North Port, FL – Wingate built a vibrant wholesale business, selling his fish spread to a variety of restaurants and supermarkets from Key West to Key Largo. Wingate also appeared at festivals and farmer’s markets selling to an avid following. “I love to cook” Wingate, 61, said, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for most of my life and I love to watch people eat.” Wingate and his fiancé almost rode out Hurricane Irma in the ocean-side home they rented on Lower Matecumbe Key. “We were all ready to stay,” he said. “I was tucked in deeper than a tick on a hound” But at the last minute they decided to evacuate. It was a good thing that they did as the house did not withstand the storm.
“Wesley worked the entire chain of the keys,” said Judy Hull, director of the Islamorada Chamber of commerce and visitors center. “He made his fish dip, which was incredible and won dish dip contests.” “He’s an individual entrepreneur with his Uncle Wesley’s Smoked Fish Dip.” “I know Wesley, his big hurdle (after Irma) was housing,” she added “He lost his house.”
Wingate also lost one of his two smokers when Irma overwhelmed their waterfront home on Lower Matecumbe Key. That unit cast iron smoker with a wooden base, hand built 25 years ago, by a fisherman who went by Smokin’ Joe was buried deep in the sand and by the time they could dig it out, it was a goner. A newer, stainless steel model could be saved and they brought it to North Port, along with the possessions they could salvage and their 16-year-old dog named Shaggy.
Wingate tinkered with the process and devised a method to vacuum-pack smoked and cured fish pieces and sell that along with a dry-spice pack and wet-spice pack through their website: wesleysislandsmokehouse.com.
“When I first started, I could have made it and called it a fish dip, and not put the pieces and chunks of fish into the recipe,” Wingate said. “I could have pureed it in my buffalo chopper and made it fine.” But that would have robbed the spread from the chunky consistency Wingate – and his customers over the years – have enjoyed.
The web business went live from North Port on June 29, 2018. Sales are building slowly but their steadiest clientele are people who have already had the spread. “We have people ordering 10 units at a time, because they want to have it available.” Wingate’s fiancé said. “Mostly our client base of orders, our revenue stream, are people from the keys that miss us and can’t stand that they can’t just go to Payfair (supermarket) and pick up our dip anymore.”
Now, through our website, @ wesleysislandsmokehouse.com customers across the United States can enjoy Uncle Wesley’s Smoked Fish Spread. Customers mix the fixins with their own mayonnaise and cream cheese – Let it sit overnight in the refrigerator – produces a hearty spread that goes well with anything from crackers to bagels. The formula calls for those basic ingredients. No fillers.