ASPA Member Feature: Ocean Springs Seafood
January 15, 2021
At the foot of 400 Front Beach Drive in Ocean Springs, Miss., there is a piece of land with only pillars sticking up from the ground, and even though the building that once housed Ocean Springs Seafood Market, Inc., is no longer there, the history behind this property made a significant contribution to the storybook of seafood legacy on the Gulf Coast. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s 20-foot storm surge took Earl Fayard’s processing plant from him, but the savage weather conditions could not take the grit embedded in his seafood DNA — a definitive character trait of fortitude to overcome industry obstacles.
It’s ironic that the very body of water that guided fishermen to Ocean Springs Seafood Market, his family’s profitable business since 1948, would also be the tool that opened a new chapter and radically shifted the company in a different direction. Now operating remotely from his home office, the 64-year-old may no longer have a processing plant of his own, but his business is still in full swing thanks to a neighboring plant in Biloxi, R.A. Lesso Seafood, which is owned by Rudy Lesso.
In an industry that normally thrives on competition, these two businesses operate out of the same plant, but have separate customers, separate processing schedules, and separate product brands. For Earl and Rudy, it just works. Both men are satisfied to work at their existing levels and are each enjoying the happy medium of successfully maintaining their existing workload.
Their partnership is a tale that has come full circle: “I didn’t know Rudy until I was an adult, but we both sort of have the same background, even though mine is oyster-based and his is shrimp-based. Our daddies were commercial fishermen, and we grew up on the Coast,” Earl says. “When Rudy decided to get into the seafood business about 1978, I had already been in business for many years, so I helped and peeled all of his first shrimp in my plant while he operated from his home office. Now, everything is in reverse, and he is returning the favor.”
Despite the ups and down, Earl’s determination to keep moving forward is wrapped up in one motivational commonality within the industry — in many cases, the seafood life is all industry workers have ever known. There was no choice to venture into a different type of business when the means of seafood had sustained generation after generation.
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