Behind the Scenes: Catfish City Restaurant

Most people have either been to or heard of restaurants like Rain Forest Café or The Aquarium which feature many large aquariums throughout the store.  Catfish City was one man’s attempt to do this on a budget in our town…and we did a pretty good job of it!!

This restaurant had 8 large freshwater aquariums.  I will try to list them the best my memory will allow.  (The restaurant closed down in 2009 – 3 years after it opened)

The following tanks were all 1 ft wide by 2 ft tall.  They were used as wall dividers next to booths.

  • 11 ft
  • 10 ft
  • 20 ft
  • 17 ft
  • 17 ft

There were also two 300 gallon seamless cylinder tanks 4 ft W X 4 ft H

The largest tank was a 4000 gallon tunnel tank that customers walked through to leave the restaurant.  This tank was built on site and encased in concrete and steel.  I then built all of the artificial reef inside of the tank using the same epoxy that zoos and other places use to make artificial trees, etc.  The artificial corals came from a decoration company in Florida.

I spent a week inside of the tank creating the artificial reef.  I stacked several concrete blocks for the base of the reef.  On top of that, I placed fiberglass window screen as the base of the reef rock.  On top of that, I smeared the epoxy giving it the texture of rock.  Some of the corals were built into this.  After that dried, I used several colors of regular spray paint to color the epoxy…which worked well.  I sat the rest of the coral decorations on the ledges that I built into the reef.

The filtration system was an Aqua Ultraviolet bead filter.  Water changes were done with the turn of a couple of valves.  Every once in a while, I would have to put on a dive skin and mask to do maintenance inside of the tank….which I didn’t like to do.  I kept a large magnetic algae scraper on the acrylic tunnel and cleaned it with that.

Most of the fish in the restaurant were African cichlids.  This gave it the saltwater color but with the freshwater price.

There were over $250,000 worth of aquariums in this restaurant.  Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t make it and closed about 3 years after opening.  The building was bought a year later and the contents were sold at auction.  I actually bought the $100,000 tunnel tank for $750.  Since it was encased in concrete, though, nothing could be done with the tank itself.  I salvaged the filter system, the coral decorations and the concrete blocks from the tank.  I used a circular saw to cut a hole in the acrylic tunnel to get them out.  I also used a hammer to destroy to the artificial reef that I spent a week building to get the blocks out.  As painful as it was, I’m glad I was the one who got to do it.  The rest of the tank was razed.

That’s me diving inside of the tank

This will always be my signature tank, because I’m too old to do it again!!