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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

How Ted’s Fish Fry Has Kept Reeling in Fans (and Besties!) for Decades

What's the 72-year-old restaurant's big secret? Capital Region Living fishes it out of the owners.

Attention would-be beach bums: You don’t have to drive all the way to Cape Cod or fly, face-shielded, down to Florida to enjoy the world’s greatest fried seafood, right? Maybe best of all, too, is that it doesn’t have to come with a schmear of sunscreen or side of sand. Your port of call? Ted’s Fish Fry.

Ted’s was the brainchild of late and titular fry-preneur Ted Deeb, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who opened the restaurant’s first location in Watervliet in 1949. (His fried food empire has since expanded to include two locations in Troy, two in Albany, and one apiece in Latham and Clifton Park.) How did Ted land on his restaurant’s signature fare? As current president S.K. Deeb tells the story, his dad was on his way down to the Sunshine State when he happened upon a roadside spot serving fried chicken somewhere in the Carolinas. “He met up with an older Black woman, who made him homemade fried chicken and fried onion rings, and my father took the recipe—she was cordial enough to give it to him,” he says. Upon returning home, he put the batter to the test, first using it on his fried onion rings and then fanning out from there. “My father,” S.K. says, “loved fried foods.”

Onion rings remain a specialty to this day, but of course, Ted’s wouldn’t be named what it is if it weren’t for its bestselling fish fry, a long strip of cod that’s battered and fried to perfection and served in a hot dog bun that’s a size too small. The restaurant has also become known for its many other surf- and turfside delights such as fish and chips, fried clams, fried scallops and fried calamari, plus the diminutive regional heavyweight, the mini hot dog, which comes slathered in homemade meat sauce.

A classic Ted’s spread: fish frys two ways (topped with tartar sauce and their signature sweet chili sauce), onion rings, french fries, coleslaw and milkshakes. (Photography by Francesco D’Amico)

While the menu might seem to be bursting at the seams with options, it’s remained relatively unchanged for decades. That’s because Ted’s customers flock to its restaurants as much for its finger-licking foodstuffs as its predictability. In other words, you won’t find any secret, off-menu items at the Watervliet flagship or special quadruple-decker whatchamacallit promotion every other month. That said, the Wolf Road location in Albany is technically the only Ted’s where you can get an oyster roll, says Bill Deeb, S.K.’s son and the general manager for the whole Ted’s enterprise. And if a customer were to walk in and ask for a custom Dagwood-style sandwich—say, a dozen mini hotdogs with two fish frys as buns—the restaurant’s knowledgeable, patron-centric staff would do its best to accommodate.

What has kept the faithful coming back for all these years boils down to the original Ted Deeb (he passed away in ’85). “His strong point, besides serving good food for a fair price, was his personality,” says S.K. “He made everybody feel welcome, and customers became like family.” Speaking of bloodlines, Ted’s is the dictionary definition of a family-run business: There’s S.K. at the top; son Bill, serving as general manager; daughter Deanna DeBonis, as its HR director; and S.K.’s cousin, Joe, who manages the restaurant’s North Troy location. There are also several other families within the restaurant’s employee pool that have been longtime Ted’s workers, too.

During the pandemic, Ted’s sailed away with Besties in the Fish and Chips, French Fries and Kid-friendly Dining categories; plus it took home its record 16th straight Bestie for–you guessed it–Best Fish Fry. What’s the trick to cleaning up all of those Besties? “When you treat your customers, employees and friends like family, you can’t go wrong,” says S.K. And, hey, if you feed them delicious fried food, that doesn’t hurt either.

Will Levith
Will Levith
Will Levith is the editorial director of Capital Region Living and Saratoga Living.

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