Joseph L. Cannon, 93, the founder of Cannon Seafood Inc., which has noted retail outlets in Washington and Great Falls, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 9 at his home in Washington.
Mr. Cannon was born in Massaponax, Va., and arrived in this city in 1910. As it turned out, he spent his entire career in the food business. But it was a long time before that business became seafood, and Mr. Cannon once said that he never expected it to end up the way it did.
When he first came here, he drove a horse and wagon, delivering milk for the old Sharon Dairy. In 1920, he bought the old Congressional Restaurant on B Street SE, which is now part of Independence Avenue. He operated that until the early 1930s, when the Great Depression forced him out of business.
By that time, Mr. Cannon had become a skilled baker of pies. So he turned his hand to that work in his kitchen at home. Every day he would take what he had made to Union Station and sell it to the Pennsylvania Railroad. At his 90th birthday party, held at the restaurant that is part of the Cannon operation in Great Falls, he said that he thought he got about 50 cents a pie.
In 1937, he went into the business that was to make his name as well as his fortune. He acquired a stall in the old Municipal Market on Water Street, now Maine Avenue SW, for the price of installing new equipment, and he became a fishmonger.
"I went down to the fish wharfs in 1937 to stay, not just to fool around," he said in an interview with The Washington Post in 1972. "It was hard work. I wasn't experienced. Some nights I never got home. We'd close after midnight, and I would sleep in a chair until we opened again at 6."
Mr. Cannon learned how to shuck oysters and, like most other people who have been through it, he cut himself doing it. He learned to filet fish, and he learned to bargain with watermen and other suppliers. At first, his only help was a man whose main job was working at another fish stall. But he prospered.
"There was no trouble, no price wars," Mr. Cannon said. "It was a nice crowd of people in the fish business. Everyone had their regular customers, and it was just a matter of acceptance. We had deliveries from New England and Florida. Even then we got most of the fish we sell today. Codfish was popular, we could never get enough swordfish, and crabs sold for $1.50 a barrel 2 1/2 bushels ."
In 1942, Mr. Cannon acquired a second stall, at the old Western Market at 21st and K streets NW. Robert L. Moore, one of his grandsons, eventually took that over.
In time, redevelopment took both the Municipal and Western markets. When the latter closed in 1966, Mr. Cannon and Moore opened what became Cannon Seafood Inc. at 1065 31st St. NW in Georgetown. William Rice, a former food editor of The Washington Post, described it as one of the best-stocked and best-run wholesale and retail food stores on the East Coast.
It was of that location that Mr. Cannon said: "I never dreamed it would end like this."
In 1980, the Cannon firm opened its Great Falls store and restaurant.
Mr. Cannon was vice president of Cannon Seafood Inc. from its founding until his death. Although he began cutting back on daily work about the time of the move to Georgetown, he made regular visits to the business until recently, and sometimes he would help out behind the counter.
Mr. Cannon was a chairman of the board of deacons and treasurer of the Temple Baptist Church and a member of the Southwest Lions Club.
His wife, Lucy Harrison Cannon, whom he married in 1913, died in 1951.
Survivors include one daughter, Elizabeth Ellen Moore of Washington; four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.