Hurricane Katrina

Review: Snapper’s Seafood in Biloxi, MS

A few weeks back I made my first trip to the Katrina ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast since, well, before Katrina.  I have been to a few coastal communities but this was the first time I had actually gone to the coast itself.  US Highway 90 is one of those great coast-to-coast US highways that pre-dates the Eisenhower Interstate System.  The stretch of Hwy. 90 that traverses Mississippi’s coastline is called Beach Blvd. and it is the main drag in Ocean Springs, Gulfport and my destination, Biloxi.

Over 20 years ago when a certain trombone player accepted a scholarship to a music school on the Mississippi Gulf Coast there were plenty of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops along Beach Blvd. but the casinos that finally delivered the region from a century of economic ruin brought by post Civil War Reconstruction were not.  When those casinos showed up Biloxi was transformed from a sleepy sea side tourist trap into a bona fide vacation destination.  Then came Katrina.In the span of one night Mother Nature eradicated the region’s economy in one 30 foot high wall of water.  The storm surge that struck the area did more damage in 10 seconds than New Orleans endured through the entire storm.  Everything was leveled.

Some six years later Biloxi is open for business and they did it largely without the colossal helping hand from FEMA and heart broken Hollywood stars that New Orleans received.  The casinos were the first to return followed by the other touristy businesses.  But there are still large sections of Beach Blvd. that lay desolate.  It was at the end of one stretch of nothingness that I lucked into Snapper’s Seafood.

Snapper’s is not a fancy restaurant nor does it have the personality of some of the legendary seafood eateries on the Gulf Coast like Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile or Flounder’s Chowder House in Pensacola.  But it was clean (it should be, virtually every building on Beach Blvd. is less than six years old).  They have a long dining deck that overlooks the beach.  Most importantly, after a day of sampling craft beers, they had fried food.

The temptation was there for a big seafood platter but then I spied my Kryptonite – a fried soft shell crab po’ boy.  Some people don’t care for soft shell crab.  An old buddy of mine says they look like tarantulas and won’t go near one.  Hey, that’s more for me.  Snapper’s did everything right, big crispy steak-house fries and a nice juicy crab dusted with cornmeal dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion and tarter sauce.  They also placed the sandwich into a panini press giving it a crusty exterior and making it easier to handle.  A nice touch.

My assessment of Snapper’s is that it is not the kind of place you put on your Bucket List but it is the kind of place you wish you had in your neighborhood.  Snapper’s Seafood is located at 1699 Beach Blvd. in Biloxi, MS.  (228) 374-7962

Restaurants Can’t Charge Servers For Dine And Dash

The article I am about to share with you is not about TV chefs or food writers.  It does, however, address a situation that has been on the rise for some time now.  Dine and Dash or dine and ditch or chew and screw or running the check means ducking out without paying for the bill and it is at epidemic levels right now.

The people that do this know that it is theft; they do not care.  Like the IRS, they are at peace with being thieves.  However, to combat this many restaurants are charging the server for the price of the meal.  Doesn’t sound fair does it?  Well, as you will soon learn it not only isn’t fair, it isn’t legal.  So all of you servers and bartenders pay attention – if your employer is saddling you with bills that customers refuse to pay, the U.S. Department of Labor wants to hear from you. Call the help line at 1-866-487-9243.

This is from Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz and author of Life Happens: And Other Unavoidable Truths. It was published December 15, 2009.  Read and learn.

    The costs of getting stiffed shouldn’t be the server’s to pay.
    Chew and ScrewThe first time I heard a waitress was forced to foot the bill when a customer skipped out, I thought surely this was the policy of a rogue manager.
    That was in early August. After four months of interviews with servers and managers at dozens of restaurants here and around the country, I now know otherwise.
    A growing number of restaurant patrons are eating meals and ducking out before paying.
    That’s illegal.
    Waiters and waitresses assigned to their tables are getting stuck with the tab. That’s illegal, too.
    As a U.S. Labor Department spokesperson put it in an e-mail response to my questions: “It is a violation for employers to improperly require tipped employees to pay for customers who walk out without paying their bills or for incorrectly totaled bills.”
    I will not name any particular restaurant because my research indicates so many are violating federal law by requiring their servers to cover customers’ unpaid bills. It strikes me as unfair to single out one. I will, however, give my list to the Labor Department.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday: an Indictment of the Corporate Restaurant Industry, pt. 3




This is part three of a three part series (dare I say exposé?) on the corporate restaurant industry.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday: an Indictment of the Corporate Restaurant Industry

The closing of so many chain restaurants is one of the few bright spots in an utterly dreary economic state. Corporate restaurants are a bane to American society. Making a buck is never wrong, but these companies have done so by enslaving workers, knowingly poisoning their customers and sabotaging small business. We should not be lamenting the fall of the corporate restaurant industry, but rather celebrate it by be prosecuting the CEO’s and politicians who conspired to create the nefarious beast.

America’s Modern Slave State

The onslaughts on the general public and small business are not the only transgressions of corporate restaurant chains as their workers (servers, bar tenders and the like) are the only profession in the entire nation that are not paid minimum wage. Try, if you can, to imagine how your life might change if the state you live in passed a law that said your employer now only has to pay your profession $2.50/hour. The rest of your income is solely up to the generosity of strangers. Additionally, the government makes you pay taxes on these charitable contributions regardless of whether or not you actually receive them. As if that were not enough, you also have to work every holiday without receiving overtime or holiday pay. And you can forget about sick-leave all together.

Now let’s sweeten the pot a little by informing you that if someone who is inebriated happens to enter your work area you are now personally responsible for every action that person takes until they sober up. Regardless of whether you provide them with alcohol or even conduct business with them in any manner you are still criminally liable for their actions.

It sounds preposterous does it not? This is the 21st Century; the conditions just described sound like something out of a Dickens’ novel. At best this is an extreme example of the deplorable human rights violations in some war-torn African nation. One thing is for sure, this could never happen in America, not with all this change and hope floating around.

Sadly the circumstances illustrated do exist today and right here in River City.

As it turns out the restaurant industry is exempt from US Federal minimum wage laws. Each state is free to set whatever minimum wage they deem for bartenders, bussers, servers, and even hostesses as little as $2.13 an hour. A few states are enlightened enough to guarantee these workers the same minimum wage as any other profession. Most do not. In fact only eight states currently require the same minimum wage for restaurant workers as everyone else. The remaining 42 states allow companies to legally pay their workers less than what economists and society have agreed is a fair wage.

In Alabama for instance the server wage is $2.13 an hour or one third the current minimum wage. Florida is scarcely better at $3.50 an hour. Montana and Minnesota have two minimum wages for servers (both are below the national minimum) – one for big business and a lower one for small. The corporations argue that this punishes them for being successful while small businesses insist the better servers opt for the chains leaving them to pick through the leftovers. In Nevada full time restaurant workers are actually forced to choose between a fair wage or health insurance.

A gratuity is a bonus for a job well done; a little something extra for going beyond the norm, or at least it used to be. By making servers rely on tips to pay their wages and then taxing those tips, the government has in effect made it a law that everyone must tip at least 10% regardless of the quality of service. Whether a 10% tip is left or not the server still pays taxes on it. Consequently, anyone who fails to leave 10% is in reality stealing from the server.

Some people do not know that the bulk of a server’s pay comes from tips and assume that restaurant workers make a fair wage like everyone else. And why wouldn’t they? After all, there is a federal minimum wage and excluding one profession from having to adhere is unethical.

Lobbyists working on behalf of the large restaurant cartels rely heavily on the argument that servers make very good money in the form of gratuities. In fact, that is the entirety of their argument – servers earn so much money on tips that their bosses should not have to pay them for their toil. So this begs the question, just how much money are we talking about?

If the money servers earn is as good as argued then surely they make in excess of $75,000 a year, maybe as much as $174,000 – the annual salary of a US congressmen. According to the US Department of Labor in 2006 the median hourly wage-and-salary earnings (including tips) of servers was $7.14/hour. In most cases, the hourly wage does not even cover their tax burden leaving them still owing the government money at the end of the year. The same government that says that their effort is not worth as much as other professions apparently does not feel likewise about their tax obligation.

Still many may contend that servers make great money for no more work than they do. After all, all they do is take your order and bring you food that someone else cooks and drinks that someone else mixes, right?

In addition to clearing their tables and cleaning them for the next party, they also have what is called side work. Side work consists of tasks that must be performed to keep the restaurant running smoothly. Many of these duties are simple and occupy little time like rolling silverware into napkins. Others include considerable labor like hauling heavy buckets of ice from one end of the building to the other, vacuuming large sections of food-embedded carpet, mopping floors, preparing foods, cleaning bathrooms, and scraping bubblegum from underneath tables.

Side work comes in three forms and almost every restaurant requires its servers a certain amount as part of their daily performance. The three types of side work are opening (performed before the shift), running (performed during the shift), and closing (performed after the shift). Although the restaurant must pay the server a regular minimum wage for side work performed prior to opening the same is not said for closing side work which typically constitutes the most arduous and time consuming chores. Federal law states that one hour after a server’s final customer leaves the employer must then pay the employee the standard minimum wage.

Thanks to the way the wage law is written employers are actually allowed to pay less than minimum wage for one full hour despite the fact that the employee makes no tip for that labor. Some companies deliberately exploit this loophole by piling extra work on the tip earners that previously was performed by higher wage earners. Although this practice is entirely unethical, remarkably it is legal.

Some families are on budgets that prevent them from spending very much. These people may actually tip the standard 20% but they are forced to streamline their order. A standard 20% tip on the least expensive item is better than nothing, but it requires the same amount of effort as the most expensive dish and in some cases more. A server at The Olive Garden for instance actually does more work for customers who order the economical soup, salad, and breadsticks than for those who order a more expensive entrée.

The Olive Garden is one of the concepts owned by dining conglomerate Darden Restaurants, Inc. out of Orlando, FL. Darden also operates Red Lobster, Smokey Bones, Longhorn Steaks, and Bahama Breeze making it a classic example of the typical restaurant corporation. Darden owns and operates more than 1,700 restaurants across North America employing roughly 160,000 people. Darden is, in terms of revenue, the world’s top restaurant operator.

But Darden is hardly the only player in the ultra-competitive multi-unit market. Brinker International, Inc. out of Dallas, TX which owns Chili’s, On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill is another titan of the industry with more than 1,800 restaurant locations in 20 countries. They, too, are one of the largest restaurant cartels in the US and as such are one of the largest employers of restaurant workers in the country.

Actual Olive Garden Check StubDespite working nearly 30 hours this Olive Garden employee took home nothing after state and federal taxes were applied.

On average a server who works roughly 30 hours a week and earns 15% in tips will have a weekly paycheck totaling zero after taxes. Not only does Uncle Sam dip into servers’ tips, but many restaurants make them “tip out” their fellow employees. Servers must share their hard earned money with hostesses, bussers, dishwashers, and even bar tenders. Tipping out allows business owners to also under pay non-tip earning employees by classifying them as tip-earners. A server’s “tip out” is determined by a percentage of their sales for the shift and ultimately denies them of anywhere from 15% to more than 50% of their daily earnings.

So if the same argument used to justify paying servers a substandard wage is applied to other professions then school teachers would have to choose between making a living wage and having medical insurance. Corporate executives would be making $3.50 an hour with the rest of their pay coming from board members stuffing dollar bills into an old pickle jar. That would include men like David Goebel, the former CEO of Applebee’s International Inc. who took home $2.7 million in 2006 while paying his servers less than $3 an hour.

Be sure to check out the first two parts of this series The Big Bad Wolf – Mom and Pop Under Siege and Biting the Hand that Feeds.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday: an Indictment of the Corporate Restaurant Industry, pt. 2

This is part two of a three part series (dare I say exposé?) on the corporate restaurant industry originally published in April 2009.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday: an Indictment of the Corporate Restaurant Industry

The closing of so many chain restaurants is one of the few bright spots in an utterly dreary economic state. Corporate restaurants are a bane to American society. Making a buck is never wrong, but these companies have done so by enslaving workers, knowingly poisoning their customers and sabotaging small business. We should not be lamenting the fall of the corporate restaurant industry, but rather celebrate it by be prosecuting the CEO’s and politicians who conspired to create the nefarious beast.

Biting the Hand that Feeds

Not only have chain restaurants assaulted locally owned restaurateurs by dishonestly manipulating pricing but they have done so at the expense of the nation’s health. The foods they produce are loaded with saturated and trans fats, copious amounts of unneeded sugars (this combination is the chief cause of our obesity epidemic) but they have also pummeled us with a bevy of chemicals that we are only now beginning to learn are more dangerous than a dirty bomb.

Because of negligible regulations in the Far East it is actually cheaper to sell foreign shrimp than domestic. What does this mean for the consumer? Cheaper prices. It also means poor quality and an increased health threat. The other victim is a loss of our collective identity.

Nowhere is this assault on legacy more evident than in the communities along Alabama’s coastline. Bayou La Batre, Coden, Alabama Port, and Heron Bay are all classic fishing villages. They are windows to our past not just as a community but as a nation. Prior to the industrial revolution America was an agrarian society, farmers and fisherman.

The flood of foreign shrimp on the US market has plunged prices so that shrimpers struggle to show a profit. Thusly, the American wild shrimp industry is in a crisis of Great Depression proportions. This comes on the heels of the decades old battle over TED’s (Turtle Extraction Devices) which, though protecting an endangered species, greatly reduce productivity on the boats.

As if all of this weren’t enough along comes hurricane Katrina. While the national media was focusing on the manmade drama in New Orleans places like Bayou La Batre were largely ignored. The Bayou’s hardship did not result from laissez faire but rather was purely an act of nature. And the destruction was even more absolute as residents lost both their homes and their livelihood.

Adding salt to the wound is that these are largely family owned businesses, another American tradition besieged by progress. Families that have fed their children, built their houses, and earned their living from the Gulf are now facing extinction.

What is worse, the big chains have known that their food was dangerous for decades yet they have gone on producing them and even going so far as to further deceive the public by creating so-called “healthy menu choices” that they know are anything but.

Although consumers have benefited financially from low restaurant prices, there have been casualties, literal casualties. Product quality particularly has greatly suffered from inexpensive menus. In order to lower food costs companies have been importing substandard products. Many of these imports fail to meet minimum USDA standards but are seldom inspected because of the sheer volume that is swamping our ports. The result is that less than 1% of the seafood imported from overseas is actually being inspected.

Imported, farm raised salmon for example is often teaming with the additive canthaxanthin a carcinogen which is band from use in the US. Foreign shrimp is full of another deadly chemical, chloramphenicol that causes human aplastic anemia, a lethal blood disorder. Once again, 99% of imported seafood is not inspected for these chemicals despite the peril. Moreover, domestic beef is given perilous amounts of growth hormones and poultry often contains the antibiotic compound roxarsone which contains arsenic.

As it turns out you may be better off walking around with a rod of weapons grade plutonium in your pocket than indulging in the all-you-can-eat shrimp at Red Lobster.

Be sure to check out the first part of this series The Big Bad Wolf – Mom and Pop Under Siege. Check back tomorrow for part three, America’s Modern Slave State.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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