ASPA Member Feature: Dean Blanchard Seafood, Inc.
Dean Blanchard Seafood is one of the largest shrimp distributors in the United States. Their advantageous location in Grand Isle, Louisiana is a convenient stop for countless shrimpers that have unloaded at the dock for more than 30 years. This fishing town full of heritage and history is a Mississippi River Delta barrier island that lies 50 miles south of New Orleans and is right in between Barataria Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Owner, Dean Blanchard, is one-of-a-kind. What you see is what you get and he’s as direct as they come. Couple that with his natural wit, and one conversation with this man will leave a remarkable and unforgettable impression. If he believes in a cause, you will hear his opinion about it, and if he disagrees about an issue, you will most likely here that too.
However, it’s this tell-it-like-it-is personality that has garnered him a reputation as a fierce champion for the shrimping industry. Just Google his name and an endless list of stories pop up from various worldwide media sources that have interviewed him because of his recognizable passion and vast knowledge of industry issues. Reporters have called him the “Shrimp King” and a “superstar in the Louisiana shrimp business,” but perhaps the most honored title given to him came from one of his processing peers: “Defender of Louisiana seafood.”
Dean, 55, comes from a strong lineage of dock owners that can be traced back to his great-grandfather, so defending something he has tirelessly devoted his life to comes second nature to him. From the time he was a little boy, he knew being involved in the shrimp industry was all he ever wanted to do.
“I was born on the shrimp dock,” Dean says with his striking Cajun accent. “When I was little, instead of a cradle, they put me in a shrimp box. My daddy had a dock, my grandpa had one, my great-grandpa had one, my great uncle had one. It’s all we ever did. Most kids want to be football players, policemen, and firemen, but I was very lucky and knew what I wanted to be. Ever since I can remember, this is all I ever wanted to do.”
Dean was very close to both of his grandfathers who were each very successful in their respected fields — one was involved in the seafood industry and the other was involved in the oil industry: “When I grew up, my grandfather, John Blanchard, was the richest man in the seafood business, and my other grandfather, Webber Callais, was the richest man in the oil business,” Dean says. “They weren’t well educated. One went to school until the 4th grade and the other until 3rd grade, but both of them died multimillionaires.”
Being exposed to two family fields allowed him to gain a lot of wisdom and business sense from each side, particularly the importance of saving money, but growing up on the docks called his name from an early age. Dean says there was something special about the shrimp lifestyle that attracted him to pursue this as a career.
“I loved the people in the shrimp business,” he says. “It was just good, good people and I fell in love with that. They’re real. They’re not fake, you know. They are God’s people. If they were good enough for Jesus to hang around, they’re good enough for me.”
John was very instrumental in helping to build the community of Grand Isle. In addition to his dock business, he had a hardware store and a grocery store. Dean remembers back then, shrimpers operated with credit instead of an exchange of money for items needed — a time when a handshake meant something and one’s word could be counted on.
“In those days, you would bring your shrimp in and you wouldn’t get no money, but if you needed something from the store, then he had credit,” Deans says. “At the end of the year, everybody would try to figure out where they were at, how much stuff they took from the store, how much shrimp they brought in, etc. It was really amazing. If you had trouble, everybody went to help you. It was a big family, and that’s what I liked.”
John taught Dean the ins and outs of the shrimp business, but it came with a cost: hard work. His grandfather “believed in doing everything the hard way,” but that never bothered Dean who also embraces and believes in the core of a strong work ethic. Although, he does joke when recalling the backbreaking standards John had in place: “If my grandpa were still alive, I’d sue him for my back!”
Dean always knew he would follow the same path as the generations before him, but it wasn’t until his early 20s when he decided what area of the shrimping industry he wanted to pursue. After he quit college, his dad took measures into his own hands to help facilitate that decision: a fishing trip in December solved the issue real quick.
“When I quit college, my dad was going to teach me a lesson, so he sent me on a shrimp boat in the middle of December,” Dean says. “It was so cold and we had to put salt on the wench because it was freezing. We stayed out about 17 days, and when we came back in, I said, ‘Nah, I know what I want to do.’ That’s when I decided to start this business.”
Dean started very small as a one-man operation in 1982, and even though he felt like “a five and dime next to a Walmart” while working alongside eight competitors on the island, his persistence and solid relationships with loyal fishermen eventually paid off. By 1986, he relocated and built a new facility, which is now the current location of the business.
As far as the competitors, they no longer exist. The success of the company is monumental because Dean has a committed tenacity for this line of work that is unparalleled. When shrimp season rolls around, it’s a 24/7 rush for him: “When the shrimp start running, there’s no drug you can do that gives you the high it gives me when we start getting really busy,” he says. “When I’m on that high, I won’t sleep three, four, five days. Your adrenaline starts flowing and you just go to another level. There’s just nothing like it. You don’t want to sleep. You don’t want to go home. You just want to be here every minute!”
Although the company is categorized as a processor because of the mass quantity Dean takes in, sorts by size and stores overnight, there is no peeling equipment onsite. He buys shrimp directly from the boats and operates as a wholesale business that distributes shrimp to other processors that line the Gulf Coast. He operates primarily as a seafood dock by unloading the shrimp and being a one-stop-shop for fishermen.
“We take the shrimp off the boat, and then we ice them up, fuel them up, supply them with salt, bring them to the store, loan them a vehicle, give them money — whatever they need to get them back to the fishing ground as fast as possible,” Deans says. “We’re the closest dock to the fishing grounds out of the whole Gulf Coast. A guy can be fishing and be in here in 5 to 10 minutes, unload his product, and go back out.”
During peak season, more than 300,000 pounds of shrimp are offloaded with specialized vacuum equipment that speeds the process significantly: “What took us three hours to do can now take us 30 minutes,” he says. “It used to be shovels and nets to unload the shrimp, but with the way technology has advanced, there’s no need to do things the way it used to be 20 years ago.”
To accommodate the frequent visitors to Grand Isle, which is a popular vacation hotspot, Dean also opened a retail store in front of his facility that sells 10,000 pounds of shrimp a day during tourist season.
Dean’s vision is endless and in addition to the dock and retail store, he has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit inherited from his grandfathers. He operates four other businesses with ties to the industry, and owns more than 400 pieces of property on the island, which includes a Conoco station on the main highway, and has land designated to develop an RV Park.
However, the location of Grand Isle also has posed some challenges for Dean as a number of natural and man-made disasters have hit the business hard. And yet, his grit and sheer determination to keep moving forward for the sake of his employees and future generations are to be admired.
After 30 years in the industry, he has no plans of stopping any time soon. Dean doesn’t have any children of his own, but he is surrounded by family members who work in the business with him. It’s no secret though that his favorite “employee” is his 3-year-old great-nephew, Collin Callais, who proudly wears his blue shrimp boots every day to play in the ice with his beloved Uncle Dean.
This little boy is Dean’s pride and joy, and he beams when talking about future plans to teach him everything he knows about the shrimp industry: “That’s my little buddy,” he says with a big smile. “He’s going to take over one day.”
TORY MCPHAIL COMMANDER’S PALACE A native of Ferndale, Washington, a small agricultural town on the Canadian border, Tory McPhail grew up on his family’s farm,...
Many processing plants that line the Gulf and South Atlantic have a family lineage rooted deep in multiple generations. In the case of Fisherman’s Reef...
SHRIMP BURGERS WITH SWEET ‘N’ SPICY TARTER SAUCE Recipe courtesy of Grill Nation: 200 Surefire Recipes, Tips, and Techniques to Grill Like a Pro (2015,...