ASPA Member Feature: Gulf Pride Enterprises, Inc.
Gulf Pride Enterprises, Inc. is naturally all about one thing: pride. It’s a word that represents the 60-year-old family-operated Biloxi business well — a company now run by owner Wally Gollott. Not only does the name signify a high standard of quality for the 50,000 pounds of wild-caught Gulf shrimp processed daily during the season, but it also serves as an anchor of pride for the family’s seafood lineage and as a compass to carry on a generational reputation of excellence.
Wally’s father, Edgar “E.M.” Gollott, started the business in 1954 as a one-man distributorship that delivered fresh, hand-packed oysters, shrimp, crab, and fish to local mom-and-pop grocery stores and restaurants. As his customer base grew, E.M. started processing in 1960, and by the early 70s, he opened a seafood processing plant to accommodate his route that expanded to six trucks reaching from north Mississippi to the Texas state line.
At first, the focus was mainly on processing oysters (600 gallons a day), but the demand for fresh shrimp positioned E.M. to buy the necessary equipment for a second building used solely for shrimp processing. By 1990, Gulf Pride had shifted the direction of their business to focus only on shrimp.
Wally, 50, started working for the company in 1972, which also was the year the plant got its first automated capping machine for packing oysters. This industry is all he’s ever known, and that’s something he’s really proud of, too. Family is everything to Wally, and the endless hours he spent learning about all aspects of processing from his father before he passed away in 1993, are priceless memories. He is especially fond of all the sayings E.M. had like “no worky, no eaty!” and his father’s knack for detail such as making sure no date stamps on the lids of packed oysters were smudged in any way.
Wally has multiple stories about his dad that still make him laugh. E.M. had a unique ability to capture some deep sleep, and yet wake up just enough to be fully aware of his surroundings as if he had never fallen asleep at all.
“He helped me get my commercial license at 15, and I was driving a semi by 16,” Wally says. “He used to go with me on trips where I would do all the driving. Of course, that was allowing me to get to know all the people I would be dealing with later on in the business. When I was driving, I wanted to get where I was going, and back then, the speed limit was 55. I’d get up to about 60 and he’d be like, ‘Alright, slow it down,’ and he’s over there with his eyes closed!”
Another story Wally tells explains his dad’s strict belief in a strong work ethic: “My dad was a very good-natured person,” Wally says. “He was an old-timer, an old school person who had a strong work ethic. He didn’t put up with laziness.”
Simply put, E.M. had no tolerance for a lackadaisical attitude in a backbreaking industry that demands a commitment to hard work, even if that meant accidentally correcting a plant inspector conducting an audit.
“We were packing under inspection for a state USDC audit, and we had an inspector in the plant,” Wally says. “My dad came in here one day and he saw this lady standing around and she ain’t doing a whole lot. He walked up to her and says, ‘Hun, I’m not really sure what your job description is, but try to get busy or look busy.’ She said, ‘Well, Mr. Gollott, I’m the USDC inspector,’ and he said, ‘Oh, well still try to act busy.’”
Wally comes from a large family of siblings who all grew up in the industry and either currently works in the family business, moved on to start their own seafood endeavor, or are pursuing other ventures outside of the industry. His sister, Ann Gary, is the treasurer/secretary of Gulf Pride and has worked at the company for 48 years. Her mom taught her how to do payroll when she was 15, and although her family’s business kept her schedule tied up, she has no regrets.
“It’s just the way we grew up,” Ann says. “We were expected to pitch in with the family, whether that was helping out at home or working in the office. We were raised with a strong work ethic.”
Ann remembers a precious memory she shared with her dad right before he passed away: “The day before my dad died, he had some very lucid hours, and he wanted to talk to each one of his kids alone,” she says. “The last thing he said to me was, ‘If I had to do it all over again, I would have spent a little more time with my family and a little less time worrying about the business.’ I said, ‘Daddy, you were worrying about that because you were taking care of your family.’”
Years after E.M. died, Gulf Pride was hit with another significant loss. In an industry that is greatly affected by the winds of natural, man-made, and economic obstacles, nothing can quite prepare a company for the loss of its captain. Wally and Ann’s sister, Janet Seymour, was the president of Gulf Pride for 18 years before she passed away from a brief illness in 2011 at the age of 57. Without hesitation, her siblings both agree that she was the backbone of the business.
Ann laughs when she recalls how her sister didn’t even know how to write a check when she started working for the company as a teenager, but all that changed when Janet dedicated herself to “on the job training to the max” and quickly became a smart, savvy businesswoman and well-known leader in the shrimp processing industry.
“She was an amazing human being; someone you could trust with anything and everything,” Ann says. “She had great instinct, good business sense, and was a very good compass for the company.”
Wally worked with Janet beginning in 1972, and he says losing his sister is like a wheel that’s missing a spoke: “We were super close, and we never really made decisions without each other,” he says. “She had a good feel for when to hold product back, when to sell product, and how to price product. Emotionally, we were crushed, but you have to keep on keeping on because that’s what she would do.”
The loss of Janet’s presence at the family business was tremendously profound, but her resilient spirit defined by faith and hope compels Wally and Ann daily to keep the processing plant moving forward. It’s what E.M. would have wanted. It’s what Janet would have wanted.
And so Gulf Pride continues with a generational tradition of quality, consistency, and a solid reputation of integrity. As technology has advanced, so has the commitment to consumers to ensure they are receiving a traceable Gulf product. Not only does the plant’s state-of-the-art equipment allow precise measurement accuracy of 5-pound block frozen, 1-, 2- and 5-pound IQF retail bags of raw/peeled, peeled/deveined, and headless shrimp, each package is assigned a QR code that allows consumers to trace the origin of shrimp all the way back to the boat that fished only in domestic waters.
This beneficial digital scan amenity via smartphone also is extended to the company’s value-added line, which can be found in retail outlets (multiple grocery chains) around the nation, as well as through wholesalers and distributors. Entrée products such as shrimp etouffee, shrimp gumbo, shrimp and grits, and shrimp rotini with applewood bacon are available in more than 30,000 grocery stores.
In addition to an extensive client list, which also includes regional restaurants and seafood markets, Wally and his team are working diligently to provide institutional clients with the option to buy 5-pound deli bags of all entrée products in the value-added line.
Ann says the continued success of Gulf Pride is firmly based in a “family approach” to the business that embraces a consumer-friendly position of “if we’re not pleased with the product, we don’t expect the customer to be pleased.” For this company, pride is a seafood heritage of excellence from start to finish.
“When you really think about what the seafood industry is, it’s all about families who have put their blood, sweat, and tears in an industry to create something for them, their families, and the people who work for them,” Ann says. “It’s created a rich community built on seafood. Biloxi was built on that — hard work ethic and pride in what we do. What makes us special is what daddy put into it, what mama put into it, what Wally put into it, what Janet put into it. Gulf Pride is all about pride.”
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