By JAMES E. CASTO ∙ For The State Journal
HUNTINGTON – "If it swims or crawls, we have it all." That's the motto of Huntington's Jewel City Seafood.
Owner Joe Beter, a Huntington native who spent decades in the Florida seafood industry, returned home in 2000 and opened Jewel City, a combination restaurant and fresh seafood market. In the decade-plus since, it's become a popular spot for people who enjoy the restaurant's lengthy menu of seafood items and for those who prefer to take their purchases home and prepare them in their own kitchens.
The son of the late Huntington attorney George Beter, the younger Beter graduated from the former Huntington East High School and attended Wheeling College and Marshall University. Deciding college wasn't where he wanted to be, he packed his bags and headed for Florida.
After working at various Florida seafood restaurants, Beter spent 13 years as a sales rep for a major seafood wholesaler in Central Florida. During that time he got to know many of the key players in the state's seafood business – relationships, he says, that now enable him to buy and offer high-end seafood at affordable prices.
In 1997, he was in Huntington for a brief visit when his father was rushed to St. Mary's Medical Center, where he underwent a quadruple heart bypass.
"My father wanted me to stay in Huntington, but I had to wrestle with that idea for a while," Beter says.
Finally, when Beter decided to move back home, he opened the first location of Jewel City in the 2700 block of 5th Avenue.
"On Jan. 3, 2000," he says, "I went to City Hall and applied for a business license. It turned out that Jewel City received the first license of the new millennium in Huntington."
The first Jewel City was a hole-in-the-wall kind of place where at least 50 percent of his business was carryout fish sandwiches. "This town just loves them," he says.
Beter says his shop did well until the nearby Big Bear supermarket went out of business and took many of his best customers with it. At the same time, many of his customers were telling him that they'd like to come in and sit down for a meal. Clearly, a new, larger location was in order.
The building chosen as Jewel City's new home had a family history. The brick structure at 1317 4th Ave. once was home to a grocery store operated by the Beter family – a fact attested to by the "Beter Bros." name spelled in antique floor tile just inside the front door.
"My grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, built this building in the 1920s," explains Beter.
But more than nostalgia made the building an ideal location. It's only three blocks from the Marshall campus and its horde of hungry students and only a brief walk from the downtown business district.
Proof that the choice was a wise one can been seen in the restaurant and market's steadily increasing revenues since moving to the new building. "Our business has increased an average of 7 percent a year since we moved here in 2006," Beter says.
Joe Beter and his father worked side by side in the business for a number of years.
"Many people thought we were brothers," the younger Beter says. Ultimately, illness forced his father to retire. He died in 2011.
Jewel City serves and sells white fish, gulf oysters, salmon, domestic grouper, big eye tuna steak, sea scallops, beach-style shrimp, tilapia, catfish, soft shell crabs, calamari and more.
The restaurant and market are open Monday through Saturday and are closed on Sunday. Restaurant hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The market is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For a complete menu listing or more information about Jewel City Seafood, call 304-529-7961 or visit www.jewelcityseafood.com.