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What's in Store: The best of Biloxi
Desporte & Sons' family roots are the ties that bind to Gulf community
By Christine Blank
August 01, 2009
Hurricanes, including the devastating Katrina in 2005, could
not keep a 100-year-old Biloxi, Miss., seafood wholesaler, café
and retailer down. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed casinos,
hotels and restaurants along the Mississippi Gulf coast,
residents of the Gulfport and Biloxi area kept Desporte &
Sons Seafood Market & Deli in business.
"We couldn't do it without the local people. The local
business and Keesler [Air Force base] help keep us going," says
Sean Desporte, one of the owners in the fifth-generation family
business that was founded in 1885.
Desporte believes the reason that locals keep coming back,
beyond in-season offerings such as red snapper and Gulf shrimp,
is because they are treated like family. "We give people who
come in here all the time the 'family discount,'" says
Desporte. Customers who visit two or three times a week
typically receive a discount of 50 cents off per pound of
seafood (but it is not exact). The company h as been in
business so long, "pretty much everybody here knows about us,"
says Desporte, and the retailer's word-of-mouth following has
created little need for marketing.
Shoppers cannot help but feel like they are part of a family
atmosphere when they enter the store. The business is run by
Desporte and his uncle, Artie, while his grandfather Emile II,
grandmother Shirley, mother Angela and sister Angel also work
at the shop. "There are hometown people who have been doing
business with my family for years, who dealt with my
grandfather or dad," says Desporte. And the family enjoys
working at the shop and deli, giving them the ability to spend
time together, adds Desporte.
A handful of other employees now feel like family, says
Desporte, and the staff has fun working together. Even though
Desporte & Sons wholesales to large resorts and casinos,
"We like to have the walk-in business," says Desporte. "We try
to make people enjoy coming here and we have fun getting them
what they want."
In addition to offering fresh seafood daily, Desporte &
Sons also boils crawfish and Gulf shrimp, sells an extensive
line of seafood seasonings and operates a small deli on-site
for lunch, with seating for around 30 inside and 16 outside.
Seafood gumbo and shrimp po' boys are among the offerings at
the deli, which was added about eight years ago.
Although the deli is not a high-profit part of the business,
local businesspeople and residents are lunch regulars. Katrina
wiped out a majority of the restaurants along the coast, but
Desporte & Sons was open just two months later.
"We were one of the places that came back quickly, and all
the Katrina [relief] workers came here to eat. It really helped
us out a lot," says Desporte. In fact, 2006 retail and deli
sales rose around 30 percent for Desporte & Sons due to the
"Thank God for that, because our wholesale business had been
taken down by the loss of Presidents Casino, and other casinos
and restaurants," says Desporte.
In a difficult economy, Desporte & Sons' low retail
prices, which are close to its wholesale prices, attract local
clientele. For example, fresh white Gulf shrimp was selling for
$3.49 a pound (which would wholesale for between approximately
$2.49 and $3 a pound) and flounder was retailing for $4.49 a
pound in late June. Hot, boiled crawfish sells for around $2.35
a pound retail, while it wholesales for around $2.
"We try to make it so people can afford it, so they come
back and eat seafood more often,"
While the retailer sources local seafood in season, it also
buys a variety of species imported from many other countries,
for retail and wholesale clients. In fact, the store's motto
is, "If it swims, we got it. If not, we will have it
Desporte & Sons' unassuming storefront, which includes a
few iced cases of flounder, redfish and shrimp, belie the
massive wholesale business in the back of the store that keeps
local casinos and restaurants flush with seafood. The store
typically carries several different sizes of shrimp, 20
different fish species, crab legs, oysters and other items on a
Biloxi's IP Casino Resort & Spa and the Beau Rivage
Hotel & Casino are among Desporte & Sons' largest
wholesale customers. Both demand fresh seafood daily for
fine-dining restaurants and mid-scale buffets. The local
tourism industry is slowly recovering from Hurricane Katrina,
and many travelers are looking to the Biloxi area as a
potentially less expensive vacation than Las Vegas.
While there are some bright spots in the Biloxi economy,
2009 has been a roller-coaster ride for Desporte &
"This year, we should probably be about the same with sales
as last year, with all the ups and downs," says Desporte.
The steady sales are proof that the wholesaler and retailer
is doing something right. In addition to offering the
high-quality local and international seafood, and pricing its
seafood fairly, Desporte is convinced that all of Desporte
& Sons' customers return because of the way they are
treated. The comfortable, family atmosphere that is created by
employees at the store, deli and wholesale business helps the
retailer's customers feel at home, says Desporte.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,