George Parr, the co-founder of Upstream Trucking who supplied seafood to some of the Portland area’s most prestigious restaurants, died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In his trademark brown fedora and round, Lennon-style specs, seafood wholesaler George Parr was a known quantity on the working waterfront, often described by friends and family alike as “a real character.”

“He was a guy who had an outsized personality, like a character in a movie,” said local restaurateur Dana Street, who co-founded the wholesaling business Upstream Trucking with Parr in 2001. “He was really memorable not for what he did, but how he did it.”

Parr, 71, the revered fishmonger who supplied seafood to some of the Portland area’s most prestigious restaurants, died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday in Naples, Florida, while visiting his brother-in-law with his wife, Kathleen.

“He was the only fish purveyor for me because he was amazing to work with, and he cared a lot about where and how fish were sourced,” said Cara Stadler, chef-owner of Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland and Zao Ze Cafe in Brunswick, among others. “He never sugarcoated it when it came to fish. He cared a lot about it, and would tell you what was worth it, what wasn’t and why.

“And he was never shy about his opinions,” Stadler added with a chuckle.

Parr was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the oldest of eight children. He was a potter before entering the seafood world in the 1970s, first as a fish cutter, with stints in Washington, D.C., and at New York City’s famed Fulton Fish Market.


In 1989, Parr moved to Maine to sell sea urchins to Japan, settling in Falmouth, where he and his wife raised their two sons. Parr said in a 2020 interview that he sold about 60 million pounds of urchins over 10 years, before market demand shifted and he moved on.

With Street’s backing, Parr launched Upstream in 2001, first serving Street’s restaurants, including Fore Street and Street & Co., though his client list grew quickly.

“He was a pioneer,” said Petit Jacqueline co-owner Michelle Corry, a longtime customer of Parr’s. “There were so few options for fresh fish that delivered every day back then when (Upstream) first started.”

Cara Stadler, chef and co-owner of Zao Ze Cafe in Brunswick and Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland, chats with Parr in 2014. Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

“Everybody appreciated his approach to the seafood business,” Street said. “Not everybody was happy all the time with the way he did things, but everybody knew he was an expert in his field and they appreciated the service that he devoted to them. He was very knowledgeable about not only our local seafood industry, but around the world.”

“He was like an evangelist for seafood,” said Kathleen Parr. “You’d always hear people say after talking with him, ‘My God, I can’t believe how much I learned from him.’ ”

Big Tree Hospitality chef-owner Andrew Taylor was one such person. “Almost everything I know about the seafood industry comes from George,” Taylor said, noting that Parr would sell Taylor’s Eventide restaurant about 10,000 oysters a month during the summer seasons. “He was instrumental in the success of all of our restaurants, but especially Eventide.”


Like others, Taylor said Parr made a huge impression on him from the moment they met. He recalled arriving at a holiday house party in Cumberland years ago.

“The first face I saw opening the door was George’s – a total stranger at the time – and he screamed, ‘Welcome!’ and gave me a huge hug, ushering me into the party. And that was it. His remarkable familiarity quickly manifested into an amazing friendship and partnership.”

“He always made you smile when he walked through the door because he had a big personality, and you knew it was going to be fun,” Corry said of Parr’s visits to her restaurant.

Parr delivers Basket Island oysters to Eventide Oyster Co. in 2017. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer

Outspoken people aren’t everyone’s idea of fun, of course.


“When you had a conversation with him, it was like a sporting event to him,” Street said. “He felt very strongly about his opinions, and it could get intense. But he always made amends for whatever he did to rub you the wrong way.”


Retired Portland seafood buyer William Gerencer, for whom Parr was a friendly competitor, fully agreed.

“I liked him as a person and a man of principle. In spite of the fact,” Gerencer added with a chuckle, “that he was a strong personality and a huge pain in the ass.”

Beyond his provocative persona, Parr was also known for his integrity as a fishmonger. “He was an honest broker of his product,” Street said. “The restaurant business is very demanding, and he would be sure you got your product when you needed it. Nobody tried harder.”

“He did not shortchange people,” Kathleen Parr said. “Almost to a fault, he was honest. And it’s hard to find people to put in an honest day’s work.”

Parr retired from Upstream’s day-to-day operations in the fall of 2021 because of his health struggles, shifting to a hands-off, consulting role. “He would have stayed until he dropped if he had the choice,” his wife said. “It was very hard to walk away. He built this thing.”

Still, retiring from Upstream allowed him more time for his other passions, like pottery and reading voraciously about history and world culture. “He only had a GED, but he was one of the smartest people I know,” Kathleen Parr said.

“George was always loved for the fact that he made your life more interesting,” Street said. “When that kind of person leaves your life, even if you only see him two or three times a week, you would say you lost a piece of your own life.”

This story was updated at 9:55 a.m. Dec. 16 to correct the date of George Parr’s death.

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