“I am 76. I started in business in 1976 with Brothers Seafood and we sold fresh and cooked seafood. I was forced to open this restaurant when the seafood market burned and I didn’t have insurance. There was a building with a restaurant close by that didn’t make it so I moved there. I started cooking and putting some recipes together like the ways my mama used to cook. Nobody was going to take a risk and hire a 60-year-old man, so I had to do it myself.
I grew up in Mobile and went to Virginia to pick tomatoes and gather the harvest. I was a migrant worker until I was 23 and moved to New York City. My first job there was in a plastic factory making $1.30 an hour and later moved over to a mail-order house. I started in the warehouse, moved up to night foreman and then production manager. I work hard and am honest and dependable. I treated the business like it was mine and the owner trusted me. He had never taken a vacation until I came. I ran it for about 18 years until the owner’s youngest son came home from the military. He didn’t like me being in the position I was in and we didn’t see eye to eye. It became a problem and the old man didn’t want to go against me or his son so he retired. He came back a few months later and asked me to come back but it didn’t work out. I enjoyed living in New York when I was young and made good money. It was fun being in the fast lane and staying out all night. There was always something going on but I knew when it was time to move back to Mobile.
When I came home, I hauled tires to be recapped. A man I called on said his tire business wasn’t working and asked what should go in the building instead. I said a fish market because my brother-in-law was misled that a fish market would be a business and I assumed he was right. I didn’t know one fish from another or how to run a seafood business but said I could manage it. I was sent to Bayou La Batre where they unload the seafood boats and I started figuring it out from there.
Two guys followed me down New York and they helped me get started. I opened on Wednesday to get the cash register and scales ready for Friday. Back then, all of the Catholics ate fish on Friday. The first Friday we did $945 and after that, we started rolling. There were slow times but I kept the faith. I got up at 3 in the morning and went to seafood holes from Gulf Shores to Louisiana and bought from places others didn’t know about. The other seafood markets closed at 6 p.m. so I stayed open until 8 p.m. They opened at 9 a.m. so I opened at 6 a.m. I worked hard and became the kingpin of seafood. I had five markets at one time, even one in Fairhope. I had a salvage yard, too, and it got too much because I was trying to do it all myself.
I have 17 employees at the restaurant now. If they show a little interest, I try to help. Helping others motivates me and keeps me going. Even in New York, I helped people with rent, car notes and utilities. I could get things done when no one else could or done more efficiently because I went out of my way to help the people working for me.
I was recently talking to some young men I didn’t know on the street in front of my restaurant and asked them if they are staying out of trouble permanently or right now. Whenever you find a fight or killing, it is always guys who know each other, not strangers. These guys need to understand if you are going to be a man you need to stay out of jail. Behind bars, you become a child and are told what to do, when to eat, and when to go to the bathroom. You don’t want to be that kind of man. You’ve got to be a man that has love, compassion and forgiveness. If you don’t have those three things, you have problems.
Two years ago, I was robbed after the restaurant was closed. I stopped by after a meeting at church and a young man pointed a gun at me and told me to give him my wallet and keys. I said, ‘Lord be with me because I am going at him.’ I grabbed the gun it and it went off and shot me in the chest. The bullet came out at the top of my shoulder. I went to court with the young man. The judge asked what I wanted to do, I said give him probation and I will see if I can turn him right. I gave him a job and worked with him. He was picked up a few months later for things he did prior to my robbery. He is locked up in Jacksonville, Florida, but I still talk to him all of the time.
Drugs are messing up minds. They think smoking marijuana is okay because it is popular, but it is not. It does something to the brain cells. They get high and think it is okay to kill rob or somebody.
God can’t work for you if you aren’t doing what He wants you to. We pretend that we are Christians but don’t have love for one another. Love, compassion and forgiveness are what it is going to take to stop the killings and domestic violence. We have been meeting and talking about these things years. We make decisions based on what feels good and no one wants to give that up and change their life. There are things we need to give up and we need to be taught the right things instead.
You have to go through something to feel another person. Everyone God uses in the Bible has been through something. No one has it all together. I don’t either. I just want to keep helping people and hope God gives me a few more years to do it. The Bible says, ‘When you do for the least ones, you do unto me.’ I believe that wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they do, when I leave this life I want them to say I fed somebody and put a smile on their face.”