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Savannah Stalwart: Russo's Seafood

  • Charles Russo Jr. of Russo’s Seafood. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

Location and hours:

Located at the corner of Abercorn and 40th Streets, Russo’s is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Owner Charles J. Russo Jr. answered questions for this series.

How long have you been in business?

Charles J. Russo Sr. and Antoinette Russo opened the business in 1946, according to Charles J. Russo Jr., who joined the family business after graduating from Benedictine Military School in 1961 and working briefly on a Salmon boat in Ketchikan, Alaska. Today, under his leadership, the company is celebrating 70 years of serving freshly prepared shrimp, scallops, oysters, crabmeat and cut-to-order fish to local customers, as well as a full line of frozen seafood that ships overnight to customers nationwide. Now president and owner, he answered our questions.

How many employees do you have?

15

How would you describe your business?

Since 1946, Russo’s Seafoods has offered the highest quality seafood, prepared in the cleanest and most sanitary surroundings in the Southeast. We serve retail and wholesale customers in Savannah and across the country. Russo’s Seafood Restaurant, which opened in 2006, is located next door to the business, in an old home the family restored and decorated in a nautical style.

How has your business changed over the years?

Our original location at the corner of Waters Avenue and 31st Lane was just a small local place. All of our products were trucked in using railway express. After we moved to the current, larger location, we were able to expand our offerings, flying in products from around the country. Over the years, our business has increased so much. Once upon a time, customers might just ask for flounder filets but now they are much more aware of all the different varieties of fish available, including grouper, triggerfish, swordfish and salmon.

Salmon has become one of the most popular items on our market menu. We used to get shipments of frozen steaks from Alaska and sell about 150 pounds a month. Now we fly in 500 to 600 pounds of fresh salmon three or four times a week. When we expanded our offerings, our wholesale restaurant customers took notice. Elizabeth’s on 37th came on board and started serving different kinds of fish to their customers, who then started purchasing those items fresh from us.

While in many ways our business model is still the same — we wait on individual customers and prepare items to order — we now package things daily so we can serve customers more quickly. Our packaging sets us apart.

Another change is that there is now a good deal of government involvement in controlling prices. Each state has a quota on certain fish. For example, we can’t buy grouper and snapper on the East Coast right now, so we have to import it from the Gulf of Mexico. There are still plenty of fish, especially with sport fishing regulations, but because of government red tape, particularly regarding the shelf life of fresh fish, prices will remain high. Regulations are good, but what’s happening now is over-regulation.

What has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is maintaining our workforce. It is hard work with long hours. The turnover is constant. We consistently train new people.

What aspect of the business are you most proud of?

We’re most proud of our family, our quality and our cleanliness. My father started this business after the war. He knew that some others in the seafood business were taking shortcuts, but he was focused on quality. We were the first fish market built as a fish market.

Stalwart is defined as “marked by outstanding strength and vigor; loyal, hardworking and reliable.” What is it about your business that makes it a Savannah stalwart?

I believe our work ethic is our best attribute. I inherited it from my dad, who came up during the Depression, working seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for $10 a day. His drive to succeed was instilled in me. The pride of “it’s your business” keeps you going. I enjoy giving back to the community that has given to me. I enjoy running a small business. I am proud to offer a quality of seafood that you can’t find at a chain grocery store.

What do you hope for the future of your business?

I envision that our family business will continue to be a locally owned family business. I hope the family will continue the legacy. It is built on a good foundation that has lasted for 70 years and can go on for another 70 years if it is done right.

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