CORINTH – Northeast Mississippi restaurants want you to know that they have seafood and that it’s safe.
Crest Wilson, the owner of Juju & Crista’s Shrimpboat Cafe in Corinth, said business plummeted after the April explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the ensuing oil spill.
“Our business dropped 30 to 40 percent after the oil spill because people thought there was no seafood,” he said. “They called us the first two or three weeks, asking, ‘Are you guys even open?’”
Wilson’s answer: a big resounding “yes.”
The diner, which prides itself on its fresh seafood, has shrimp, oysters, catfish, tilapia, snow crab legs, alligator and crawfish.
He did have to stop serving blue crab finger cocktails because he hasn’t been able to get any Louisiana blue crab since the oil started spewing into the Gulf.
Some of Wilson’s seafood comes from fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, while some comes from the other fisheries across the country.
Along with cooking the food, he said he’s been busy doing damage control because of the public’s fear of the availability and safety of the seafood.
Last week, his case was helped out by none other than President Barack Obama, who visited the Gulf Coast, including Gulfport.
Obama ate mini crab cakes, fried shrimp and shrimp salad sandwiches in Gulfport and told reporters the seafood was “delicious.”
“This is important for consumers who need to know that their food is safe, but it’s also important for the fishermen and processors who need to be able to sell their products with confidence,” Obama said. “So let me be clear: Seafood from the Gulf today is safe to eat, but we need to make sure that it stays that way.”
Obama said, according to the AP, that the government will step up its inspections and monitoring to help ensure that the Gulf Coast food industry is getting the kind of protection and certification it needs to sell its products around the country.
In addition, NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the the International Food Protection Training Institute are providing seafood sensory training to help inspectors develop skills to be able to smell any taint in seafood from oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
The efforts are allowing Northeast Mississippi restaurants to keep seafood on the menu. The Great American Grill, inside the Hilton Garden Inn, is even using it as a way to show its support for the Gulf Coast.
Every Friday for the past several months, the restaurant runs a special on boiled shrimp, fried oysters and oysters on the half shell from 4 to 6 p.m.
After the start of the April oil leak, the restaurant took oysters off the menu because of the expected increase in price, said Shari Neely, sales director at HGI-Tupelo.
But last week, Joshua Simpson, the restaurant’s executive chef, decided to bring the oysters back.
“He thought it was a great way to support the Gulf Coast,” Neely said. “It’s a nice way to show your support fo rthe people in the fishing and shrimping business.”
And yes, the price did go up, as Simpson had expected. But Neely said the hotel and restaurant would absorb the increase and keep the oysters at the regular price of $6 per dozen.
Wilson – who co-owns the Shrimpboat with his wife, Cheryl, and his daughters, Juju and Crista – also is absorbing the increased costs of his Gulf seafood. He said it now costs him about 30 percent to 40 percent more to buy his menu items.
“We’re not going to go up on our prices because of the oil spill,” he said. “We’re taking the lick ourselves and taking a loss. To keep from going up, I had to cut labor.”
He had to let two people go and now he does all the prepping, cooking and even the dishes.
“I do all the floor mopping and sweeping,” he said, “and that’s how I’m staying in business,” he said.
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal