Gabe DiSaverio is a self-professed “shark addict.” Though seeing the film “Jaws” as a child inspired his interest, it’s where the obsession has led him that’s a little more unusual.
Born in New Jersey and raised on the North Fork of Long Island, DiSaverio moved to Boston for college and then to Portsmouth while working for the Boston Beer Company. As a lifelong fan of “Jaws,” which is set in Martha’s Vineyard, living in New England was only appropriate. And so he settled down here, got married, and had a daughter. (His daughter’s middle name is Ellen, after Ellen Brody, the “only substantial female character in the film who’s not eaten,” he says.)
“I saw ‘Jaws’ when I was 7 years old and I was obsessed. I thought it was the most incredible movie ever,” DiSaverio says. “But, aside from that, it was the awe and fascination about the incredible creatures that sharks are that made me want to somehow be involved with them.”
After a long career in the beer business, DiSaverio started a hot-sauce company called The Spicy Shark. He worked with a designer who incorporated both sharks and New England into the company’s logo. The spice level of each New England-centric sauce is denoted by the number of shark fins on its label.
Now, DiSaverio’s company is part of several national efforts to save sharks.
It was a trip to Martha’s Vineyard for JawsFest that inspired DiSaverio to pursue the cause. He struck up a conversation with Wendy Benchley, wife of “Jaws” author Peter Benchley, who told him about her organization, Shark Savers. The group is committed to putting an end to shark finning — the practice of removing a shark’s fins and dumping the rest of the body back into the water, usually while it’s still alive.
“When I went to JawsFest and found out about the crisis and cruel treatment surrounding sharks, I wanted to become more involved,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do something more actively, and that’s why I’m excited about this company. Part of it is working with others to make a positive change.”
Since starting The Spicy Shark, DiSaverio has partnered with several national organizations, including The Shark Stewards, Save the Sharks, and Sharks4Kids. He’s also in conversations with the Portsmouth-based Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation.
A portion of proceeds from sales of The Spicy Shark’s Blue Shark Hot Blueberry Maple Syrup and “Eat the Heat, Not the Fins” T-shirts goes toward a campaign to outlaw the fin trade in the United States. And the company is close to launching a program where restaurants and fish markets that stop selling shark meat get a free case of hot sauce. DiSaverio is also trying to put together a regional event to raise awareness about the issue.
“This is a perfect area for bringing awareness because we’re on the water and people are aware that there are sharks around us,” he says.
Meanwhile, DiSaverio has worked with a number of local restaurants and cafes to come up with signature menu items, cocktails, and coffee drinks using Spicy Shark sauces. He hopes to help put New England on the map as a “spicy destination.”
In his Portsmouth home, DiSaverio’s walls and shelves are filled with “Jaws” memorabilia, framed artwork, and posters signed by the film’s stars (he has more than one anecdote about the lengths to which he went to get those autographs). His kitchen serves as his office, the counter lined with hot sauces from all over the country. His dog, Ellie, is always by his side, sporting a shark-themed collar.
DiSaverio knows that his favorite fish is “a hard animal for a person to feel sympathy for,” he says. But he believes that sharks are misunderstood and attract more fear than necessary. Once, during a spearfishing trip in the Bahamas, a giant hammerhead confronted DiSaverio and circled around him in the water.
“Was I scared? Yes. But it made me want to be in the water with them, maybe in a cage, and learn more about who they are,” he says.
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