ASPA Member Feature: R. A. Lesso Seafood, Inc.
March 5, 2021
When Rudy Lesso Jr. walks into his office, he is greeted with a perfect panoramic view of the Biloxi Back Bay. On a clear blue sky kind of morning when the wind is still, the surface of the water is like glass and beautifully captures a pristine reflection of shrimp boats lined around his docks that have been home to independent fishermen since 1978.
As he sits behind his large mahogany desk and takes in the picturesque scene that has bountifully provided for his family for years, the owner and president of R.A. Lesso Seafood can’t help but pause every now and then for a moment of thanks. Rudy credits his love for the seafood industry to a strong heritage of fishermen who tirelessly navigated coastal waters for shrimp since the early 1900s.
His grandfather, Sam Lesso Sr., emigrated to New Orleans from Croatia in 1905, and he and a couple of other Croatians jumped ship and headed toward Biloxi when they learned a large Croatian community was established in the city well-known for its thriving seafood industry. At that time, Biloxi was quickly moving toward its status as the “Seafood Capital of the World,” and even though the Lesso patriarch didn’t know any English, he immediately found work on shrimp boats to make a living.
He also eventually learned some English. Rudy knew his grandfather well and remembers conversations with the gentle giant: “He could understand everything we were saying, and he could speak English, but he would just rather speak in Croatian,” he says. “Back then, when he came over to the Coast, and up until his death, a lot of people in east Biloxi that were from Croatia still spoke the language.”
Rudy, now 67, has fond memories of growing up in a close-knit Croatian community full of people known for their dedicated work ethic. Within Biloxi’s melting pot of different cultures, they served as a vital asset to the development of the seafood industry on the Gulf Coast. In most cases, entire families worked to secure income, and in the Lesso family, while the patriarch was shrimping, his wife worked in a factory, and all six of their children were involved in the industry.
“Back in those days, a lot of people on the east end of Biloxi didn’t have the opportunity to finish school, and they had to go work to supply their family with money and to make ends meet,” Rudy says. “That’s when all three sons and all three daughters went to work. The women worked in factories and the men worked on boats and bought their own boats.”
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