Like everything else in Hagen’s tidy confines, the old fashioned door chimes, the smoked fish aroma, and the friendly service beckon a step back to an era when butcher shops and mom-and-pop-style deli’s dotted the city’s streets.
No one knows the exact date when the two Hagen brothers and their wives opened the market in 1946, but when asked they’ll tell you, “it was sometime in summer.” Their father, a commercial fisherman on Washington Island, WI, mortgaged the family home to provide the brothers with enough seed money to start their own store. They decided to build in an area “on the outskirts of Chicago” (Montrose & Parkside) because they could afford the land. They recall fellow church members feeling sorry for them for opening a business “so far out in the middle of nowhere.” Determined to succeed, the brothers and their wives worked long hours, insisted on selling only the very freshest fish, and made their customers feel welcome and appreciated. Over the years as the business grew, the family looked on as the Jefferson Park and Portage Park neighborhoods also grew around them.
Around 1975, the second generation Hagen’s joined the family business and added their own magic touch to the store. The selection of fresh fish more than tripled as they saw an opportunity to bring in fresh fish directly from the East Coast several times per week. They also added some delicious new recipes which have become long-standing staples for customers, such as Charlene’s Crab Dip.
Today, two Hagen granddaughters and their husbands are following in the family tradition, as they continue to operate one of the last surviving natural hardwood smokehouses in Chicago, and serve the finest seafood using guarded family recipes. Fresh fish is still brought in daily, cocktail shrimp are boiled fresh each morning, and shrimp and fish are breaded and fried for lunch and dinner customers 7 days a week. When asked about plans for expanding the business in the future, the third generation family members will muster a tired smile, and respond: “one store is enough.”
After almost 66 years of serving the Jefferson Park and Portage Park communities in Chicago, Hagen’s Fish Market is alive and well, a thriving family business that people rely on not to change.