ASPA Member Feature: Dominick’s Seafood, Inc.
Dominick’s Seafood, founded in 1992 by Dominick Ficarino, is just the latest venture in four generations of shrimp and seafood processing in the Ficarino family. With a fleet of seven boats named after family members like Dominick’s mother (Miss Barbara), his wife (Miss Loraine), his two daughters (Miss Ashleigh and Miss Hannah), and more, the family ties at the plant are plentiful. Not to mention that Dominick, his sister Debbie, their first cousin Rocky Bosarge and Dominick’s brother-in-law Jerry Glass all work side by side supporting the thriving operation right off Shell Belt Road in Bayou La Batre, Ala.
Pictures of Dominick’s great-grandfather’s schooner Amethyst can be found all around Mobile County, and his grandfather L. W. (Willie) Graham, Sr. was also a pioneer in seafood processing. He owned and operated the first three peeling machines ever to be used in the industry.
Dominick’s father, Mr. Fic, carried on the family tradition by starting his own business, Quality Foods, which dominated the industry for over 25 years. He packed shrimp primarily for the U.S. military and was an excellent salesman. In fact, he was widely known for “selling shrimp while they were still in the Gulf.”
As Dominick, Debbie and Rocky spent many days at the plant growing up, little did they know it was also their destiny to carry on the family’s shrimp industry heritage.
“I was interested in it from Day 1,” Dominick says. “I would be up there twisting a little knob on a machine trying to make it do better. I just always loved it.”
Quality Foods was damaged by Hurricane Frederic in 1979, but it remained in operation and was eventually sold in 1981. After that, Dominick took his father’s advice, along with his experience, and started his own shrimp business, Dominick’s Seafood, in 1992 — breathing new life into the family legacy.
Through a combination of hard work, intelligence, listening to customers, and looking ahead, Dominicks’ business has thrived. Even after his company endured Hurricane Katrina in 2005, neighboring processor Sea Pearl Inc. down the road provided a facility for all of Dominick’s employees to work until he found a building just up the road from the vulnerable Point, where the previous building had been.
Today, Dominick’s Seafood, which has a 20,000 square foot processing facility with 600 feet of dock right on the bayou, is a “totally integrated company.” Complete with its own fleet of shrimp boats, the company also co-owns an ice plant and a fuel dock just down the road. In fact, Dominick’s is the only shrimp processor in the Gulf with its own fleet of boats, and he is confident this gives him one of his biggest advantages. He can completely control the operation, and the quality of the shrimp, from the time they come out of the water until they reach the customer. Although he credits this fully integrated approach with much of the company’s success, ”we wouldn’t be able to do this without a great product from the Gulf and great people.”
“I’ve always believed that our shrimp are worth a lot more in the market,” he says. “I demand a premium price for mine. I don’t dump. I don’t move easily on price because I know I’ve got a very good product.”
Dominick knows he can “back it up” when he tells consumers and buyers about his higher-quality, all-natural shrimp. He believes in shorter tows and better, more efficient nets to reduce by-catch and save on fuel and other costs. The shrimp nets are made from Dyneema, a poly-webbing that doesn’t involve any tar-dipping. These nets, along with an enlarged mesh size, are stronger and more aerodynamic, helping save about 18 percent in fuel costs and reducing by-catch. Dominick’s also regularly cooperates with and welcomes mandatory observations by the National Marine Fisheries.
Dominick’s specializes in headless, shell-on shrimp. This singular focus has resulted in a reputation for having some of the most consistent, highest quality wild-caught, headless, shell-on shrimp in the country. The company sells its shrimp in retail-ready packs as well as institutional packs for the restaurant/food service industry. They also pack custom sizes ready for wholesale. Dominick’s sells to chain grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail food outlets.
By putting himself in the consumer’s shoes, Dominick learns what they want and how to meet their needs. Just last year, Dominick made at least 15 trips to the Northeast and Midwest to talk to consumers.
“I like to follow a product all the way through because it can look great here, but I want to see exactly what they’re experiencing,” Dominick says. “That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter what I see here. I’m not the buyer. The consumer’s the buyer. I want to see exactly what they see. It means a lot to me. I do a lot of ‘going and seeing’ the end result of my product wherever it’s displayed.”
“There’s a lot of competition out there,” Dominick says, “and you can beat your brains out fighting the competition all day long. Or, you can be smart and do what’s necessary to provide the best shrimp possible.”
Dominick says there are three things consumers look for in the shrimp they buy. First, they are looking for a natural product— the kind of organic product Dominick’s Seafood provides.
Second, they are interested in traceability, a trend Dominick recognized early on. After a grocery store asked Dominick to look into traceability over the next 18 months, he adopted traceability within three weeks through the Gulf Seafood Trace program.
Third, Dominick believes that consumers are concerned about the sustainability of the wild-caught Gulf shrimp supply.
“We’ve been pressing conservation here,” Dominick says. “We’ve been pressing legislation. Supply is the most critical issue we face in this business.”
Lastly, Dominick himself, along with other processors in Bayou La Batre, knows it’s important to recycle and take care of the environment. To that end, he and others contribute to the Gulf Coast Agricultural and Seafood Co-op for disposal of their shrimp shells and other shrimp waste. The facility converts the waste to fertilizer and disposes of the rest properly in a federally regulated process.
Dominick not only looks out for consumers with a quality product, he considers all of his employees family.
“That is the only thing that makes me come to work every day of my life – the workers,” Dominick says. “Thirty percent of what I catch in the Gulf of Mexico in a year’s time goes to my captains and my crews – thirty percent straight up. Through hard times, through good times, it didn’t matter. When a boat couldn’t pay a boat note, I paid it. But they still got their 30 percent.”
With 43 years of shrimping under his belt, a tenacious spirit and family by his side, Dominick’s Seafood has become a staple of Bayou La Batre, even gaining national fame after being featured on shows such as the hit series “Big Shrimpin’” on the History Channel, which was on air in 2011, and “The Great Food Truck Race,” hosted by Tyler Florence on the Food Network.
His sister Debbie says that Dominick is the heart and soul of the business, “He’s a hard worker, and he listens. He thinks everything through. He treats everybody the same. He doesn’t care who you are and how much money you have. There’s no class with him, just as long as you work.”
And don’t expect Dominick to stop working any time soon either.
“Two weeks after he’s dead I’ll have to go out and put dirt back on him,” his cousin Rocky says. “Ain’t no way that grave’s gonna hold him down.”
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