Also See – Cornet Bay History Video
The Cornet Bay Company’s story is an inspiring tale of a family legacy, tireless determination and a healthy dose of cowboy bravado.
Owner Arnie Deckwa remembers, “For a family that didn’t have any money to speak of, the Deckwas of Cornet Bay knew how to set a table with the bounty of nature. The freezer was always filled with salmon, cod, crab, clams, oysters, shrimp and more. My dad, Oliver Deckwa, was a commercial fisherman in Puget Sound and Alaska, and my mother, Rena, was always by his side. The abundance of seafood delicacies was never considered gourmet, it was simply our lifestyle. Another fond memory is the wonderful smell of alder wood coming from Dad’s smokehouse, as he prepared his amazing smoked salmon.”
Arnie began fishing with his father as a young boy. By age fourteen he was running the Charlotte D, one of the two gillnet boats owned by the Deckwa family. His dad ran the other, named the ROCA, which stood for Rena, Oliver, Charlotte and Arnie.
During the years Arnie worked in the family business, he also pursued his dream of becoming a country music singer. He cut several albums, performed in the Pacific Northwest and toured with his band in Southeast Asia. In 1987, Arnie packed his 1974 Dodge van and set out for Nashville.
While struggling to break into the music business, Arnie became friends with many stars of the Grand Ole Opry. One night, Arnie shared a taste of his family’s smoked salmon with his friend Brent Burkett. Hot smoked salmon — an undiscovered treasure in 1980’s Nashville — became an instant hit with the Opry crowd. Burkett said, “Cowboy, I know you want to sing, but you need to do something with this!”
Burkett’s advice led Arnie to meet Buddy Hayes and David Long, two Kroger seafood clerks who became instrumental in helping to set the course for the Cornet Bay Company. Arnie’s smoked salmon would soon be sold in seven Kroger seafood cases. To this day, Arnie calls those early head seafood clerk adopters The Magnificent Seven. In an inspired move to improve sales, Arnie created a dip with his distinctive smoked salmon. Customers loved it and business grew. Over the years, the Kroger Company has private labled seven of Cornet Bay’s seafood dips and spreads, making the demand exceed local production capacity. To meet market demands, Arnie found a commercial manufacturer that met Cornet Bay’s stringent quality standards.
The Deckwa family grew along with the company. Arnie married Joanne and they criss-crossed the country promoting Cornet Bay foods. Traveling over 50,000 miles in their motorhome, Arnie and Joanne oversaw the sales and promotion of the Kroger brand in Kroger stores and their Cornet Bay brand in Sam’s Club, Walmart Supercenter and QFC chains. They have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Seafood Business Journal, Sam’s Club Magazine, Taste of Home Magazine and several music and motorhome magazines.
The Deckwas returned to Cornet Bay and now run the business from the 494 square foot house where Arnie was raised. Joanne oversees operations, while Arnie handles sales, marketing, and promotion. Arnie recently added public speaking to his long list of accomplishments. The product line has expanded to include seasonings, marinades, mustards and more. Arnie recently published The Singin’ Salmon Man from Cornet Bay, a lively retelling of the long, adventurous road that led from Cornet Bay to Nashville . . . all around the country and back home again.
Our logo is an illustration of a view Arnie and Joanne Deckwa enjoy every day from their Cornet Bay home. Located on Whidbey Island, Washington, it’s where Arnie was born and raised. The dock was built by Arnie’s father Oliver and local commercial fishermen. The boats “Charlotte D.” after Arnie’s sister and “ROCA” (for Rena, Oliver, Charlotte and Arnie) were built by Oliver. In the background is the house where Arnie’s parents spent their honeymoon. Arnie and Joanne are continuing the family heritage by living in the family home and running their business from Cornet Bay.