For generations, the bountiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico have provided a distinctive lifestyle for Texas shrimpers. This industry, fueled by hard work and the sea, provides bountiful harvests of tender, premium, wild-caught shrimp. It's a unique part of the Lone Star state's history. Here, you’ll meet some of the companies, proud families and supportive restaurants that make the Texas shrimp industry a continuing story of innovation and preservation. Take a tour and experience the one-of-a-kind flavor of the Texas Gulf.
Some would say Wright “Pappy” Gore Sr., the late founder and patriarch of Western Seafood Co. in Freeport, set the standard for setting standards. Pappy bought the company and property along the Gulf Coast in 1949 and began a lifelong mission to diversify and improve the Texas shrimp industry. The legacy continues today under the direction of his three sons, Wright Jr., Raymond and Gary.
“The tradition and spirit of innovation at Western Seafood began a long time ago with Pappy,” said Patrick Riley, general manager. “He was always thinking outside of the box in order to make our products and businesses more efficient.”
Riley’s father, Mike, went to work for Pappy and Western Seafood Co. in 1963. With the shrimp boat as his classroom and the Gulf as his playground, Patrick worked summers on the boat and docks beginning at age nine.
“If I wasn’t in school, I was with my dad giving a boat the ‘fresh brush treatment,’” Riley said. “That is where I learned that there was always plenty to do and always plenty to improve upon. It was and is about doing more with less.”
The rule “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has never seemed to apply to Western Seafood Co. The 61-year-old company has taken the netting used for catching shrimp from tarred cotton to nylon to Spectra to new high-density polyethylene, and done so with one goal in mind: efficiency. In the mid-1970s, during one of the first big oil crises, Pappy used his influence with shrimp boat operators to help refine and foster the widespread adoption of a quad-rig for shrimp boats that covered a larger catching area and relieved drag, which in turn reduced energy consumption and increased production. In 2005, the company introduced the hydrodynamic trawl door to the shrimp industry. This device reduces fuel consumption by more than 33 percent.
In the quest for efficiency, Western Seafood has been continually recognized for being environmentally conscious. In 2004, Leroy Jones and Harry Davis Jr., both longtime captains for Western Seafood, were awarded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Hero Awards for the development of the Jones-Davis bycatch reduction device (BRD), which is used to reduce the number of species other than shrimp that are caught. This BRD is now an industry standard and reduces bycatch by 58 percent. In 2008, Riley and Western Seafood Captain Manuel Calderon were awarded NOAA’s Sustainable Fisheries Leadership Award in the stewardship and sustainability category for their work on fuel efficiency and BRD development.
“We did not purposefully go out of our way to be recognized; it just happened in our quest to be more efficient,” Patrick said. “Pappy outhustled everybody and did everything faster in order to get a great product out when he first opened Western Seafood. For us, it is still about delivering a high-quality product and keeping it pristine all the way from the Gulf to the table.”
When 81-year-old Edward “Lalo” Garcia Sr. stands on the dock of Palacios Bay every morning and inhales the salty, damp air of the Texas coast, a lifetime of achievement and hard work floods his memory.
Garcia began oystering at age 13 and bought his first shrimping boat in 1955, which according to the Garcia family made him the first Hispanic in Texas to purchase his own shrimp boat. As Garcia’s fleet grew over the next 15 years, so did his family. He and his wife, Antonia, had 13 children, most of whom are in the Texas shrimp business today. The Garcia family is the largest shrimping family in the nation, with 35 operating boats, 37 Gulf freezer trawlers and four shrimp houses.
“My father was a Depression baby with a third-grade education,” said Regina Garcia Peña, Garcia's daughter and founder of Philly Seafood. “He sold newspapers for two cents a day during World War II, but he worked hard, and I am proud to say that he built his business because of his work ethic and belief in the product he was catching.”
Peña attributes her own success to her family and the pride and encouragement passed down through the generations. Peña founded Philly Seafood in Palacios with her brother, Kenneth, in 2002 and began selling her signature brown headless Gulf shrimp to restaurants out of the back of her Suburban.
“I didn’t know anything about selling shrimp,” Peña recalled. “But I knew we had a great, quality product that buyers and restaurants would want.”
Philly Seafood, named after Peña’s late son, is now one of the largest wholesalers of Gulf shrimp, with more than $8 million in annual sales. Peña distributes to large retailers and restaurants all over the country.
“I know every business has a bottom line, but I would ask people to consider the whole package,” Peña said. “Texas shrimp isn’t just an all-natural product grown in pristine Gulf waters; it’s a way of life.”
For more than four decades, wild-caught Texas Gulf shrimp, line-caught red snapper, hand-caught flounder and certified oysters have held their own as delicious items on the menu of San Antonio’s Sea Island Shrimp House restaurant.
“Since the beginning, we’ve learned to never deviate from what’s important,” said Barclay Anthony, son of Sea Island founders Chrissy and Dan Anthony. “We’ve sampled shrimp from all over the world and have come to realize the Gulf brown shrimp has always stayed superior in quality.”
At Sea Island, the time-honored traditions of keeping it simple, serving the best seafood money can buy and providing great customer service have assured years of success for this hardworking restaurant family. Their loyal following is a testament to a longstanding commitment to Texas shrimp and their community.
Sea Island has always believed the flavor of Gulf brown shrimp shouldn’t be hidden, which is why the restaurant has always used light hand breading to enhance the delectable flavor of the shrimp. Sea Island still hand makes its own sauces, breading, marinades, gumbo and sides. The restaurant also continues to hand fillet its fish and hand peel and devein its premium grade shrimp.
“We’ve always been a hands-on business. We know our shrimp boat captains and packers, and we’ve never taken our good fortune for granted,” said Chrissy. “We have great managers and employees. We are family.”
With six locations and approximately 450 employees, the Anthonys still stand by an inspiring and motivating business credo: You’re only as good as the last plate you served.
Chef Ross Burtwell has helped make the Cabernet Grill a popular place to visit in Fredericksburg. A proud GO TEXAN member, he is a friend to both the wild-caught Texas Gulf shrimp and Texas wine industries. "In 2002, I became the owner of Cotton Gin Village and its onsite restaurant, and began the evolution of the restaurant into the present-day version of the Cabernet Grill. The restaurant features the world’s largest all-Texas wine list, as Fredericksburg has become the place to start if you’re looking to explore Texas wines. We serve what I like to call Texas Hill Country cuisine, which blends a number of different influences important to Texas — Cajun, German, Mexican, cowboy cooking — and fuses them into a cuisine unique to this part of the world, where all these flavors merge.
I’ve supported the efforts of the Texas Department of Agriculture and the GO TEXAN campaign for years. I also like to feature as much Texas-grown and Texas-raised food as I can — including Texas wild-caught Gulf shrimp — I consider encouraging people to buy and prepare Texas shrimp as an extension of what I do in the restaurant.
Texas Gulf shrimp is something I like to use in Texas Hill Country cuisine seafood dishes — It’s consistently a high quality product. It’s versatile, and it pairs well with a number of the best Texas white wine varieties, like Rousanne, Viognier and Albarino. Most shrimp you find in supermarkets have traveled far distances and are farm-raised rather than wild-caught. Texas is lucky to have a bountiful coastline, that gives us easy access to fresh seafood.
Whether you use a foodie term like locavorism, a catchy slogan like GO TEXAN, or you simply think about buying and eating more locally-grown food and locally-caught seafood, it’s a good practice to eat and drink the food and wine harvested, fished and made by fellow Texans. We are particularly lucky in that, while we live in a large, diverse state, we are all united by our identity as Texans. Texas is a ranching state, a farming state, a hunting state and, as the Texas shrimp industry reminds us, a coastal state.
Texas wild-caught Gulf shrimp is consistently fresh and delicious. When people think of the Gulf of Mexico, they might think about oil production and have concerns about the quality of seafood that comes from those waters. However, Texas’ oil and shrimp fishing industries have coexisted for many years. This partnership between the two industries allow for a positive, safe coexistence. The state is better-enabled than ever before to ensure that Texas seafood is not only safe, but of the quality and consistency that Texas deserves.
We'll see Texas shrimp gain in popularity and prestige as more people realize how sweet and tasty Texas shrimp is and how easy it is to cook. I predict it will grow in much the same way that the Texas wine industry is growing and getting attention.
As any respectable Ghost Hunter will tell you, the term “haunted,” is a relative one and has different meanings for different people. One thing most can agree on is that the 1895 Victorian home at 814 Water Street in Waxahachie, which is now home to the Catfish Plantation restaurant, is most definitely a residence of several spirits.
Tom and Melissa Baker thought the property had a certain charm about it when they purchased it in 1984. Shortly after, they would become believers when unexplainable things started happening. Take this for example: one morning, at a time when only the Bakers had keys to the building, Melissa came in to work to find a fresh-brewed coffee waiting for her. Once the restaurant opened, employees too started noticing strange things. Eventually, the Bakers brought in a group of paranormal investigators to give their impressions of the old house. What they found was a list of characters from Waxahachie's past, each with distinct personalities, each existing independent of one another at the restaurant. All spirits within the house have been deemed.“friendly and positive.”
In 2007 the Bakers sold the restaurant and its ghostly inhabitants to the Landis Family. Today, the Catfish Plantation and the Landis Family spend their time serving up the best in Cajun-style cuisine, while trying to keep a few ghostly traditions alive. The locale has been featured on a host of TV programs on all the major networks, in newspaper and magazine articles worldwide. The Catfish Plantation welcomes those who want to learn more about their history, while also enjoying the great food in a warm, welcoming environment.
As a Texas restaurant, we were thrilled to be approached to participate in the GO TEXAN Program. We are always very proud to brag about our great state and the products that make Texas the best. We have known for years: sweet brown shrimp from the Gulf is some of the best tasting shrimp around. As a Southern and Cajun restaurant, we like to stand out, and that means providing the best and freshest ingredients to our patrons is our highest priority. Buying as local as we can is our goal. After all, while we may serve people from all over the world, we also serve our friends and neighbors—people we want to make happy.
If people are educated about the impact of buying local on a community, then we believe people will choose to buy items that promote prosperity in their own hometowns. If consumers really understand what they are eating, we hope they would choose to eat fresh foods like wild-caught Gulf shrimp, which comes from their homestate and is prepared by their neighbors and friends.
To our family, the answer is simple: help and support your neighbor. Why spend your money anywhere else than with the people that live in our own great state? It helps us, it helps our children and it helps our fellow Texans.
Gulf shrimp is not only sweeter than Pacific shrimp, it is imperative for the survival of many small business owners that live in our own state. Aquaculture and shrimping is important to our state’s economy and provides Texans with an alternative to processed foreign products that are not grown and harvested with the same strict guidelines as in the U.S.
My Family and I hope that Texans will come together in the spirit of our community to support local industries, like shrimping, so that they can continue to thrive.
Quality Seafood street sign from its location at 409 E 19th Street.
An Austin institution since 1938, Quality Seafood Market’s origin is humble—it began as a mere stall in Starr’s Fruit and Vegetable Market on Congress Avenue. Garnett Lenz rented the space for his seafood stall from John Starr until he moved his business to 3rd Street and Brazos Avenue near the Slaughter Locker Plant. Lentz sold seafood and other gourmet food items, such as quail eggs and rattlesnake meat at his new location. The business would move once more before ending up at 409 East 19th Street, which is now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. At some point between his original seafood stall and the move to the East 19th Street location, Lenz sold half his business share to JD Spence, OT McCullough and Jimmy Boutilier. Lenz’s real passion was hauling seafood from the Texas coast to Austin, and the other owners were forced to sell when Lenz, the majority owner, wanted to revive his trucking business. Lenz eventually became the principal supplier of fresh seafood to Quality Seafood Market for several years to come.
Garnet Lenz (far left) and John Starr (far right) at the market on 19th Street, circa 1950. Also pictured here: JD Spence, OT McCullough, “Shorty” and “Benny.”
On June 30, 1958, Chester Husted, a frozen foods entrepreneur from Burnet, bought the business. JD Spence, OT McCullough, and Jimmy Boutilier formed a partnership with Husted. All but Boutilier would remain in business with Husted for nearly thirty years.
Husted also owned a frozen food trucking company called Austin Frozen Foods. It was Tom Cantu, currently Quality Seafood Market’s longest standing employee, who worked as a driver for Austin Frozen Foods. Soon after Husted acquired the seafood market from Lenz, he merged his two businesses and Quality Seafood was born. In 1960, 20-year-old Tom Cantu transferred to Quality Seafood as a delivery driver for wholesale accounts. He then progressed up the ranks to fish cutter and eventually, wholesale manager and chief buyer.
In 1965, Husted was forced to move the business when the University of Texas (UT) claimed eminent domain on Quality Seafood's then location. The site he chose, 2105 East Avenue (now Interstate-35) was formerly home to a Checker Front grocery store. At this location, Husted installed the first kitchen at Quality Seafood. It was strictly a kitchen, not a restaurant, serving up to-go orders to hungry customers. In 1970, UT claimed eminent domain yet again on the building that Quality Seafood occupied, which would eventually become the site of the Texas Longhorns baseball stadium.
Tired of moving his business, Husted searched for property further away from the UT campus. He took advantage of the grand opening of Highland Mall, which he was sure would bring new foot traffic to his market, and moved Quality Seafood to its present location at 5621 Airport Blvd. The building, with an interior designed by OT McCullough especially for Quality Seafood, accommodated their three-part business with space for a kitchen, a fresh seafood market, as well as coolers, freezers and an office for the wholesale operation.
When Chester Husted passed away in 1982, Harris Husted and Jamie Akenhead inherited the business from their father. For a brief transition period, JD Spence and OT McCullough continued to manage the business as they had previously done. When “Mac” (McCullough) and “Sonny” (Spence) decided to retire in 1983 and 1985, respectively, Jamie and Harris took over the day-to-day operations of Quality Seafood. Jamie kept the books, and Harris focused on gaining new accounts for the market. In addition to his restaurant customers, Harris attempted to sign some larger accounts, like the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) and Bergstrom Air Force Base. Unfortunately, too much red tape caused product spoilage and losses, which forced him to cancel the accounts.
In the early 1980s, the wholesale and retail business suffered due to a law passed by the Texas legislature banning the sale of redfish, black drum and gulf trout caught by net. These local favorites didn’t make an industry comeback until the late 1980s, when Harris and Jamie were nearing retirement. However, the brother-sister duo kept the business afloat by carrying more frozen fish products and more exotic items that weren’t part of the local cuisine, like ahi tuna. Harris and Jamie also were the first to install a dining room, which turned the to-go kitchen into a sit-down restaurant and laid the foundation for owners to come.
Sam Eaves, former owner of Eaves Brothers Quality Seafood (photo credit: John Anderson)
In 1990, Harris and Jamie sold the business to Sam Eaves. Sam and his brother Dexter had previously owned their own seafood business — Eaves Brother’s Seafood. When Dexter went to law school, Sam purchased his brother’s share of the business and then proceeded to buy Quality Seafood. He changed the business name to Eaves Brothers Quality Seafood. Sam’s skills as a salesman and his extensive experience in the Alaskan seafood industry, as well as fresh seafood’s increasing popularity among chefs and restaurant-goers, all combined to help expand Quality Seafood’s reach throughout the wholesale seafood market in Austin. For the first time, items like salmon, halibut and sea bass could be found in the market case alongside local, seasonal favorites like Texas drum, shrimp and oysters.
In 2003, Paul and Carol Huntsberger acquired the business and changed its name to Quality Seafood Market. Their passion for seafood and their years of experience in finance and sales made them the perfect match for overseeing a number of expansions and improvements to the market, including interior and exterior renovations, additional restaurant seating, an expanded menu, a new oyster bar and a catering business. Under Paul and Carol, the restaurant blossomed from a fried food kitchen into a place where families could gather to enjoy fresh, healthy preparations of seafood from waters as nearby as Texas and as far away as Alaska. Quality Seafood Market continues to grow under the leadership of Carol Huntsberger,who became sole owner in 2010. The original mission of Garnett Lenz to provide Central Texans with the freshest possible seafood remains the focal point of all her new endeavors.