In 1914, an Irish immigrant named John Walter Donlan wanted to help erect a new Roman Catholic Church in the Flint community. To generate funding, he found a place at the market downtown where he began selling fresh fish supplied by family friends in Bay City. The fish market was a hit, and in no time, Donlan and many others were able to raise enough money to build St. Matthews Catholic Church. Immediately thereafter, Donlan started the Flint Fish Company at 521 Brush Alley. Built upon a pledge of selling only the highest quality fish and providing excellent customer service, the company was highly successful. In 1949, Donlan’s son, John Mason Donlan moved the business to its current location at 3116 Corunna Road. In 1980, a new facility was built at the same location by Michael Wallace Donlan and in 1998, the business was passed to its current owner, Michael John Donlan. Since its beginning, Donlan’s has been the community’s go-to fish place and is Flint’s longest-running business – here for 105 years.
“My grandfather told me of the old times in Flint,” says owner, Michael John Donlan. “He told me about the cable cars and how the downtown area used to hold a huge marketplace. He knew everybody and everybody knew Donlan’s. I have a page of minutes that were taken at a city meeting and signed by my great-grandfather and C.S. Mott.”
As the years passed, Donlan’s would survive the Great Depression, two world wars and a changing Flint economy. “Flint was a community where jobs were available and it was a big melting pot,” recalls Donlan. “We’ve always sold seafood from all over the world. People would come to our store to get personally-specific food – seafoods they were used to eating while they were growing up. And through the Depression, my great-grandfather was able to set affordable pricing. We continue to sell our products at great prices today, due to the success of our wholesale business.” Donlan also recalls his father introducing orange roughy to the state of Michigan in the 70s. His mother was the first to take a bite of the mild, white fish at Sunday dinner. Since then, the fish has been a customer favorite.
At Donlan’s you can find every type of fish or seafood you could hope for – from the standard to the exotic – and all of the spices, side dish products and tools needed to prepare the perfect meal. Customer favorites include: Lake Superior whitefish, wild-caught salmon, sea scallops, orange roughy, Alaskan king crab legs, premium Australian lobster tail, baby trout, monkfish and more. “We are Flint’s gumbo headquarters,” adds Donlan. “We carry all the different items you would need to make gumbos and boils, including seasonings and dried shrimp.”
The variety at Donlan’s Fish & Seafoods is impressive and the prices are great, but what truly sets it apart is the quality. Donlan’s offers only the best product they can find. Mike Donlan, himself, regularly visits his suppliers to guarantee freshness and always gets his fish direct. “We get our fish, such as our salmon, shipped to us whole and we process it daily,” he explains. “We do things as traditionally and old-fashioned as possible, because that is who we are and who we will continue to be. We set the bar high on quality and we keep it there.”
Recently, Donlan’s Fish & Seafoods was honored by the Mayor of Flint’s office for its 105 years of serving the city, which is something that meant a whole lot to the business owner. “To have your city support you as a business is great,” says Donlan. “The Mayor’s office recognized that on their own good will. They gave us a proclamation. It’s always nice to be appreciated.”
After decades of providing the community with top-quality fish and seafood, Mike Donlan is still having a great time. “It’s been interesting meeting people from home and all over the world. I have friends all over the U.S. and I have been invited to Ireland, Iceland, Portugal and other countries,” he says. “I love talking to our local customers every day – there is never a dull moment. It makes it fun and I really enjoy what I do.” And he believes that after all is said and done, his customers really are the best. “I thank the community for the longevity of our business,” he says sincerely. “We’ve received letters from pastors, businesses and people thanking us for our commitment to quality. It makes us feel appreciated. As long as there is still a high demand and a good supply of fish, Donlan’s will be here. We’re just going to keep fishing.”
From Standard to Exotic
- Lake Superior Whitefish
- Lake Perch
- Blue Gill
- Smoked Salmon
- Icelandic Cod
- Orange Roughy
- Chilean Sea Bass
- Monk Fish
- Alaskan Crab Legs
- New Zealand Lobster Tails
- Fresh Shrimp
- Sea Scallops
- Frog Legs
For even more offerings, visit donlansfish.com or stop in at 3116 Corunna Rd., Flint and say hello to Mike.
Photography By Kayce McClure