Hooray For Herring!
Made with love, fished from a jar at the High Holidays and beyond.
Special to the Jewish News
ike gefilte fish, creamed pickled
herring is an acquired taste —
gained through years of Jewish
family culinary tradition, collective memo-
ries of dairy-based Saturday night suppers,
lox-and-bagel brunches, and those platters
of deli delights and comfort foods served
to break the fast after Yom Kippur.
Creamed pickled herring. To some, it's
decidedly a Jewish delicacy of Eastern
European origin. To others, it's some-
thing of an oddity fished from a jar. For
Detroiters in particular, herring — be it
pickled, creamed, marinated, dined or
chopped — is "just like Ma used to make,"
but only if it's MaCohen's brand.
MaCohen's, a division of Sea Fare Foods,
has been in the herring business for four
generations, or more than 75 years.
What Are The Odds?
A family business homegrown in Detroit,
MaCohen's today is the last kosher food
purveyor Downtown. Located in an unas-
suming processing plant on Brewster
Street in the Detroit Eastern Market,
the business is a rarity by any standard.
According to statistics, more than 80 per-
cent of businesses in the United States are
family owned. Yet, precious few family
enterprises succeed in transferring their
business to the next generation. Nearly 70
percent of family companies will not see
the second generation take the reins; 88
percent will fail taking the business to the
third generation, and 97 percent of the
third generation will not succeed in pass-
ing the company to the fourth generation.
MaCohen's has beaten the odds.
"Herring runs in our family," says
MaCohen's proprietor, Philip Sack. "Our
business was founded on the life experi-
ence and expertise of my grandfather,
William, who passed his knowledge on to
my father, Lincoln."
Lincoln, 94, a resident of the Cloisters
in West Bloomfield, founded the company
"My dad came to Detroit and took
a chance," Phil recalls. "Back then,
the contract for fish was a handshake.
Partnerships were built on friendships. My
dad was always prompt paying his bills, so
the business hit the ground running. The
company quickly grew with distribution
to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati —
cities with large Jewish communities?'
September 13 2012
1 jar 16 oz.
1/2 cup onion
1 apple (medium chopped skin-on)
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Drain liquid from jar of herring. Coarse
chop herring into small pieces. Add
onion, apple, sugar, cinnamon and olive
oil. Mix with fork (not food processor).
Refrigerate 2 hours. Serve on romaine
lettuce, toast or crackers.
Phil and Kevin Sack — their family has run Sea Fare Foods, makers of MaCohen's
herring, for 75 years.
New Line In The Water
A graduate in food science from Michigan
State University, Phil joined the business
in 1976. Together, he and his father took
MaCohen's herring production to a new
level, from a regional product line to an
international brand. Representing the
fourth generation, Kevin, 24, entered
the family business two years ago.
Majoring in business at the University
of Michigan, Kevin immediately set to
work to make his own mark on the busi-
"Kevin was excited to return to his
roots in Detroit to continue the family
business," Phil explains. "We sat down
and put our heads together and real-
ized that we had to expand our product
line so we both could have a healthy life
from the business. Kevin was very inter-
ested in making smoked fish. He did
the research. We looked at the numbers
and began the process about a year ago.
We're having a good success with it."
From day one, the staple of the
MaCohen's product line has been the
pickled herring. And those who know
their herring can taste the differ-
ence, knowing that all varieties of the
Kevin Sack researched and started a
smoked fish division of the company.
MaCohen's product are still processed
and hand-packed, not machine-filled.
"There are things a machine just can't
do," Phil says. "We process up to 100
barrels of fish from the New Brunswick,
Canada, industry each week with the
confidence that only the finest product
goes into every jar. This is why you'll see
MaCohen and Sea Fare labels in Costco
and grocery stores around the country.
We even have distribution channels in
South Korea and Honduras."
From the start, MaCohen's also turned
to the Orthodox Union for its superior
kosher supervision. Those who look
for the OU symbol can be sure that the
brand has stayed true to its Jewish roots.
In addition to the old favorites, the line
includes specialties such as Schmaltz
Herring and Matjes Herring (a "family-
secret" blend of spices). Top-of-the-line
nova lox has been a mainstay in the
product line for the past five years. And
now, thanks to Kevin's interest and inno-
vation, the business is also a smokin'
success with smoked salmon, whitefish,
trout and sable recently added to round
out the line.
MaCohen's is also an award-winning
brand. Recently it was judged No. 1 her-
ring for taste in a panel of world-class
chefs and recognized in a ceremony held
at Carnegie Hall in New York.
"Ours is a food business, but it is
also a family business that sustains us
in spiritual ways as well," Phil reflects.
"It's a wonderful blessing to have a son
in the business. I didn't realize before
Kevin came on board what it must have
meant to my father. My dad, himself,
backed away from the business when he
was 80. He knew the business was going
well. But even so, he'd come from time
to time, to relax and kibbitz with his
friends over the phone. My dad had a
nice way to retire, don't you think?"
Vivian Henoch is Web content developer at the
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.