"A few Sicilian immigrants brought nets with them but everyone else used sardines for bait or pet food and they were cheap but actually no one knew what else to do with them," said Mr Mendolia, who has has fished off WA waters for more than five decades.
"I remember my mum would spend a lot of her time filleting the sardines to use for stuffing pasta or for crumbing and frying and I thought to myself there must be a machine that fillets sardines.
"By chance, I heard about a Danish guy who invented a device that did the filleting very quickly, so dad encouraged us to open a factory in 1988. We started with salted anchovies but the Aussies still didn't know enough about them."
Mr Mendolia was responsible for establishing the Fremantle Sardine Festival in 1990 as a way of educating consumers on the protein-packed, Omega-3-laden super-fish but was unable to renew his public liability insurance after the 9/11 tragedy. The Festival ran for 11 years.
Today, the Mendolias are still the only family fishing for sardines for food (not bait) in the Fremantle zone.
"From Geraldton to Dunsborough - I'm the only bloke out there and I only need to go 15 minutes out. Fishing for sardines is very sustainable - we'll never fish out supplies," says Mr Mendolia, who wakes at 2.30am every morning and returns with his crew just before dawn with two tonnes' worth of Sardinella sardines.
The Mendolia brand of canned sardines, packed in a bigger can than most supermarket varieties, is an Australian-first, and the results are sensational. The range is preserved in Sumich's extra-virgin olive oil, and includes traditional, native lemon myrtle leaf, traditional Italian tomato sauce, native pepper berry leaf and a spring-water option. The fish is mild and juicy and doesn't repeat like some imported brands.
"Many top chefs use Mendolia sardine products and Stephanie Alexander is a big fan," he said.