I've known Sammy and Phyllis Hart, owners of Sam's Fresh Seafood in Dunedin, Florida, for about as long as I can remember. My mom grew up with them and they all attended Tarpon Springs High School together.
Sam and Phyllis opened Sam's Fresh Seafood about 30 years ago. Sam does most of the fishing and they serve what he catches, often that day or within 24 hours. I'm honestly not sure if there's fresher seafood available anywhere. They work in the restaurant together - Sam in the kitchen and Phyllis greeting guests, checking on tables and behind the cash register.
Whenever I'm in Crystal Beach the only restaurant I want to eat at is Sam's Fresh Seafood. Nana loved going there and it just feels like home. In fact, I can't recall the last time I was in Florida that I didn't eat at Sam's. I always have scallops and like every meal, they come with two sides and hush puppies. The fried okra is my other favorite. Actually, everything on the menu is amazing. Plus, for seafood, it's pretty budget friendly.
Sammy and Phyllis are also incredibly loyal. I've yet to meet a server who's been with them less than 6 or 8 years and who doesn't speak of them like they're family. Sammy and Phyllis hire good people, treat them right and they stick around.
Since the BP oil spill almost two months ago, Sammy and Phyllis have been on my mind a lot. I've wondered how they were doing and was relieved when I ate there on Mother's Day and business seemed good. But when I spoke to Mom today, she told me Sammy was on the local news last night discussing the steep decline in business. It's not that there's anything wrong with the seafood, but people are afraid.
I found the story and video below and my eyes welled up seeing Sammy choke up. I know it must have broken his heart to cut his staff's hours. Sammy and Phyllis are holding on, but paying a steep price to do so. Because I'm in Chicago, there's not much I can do, except say that I'll be eating at Sam's Fresh Seafood on when I'm in Crystal Beach on July 18th - Nana's birthday, write about them on Little Merry Sunshine, talk about them on Facebook, and encourage all my Florida friends to support Sam and Phyllis by eating at Sam's Fresh Seafood whenever they can. If you go, tell Phyllis that Jessica Gardner, Virginia Paulk's daughter sent you.
Sam's Seafood Restaurant Owner is Bracing Himself for an Uncertain Future as Oil Keeps Gushing
Sales Drop 40% Since Spill
July 11, 2010
by Rebecca Medina, ABC Action News
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Sam and Phyllis Hart, owners of Sam's Seafood Restaurant in Dunedin, said they're scared and facing an uncertain future because the oil spill in the Gulf will likely put them out of business.
"I don't know what I'll do next, I'm 63-years-old this is all I know how to do," said Sam as he sliced and diced his catch of the day.
Sam has been shucking oysters, marinating mussels and serving fresh seafood for more than 30 years. He said he and Phyllis have survived hurricanes, a red tide, sour stone crab seasons, but never oil creeping closer to Dunedin shores.
"My wife was arguing with a customer last night who was telling us the fish are glowing and it probably has all kinds of micro-organisms in it and this oil isn't even here yet."
But it might as well be covering the beaches, according to Phyllis who said, "We've seen a 40-percent drop in business since the spill. I've had to cut back employee's hours, and I have waitresses that've been with me for eight to nine years whose tips are down 30 percent."
To make matters worse Sam is now serving seafood that's imported instead of local, which is driving up his costs and drying out his bottom line.
Sam said, "I don't know how long we'll be able to hold on." When asked just how much he loves his business Sam turned away, put his head down and whimpered. "I love it."