We're big fans of the Land Rover Defender here at Fishgirl Seafood, and decided to take a look at why we feel such a connection to this cool rig. Seafood and wheels? To dig deeper, we sought out local Defenders Northwest owner and Fishgirl friend Brian Hall. We thought if he could break down their history and his story, we'd figure it out. We arrived at the Defenders Northwest garage to find the oversized doors up. Inside the shop were three Defenders in various stages of assembly, and a rebuilt engine on a stand, ready for its owner to install. Parked outside were 10 or so Defenders, in line for restoration, repair, or maintenance. Brian was nice enough to sit down with us, and began with a brief history of this amazing off-road vehicle.
The Defender was introduced in 1983 as a successor to the original post-war Land Rover Series models, which had been in production since 1948. Initially called the Land Rover 90 or Land Rover 110, the Defender was Britain’s four-wheel drive, off-road SUV utility truck. It was a workhorse truck, meant to be taken anywhere and everywhere. Defenders were initially popular with farmers, plumbers, fisherman, the British military, and eventually everyone in between. They are rugged, durable, and easily repaired. In 2015, after a 32-year run, Land Rover announced it would end production of the classic model. Since 2008, an increasing number of vintage Defenders have been imported into the United States, as drivable antiques and collectibles.
In 2009, at a car show in southern California, Brian connected with an Englishman who imported Defenders, and ended up purchasing and importing his first Defender soon after. It was in dire need of repair, and as a hobbyist, this complete restoration afforded him the opportunity to understand the Defender owner culture, figure out how to source and make parts, and how to reassemble them. He realized that one doesn’t necessarily need to be a mechanic in order to rebuild and maintain these simply built, rough-and-tumble trucks. During the restoration, he returned to Gig Harbor to be closer to family, where his dream for a life change and the Defenders Northwest business began to take shape. One year later, he launched Defenders Northwest as a restoration parts supplier for the growing community of Defender owners and enthusiasts in the United States. They would stock new and refurbished Defender parts, both big and small.
By 2014, the company began to flourish, and it was a keen observation about a changing marketplace that led to the company’s success. In the past, car clubs were crucial to providing car owners with both parts and vehicle information. Since most car owners now have access to parts and information online, car clubs have become more about the social aspect of car ownership. He realized his business needed to be more experiential and hands-on in nature. Unlike traditional specialty vehicle shops where mechanics service your car, the Defenders Northwest workshop is set up as a restoration school, where owners learn how to work on their rigs themselves. Additionally, they offer experiential events and training classes.
Brian also realized that his off-road experiences were far more adventurous than that of the average Defender owner. In true MacGyver fashion, he was able to go anywhere and make a quick fix with anything available if need be, like the time he used a drinking straw to patch a coolant line, allowing the vehicle to make it back to civilization and supplies! He’s passionate when he speaks about Defender owners using their vehicles to the fullest extent. He wants to empower them to explore, get dirty, and use these vehicles like the tool they were built to be. He wants them to know that these vehicles are so simple and easily fixable, that there’s no need to be afraid of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. As a result, he now offers a variety of off-road excursions, overlanding (glorified car camping) adventures, and 24-hour scavenger hunts. These events allow customers to challenge themselves and the off-road capabilities of their Defenders. Many of these events also include some pretty amazing meals along the way! He loves good food out on the trail, and after extensive travels in South America, tells us his favorite seafood dish to prepare is ceviche. He goes on to say, "If the fish isn't the best, the ceviche isn't the best." He shared his recipe with us, and you can find it here!
We ask him if any of his childhood experiences prepared him for this business venture. He humbly tells us that bagging groceries at the local Thriftway taught him how to deal with the public. He speaks to his time as a Navy brat in Southern California, where he built models, read a lot, and biked everywhere. Summers were often spent in the Midwest with his grandparents, where he swam, explored, and even did a bit of fishing for catfish. He tells us his partnership with his wife Michele is critical to their success, as she manages the inventory, finances, and his enthusiasm. It helps that they’re both rapid, independent learners, and quick problem solvers. He loves teaching, particularly his 8-year-old son and understudy Rémy, and says that learning something new everyday is what keeps him going.
We circle back to the Fishgirl connection. Seafood and wheels? It seems to come down to the simplicity of a great thing. He too is in the business of serving up passion for a product simple in nature and high in quality. We want our customers to love preparing seafood and sharing it at their table, like we do. We want them to roll up their sleeves and enjoy the process of easily preparing it in a variety of different ways. Like us, Brian wants to provide his customers with an amazing experience. He sums it up with the old adage “Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime.” It's precisely why we say "You Too Can be Powered by Fish." Thanks Brian, we hope seafood makes it on the menu for your next adventure!