ASPA Member Feature: Seabrook Seafood, Inc.
Seabrook Seafood, Inc. is based in Kemah, Texas, a beautiful waterfront city located about 20 miles south of Houston. The name Kemah is an Indian word that means “wind in my face” — a fitting description for the steadfast breeze that has guided shrimpers to reap the bountiful harvest Galveston Bay has provided for centuries.
Brothers Tom Hults, president, and Arthur Hults, controller, grew up in Texas and have worked in the seafood industry all their lives, but the lineage of the company goes back to the 1930s in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When their grandfather, Archie Arthur Hults, retired from the paper mill, he was eager to kick up his recreational fishing habit to a more full-time status. Little did he realize his passion for fishing would pave the way for his son and grandsons to embrace seafood as a way of life.
“He caught more fish than he could handle, so he would take them over to the docks that would buy fish off the fishermen,” Tom says. “At some point, he decided it was a good thing to get into that business. He made good money off the fish he caught, opened his own dock, and a little retail store, and a restaurant came after that.”
Tom and Arthur’s grandmother ran the restaurant part of the business, and the demand for her signature favorite was well known in the community: “She was really good at cooking gumbo,” Tom says. “The running joke I always heard was ‘it was a very special recipe — anything that would hold still long enough, she would put it in the pot!’”
Arthur remembers his grandfather as an “easygoing” man who loved his pipe, always had a smile on his face, and never let an obstacle stand in the way of achieving a goal, especially after losing his right hand in a sawmill accident when he was a teenager.
“One thing about Grandpa is he could do anything,” Arthur says. “That accident did not handicap him in the least, and he went on to be a master machinist.”
That same tenacity and innovative spirit were inherited by their father, Henry Arthur Hults, who also followed the seafood path when he got out of the Navy in 1945. Henry was instrumental in helping his father set up the retail market and restaurant, and unloaded multiple boats at the dock.
Tom says his dad was “very energetic,” and he worked hard to cultivate strong relationships with the boat captains who trusted the Hults name at the dock operation — a standard the sons continue to carry today at Seabrook Seafood. Because the shrimp crop started near Mississippi and eventually would move toward Texas, the fishermen asked Henry if he would consider opening a dock in Texas.
Before long, a fresh wind blew west and steered Henry and his family to chart new fishing waters. Henry was a natural-born entrepreneur, so the transition to a new state was a challenge he tackled with a go-getter mindset armed with ingenious skills.
He started in a little shed to unload boats in Seabrook, Texas, but after a hurricane wiped out the business, he came back stronger and opened Seabrook Shrimp & Oyster, a processing company and retail store that his wife, Jean, and all six of their children worked at regularly. Henry also eventually opened a trawl door and net shop.
“I remember going down to the retail store on the weekends and we’d have people lined up going 30 to 40 feet out the front door just waiting to get in there and buy some fresh shrimp,” Tom says. “The story when we were kids was if you were old enough to see over the counter, you went down there and waited on customers, and if you weren’t old enough to see over the counter, dad would sit you on a stool at the register and you’d take money and make change. That’s how we all learned to count.”
After too many storms flooded the waterfront business, Henry relocated to higher ground and built a new plant right down the road in Kemah, and incorporated Seabrook Seafood in 1972. Of his six children, the two brothers and their sister, Judy, followed their father into the family business, and his wife completed the team effort as company bookkeeper and hardworking matriarch lovingly devoted to her family.
Henry experienced great success in the industry before he passed away in 1986 at the age of 60, and he secured a reputable foundation for his sons to move forward with the family business. Tom and Arthur have faithfully carried on the Hults legacy to honor their father who instilled in them a determined work ethic, a dedication to quality, appreciation for innovative thinking, and an unwavering loyalty to the shrimp industry.
“My dad was always involved in things, always looking to see how he could do more, and he always said he was trying to make things bigger and better for the kids,” Arthur says. “He would say, ‘I want to leave y’all something and it’s up to you whether you want to do it or not. He definitely built something for us here.”
If Henry were still alive, he would be very proud of how his sons have expanded the company to not only serve a versatile customer-base that consists of distributors and wholesalers nationwide, but also serve the local community through creative conservation.
If the old proverb “cleanliness is next to godliness” could ever be applied to a shrimp processing plant, it is a spot-on fit for Seabrook. Kemah is an exquisite boardwalk city located on Galveston Bay that is full of amenities tailored for residents and tourists. The plant isn’t located on the water, but it is nestled right in the middle of a luxury apartment complex, RV park, and a world-class resort with a golf course, state-of-the-art fitness center, and marina.
A critical part of efficiently controlling any odor and maintaining a continuous clean environment at the plant is due to the custom wastewater treatment system the brothers had installed right on the property 10 years ago. Before any process wastewater is released into the public sewer system, it is pretreated before disposal.
Tom says maintaining a company reputation of a consistent product is evident through many longstanding client relationships that were established by his father, and the Hults tradition of offering personalized service that caters to customer’s needs on-demand carries on with the sons’ vision for the company.
“We always try to be really innovative and are always looking for different ways of doing things,” Tom says. “We’re not the biggest company in our industry, but that’s a strength for us and for the customer. We’re small enough to be flexible; big enough to produce good quality and quantity of product.”
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