By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 02 August, 2010
Restaurants all along the U.S. Gulf Coast report that they are losing business because of the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill. However, those that focus on serving Gulf seafood seem to be bearing the brunt of the impact. Oceana Grill, an oyster and seafood house popular with French Quarter tourists and locals in New Orleans, has experienced a 12 percent drop in sales and has had to significantly reduce its Gulf oyster offerings on its menu. As a result, the atmosphere of the popular restaurant, once filled with demonstrative oyster shucking and grilling, is now more subdued. SeafoodSource recently talked with Oceana Grill Manager Moe Bader about the state of Gulf seafood and Louisiana’s seafood restaurants.
Blank: What were Oceana’s sales and seafood offerings like before the oil spill?
Bader: Oysters are our most popular dish. We have five different dishes on the menu that feature oysters: Oysters Oceana, Oysters Rockefeller, fried oysters, raw oysters and different specials with oysters every day. People just used to love to watch the cooks grill the oysters, and put on a show. Now, the excitement in the restaurant is gone. Every time we do an event outside the restaurant — such as seafood festivals and Jazz Fest — we bring six grills and all we do is grilled oysters. Seafood festivals generate big revenue for my business.
What is the current state of Oceana Grill’s business?
Right now, we are running into all kinds of troubles. There are oysters in the state of Louisiana, but BP is paying the fishermen so much money….that no one wants to go get [oysters]. I had to lay off three of my oyster shuckers. This is all they know how to do, some since they were 14 or 15 years old. Our sales are down 12 percent, compared to last year. This is the season that the oyster fishermen make most of their money, and it is the season that we get the greatest product. The flavor and size are just right. I got a comment card from a guest blaming us that there are less oysters. The biggest challenge is not knowing what is going on. Are we going to get oysters anytime soon or are we not?
Will you serve oysters from other areas, just to keep them on the menu?
Some distributors are trying to get us Florida oysters. They are smaller than a quarter, and have no flavor. I am pretty frustrated. I am looking for alternatives, but there is nothing like the Gulf oysters. I have kept on them on the menu; I refuse to take them off.
Are you serving different types of seafood, to make up for the loss of oyster sales?
We added silverfin fish from the fresh waters of Louisiana a few weeks ago. It is unheard of and is often not used because of all the bones in it. We serve the fish steak, blackened and without the bones, as well as silverfin cakes with remolaude sauce. Redfish is selling pretty hot, and catfish has always been a good seller. We have no problems with crabmeat in Louisiana right now, and commercial fishing for tuna is still good and it is a good seller.
What is happening to Louisiana’s seafood restaurants because of the oil spill?
There are people who usually come to New Orleans this time of year, and decided to go somewhere else. Also, some people will go to a steakhouse instead of a seafood restaurant. I am sure some of them are worried about oil in seafood; people don’t know how much these fish get checked. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is checking it 10 to 20 times before it goes on the market to make sure it is 100 percent safe. We try to convince them [guests] that we have pasta, steaks and other food, but we are getting less business just because we are a seafood restaurant.