Gautier — Katrina changed many things on the Coast, but it didn’t change residents’ appetite for seafood. Many seafood businesses were on the water, and were destroyed by the storm surge. But one seafood market that was able to open two weeks after the storm, Seafood at Market Square on U.S. 90 in Gautier, has seen business increase by leaps and bounds.
Business was booming before the storm at the quaint and charming store that provides a wide variety of fresh and frozen seafood products in addition to Coast-themed gift items designed to decorate the kitchen as well as serve food.
Seafood at Market Square was started by the Horn family 3.5 years ago. Business growth has been extremely good.
“In the past five months, our business has tripled,” said Donna Horn, who runs the business with her mother-in-law, Pat Horn. “We, of course, expected the growth. We definitely wanted to grow out of this building. The business was growing before the storm.”
While seafood is definitely a big part of the business, the gift side is also doing well. Their strategy with seafood products is to have a wide variety and such good quality that the product speaks for itself.
“We have beautiful salmon, grouper, maui maui, sea scallops, and gourmet products that are already prepared like crawfish pies and good locally made gumbos,” Horn said.
“Presentation is important. We present the seafood so that it is fixed in the tray beautifully. It is almost a piece of art. We want our customers to come in and enjoy their time here. We don’t want them to get blown away by the smell. That is one of the frequent comments we get from customers: When they walk in, it is so clean. They know that they don’t have to wash the seafood when they get home. It is ready to put in the pot and fix.”
Shrimp is one of their biggest sellers, and that was especially true after the storm. After the storm, people had to find new places to buy their seafood.
Seafood at Market Square has been getting customers from as far away as Waveland and Bay St. Louis-two towns that took some of the worst devastation from Katrina.
“We have had so many return customers from Waveland and Bay St. Louis,” Horn said. “They are just so impressed that two weeks after the storm, we were back in business and getting our products, being able to serve our customers. They are still coming back.”
Another “hot” product is boiled crawfish. Last year the crawfish season ran from Christmas through the Fourth of July.
“The volume of boiled crawfish that comes out of here is amazing,” Horn said. “Crawfish season is a very good time of the year for us.”
Customers can buy raw seafood. But those who prefer to let someone else do the cooking also have it made. Special orders are welcomed, even for someone who just wants a couple pounds of boiled shrimp with some corn and potatoes for lunch. But call beforehand. They don’t cook ahead, preferring to wait to cook until orders come in to preserve freshness and quality. A lot of their seafood supplies come from Alabama and Louisiana. A key to their success is having good suppliers who are very reputable.
“You know that your product is going to be the best,” Horn said. “We have been very fortunate, especially after the storm, to have those sources and know that everything that was coming to us was going to be of good quality.”
That also holds true for the gift shop products. Horn said they work to make the inside warm, very family oriented and friendly. Gifts are wrapped with homemade bows, and baskets can include a variety of gourmet food items. Aluminum fish and crab trays are low maintenance items that are popular, and their crystal lamps have been selling especially well since the storm.
One of the things that Horn likes about the business is working as a family together. Only she doesn’t consider it “work.”
“We get excited about such productive days and it not being work,” Horn said. “It is just fun. We enjoy what we do. We enjoy visiting with people, meeting new customers, seeing return customers and loving the fact that they come back. They just love the shop. It has almost become like our customers are our family. We are very sincere. Whenever we ask how customers are, we mean it.”
Her mother-in-law, Pat, agrees.
“When you own a business, you have to make money,” Horn said. “You have to be prosperous. But you can’t do that unless you love what you do because it takes more than eight hours a day. It just does. It becomes a part of you. I don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, gosh, I have to go to work!’ I get up and say, “All right! Let’s see what the day will bring.’ I just love what I do. I am very fortunate.”
Horn has been involved in business since she was 19, working in all types of business from construction to dress shops, in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. About five years ago after she closed her dress shop in Alabama, she didn’t do anything for a while. Then she was visiting in Pensacola visiting a customer for another family business, CNF Inc., a marine parts manufacturer in Pascagoula. While in Pensacola she visited a seafood market, and inspiration struck.
“I went to a big seafood market, walked in, and fell in love with it in 15 minutes,” Horn said. “I said, ‘I think this is what I want to do.’ Then I came home and built me one.”
Their store on Highway 90 was high and dry from Katrina, and had no damage. The Horns’ homes had damage, and are under repair. CNF, Inc., which is operated by Pat’s son and Donna’s husband, Todd Horn, received four feet of water. But they were able to get back in business in two and a half weeks.
“We got it cleaned up, new equipment, and got back to work,” Horn said. “Now, the phone systems weren’t too good, but we managed to work around that. We had our business land line numbers forwarded to our cell phones before the storm, and that was a very good thing. When I called the phone company, they told me it would be November before we got phones for CNF.”
Seafood at Market Square gets some help from two part-time employees when things are particularly busy. But mostly it is just the owners including Todd who carry the work load. As for the Square part of the name, right now there is just the seafood business. Before the Horns bought the property, an old flea market was on the property. In the future, they envision a number of other businesses clustered together including townhouse type offices, other retail and perhaps a coffee shop.
The Horns are bullish on Coast business.
“We appreciate the Coast,” Pat Horn said. “We appreciate the business it has provided to us. We look forward to growth in the future. We love doing business in Mississippi.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.