re a black sheep in my family,” said Carley, adding that white sea bass is her favorite.
“I love California white sea bass, it’s the golden fish,” said Teresa Pearson, adding that she also loves fresh swordfish.
She will share her ideas and cooking tips with customers and make suggestions if they are unsure.
“(The customers) really are like family,” said Terese Pearson, adding that they exchange recipes, swap stories and talk about what’s happening in their lives.
“We meet interesting people with interesting lives all the time,” Carley said, adding that what’s funny to her is “they think we’re interesting!”
Running such a demanding business can be tough and is not for everyone, admitted Terese Pearson, but it has brought her family closer together.
“This place is who we are,” she said. “It’s our heart and soul.”