A caviar niche: Even more growth is ahead for Miami Gardens-based Marky’s

From the Belgian chocolate on your hotel pillow to the delicate cheeses at your specialty grocer and the caviar you’re served onboard a cruise, all likely have one thing in common: Marky’s Group imported and distributed the gourmet products — and soon may even have a hand in manufacturing them.

Miami Gardens-based Marky’s, founded 30 years ago as a small retail store on 79th Street in Miami, has morphed far beyond that into an international wholesaler with a variety of other related subsidiaries, including an aquafarm that raises sturgeon, which is in line to become the sole United States producer of Beluga caviar.

Now undergoing even more expansion, new retail and café locations are in the works, and plans are underway to open a catering operation and to launch an enhanced e-commerce site soon.

“The future success of Marky’s Group is to meld manufacturing with distribution and direct to consumer retail,” said Marky’s Group President and Chief Operating Officer Christopher Hlubb, who has spearheaded Marky’s growth since joining the company three years ago.

Founded in 1983 by Ukrainian émigrés Mark Zaslavsky, 60, and Mark Gelman, 58, Marky’s began with a small store, selling such items as imported caviar and smoked salmon. Soon the store widened its range of gourmet products to include cheeses, meats, olive oils and more.

During the 1990s, the company also began wholesaling its products, mostly to local restaurants, hotels and stores, like Epicure Gourmet Market in Miami Beach.

By the early 2000s, the company expanded those wholesale operations to major grocers like Whole Foods as well as to cruise lines and other businesses nationwide and in the Caribbean.

Today, Marky’s sells 7,000 different items worldwide, with 97 percent of its goods imported. The top seller is caviar, followed by foie gras, smoked salmon, cheeses, truffles, chocolates, oils and vinegars, and cured meats. In addition to its store, Marky’s also operates a kiosk at Aventura Mall, Caviar More, which it opened in 1999.

Sturgeon AquaFarms, the brainchild of Zaslavsky, came next, geared to ensure the company’s future source of caviar, in light of increasing regulations governing the importation of sturgeon, which was becoming an endangered species.

In 2003, Zaslavsky began 13 separate trips to fly several hundred live fish from Germany to Florida to breed. The timing was just right: The U.S. government in 2005 ruled that it is illegal to import Beluga caviar and related products, including the fish itself. Marky’s was grandfathered in, and today, the aquafarm, in Bascom, Fla., has 100,000 sturgeon of different varieties.

Last year, the aquafarm started selling meat from two sturgeons: Sterlet and Sevruga, mostly in New York. The aquafarm’s Sevruga caviar is currently sold exclusively at Whole Foods. Beluga, the priciest caviar, is not yet available for sale; the company is still focusing its efforts on reproduction.

At the same time, Marky’s has also reached agreements with the governments of Russia and Azerbaijan to contribute to their sturgeon repopulation efforts, Zaslavsky said.

As Marky’s has grown, it needed more space to house its wholesale operation, so the company moved its headquarters and wholesale division to a 35,000-square- foot warehouse in Miami Gardens in 2008, where 65 of its 110 employees now work.