SARTIN'S

Despite natural disasters and failed marriages, this seafood joint lives on

The Sartins made barbecued crabs famous in East Texas, but not because they're lucky. It's a fact that of the 14 Sartin's Seafood locations that have opened over the years, all but three are gone, the remainder lost to one disaster or another. And every time a calamity closed one restaurant, the family started a new one.

The original Sartin's, in Sabine Pass, was ravaged by hurricanes in 1980 and 1983. The storms did some damage to the restaurant, but what really devastated the business was the closure of Highway 87 between High Island and Sabine Pass. That was the route beachgoers from Beaumont and Port Arthur used to get to Bolivar Peninsula, and after the hurricanes swept through the area, sun worshipers were forced to use other routes. Highway 87, which ran in front of Sartin's, finally reopened to Bolivar traffic in 1985, and the eatery began to make a comeback.

Just three years later, Hurricane Gilbert's storm surge took out the road again. And in 1989, after both Hurricane Chantal and Hurricane Jerry hit the Texas coast, plans to repair the highway were abandoned. The road has been "temporarily" closed for 17 years now.

The restaurant eventually was relocated to Beaumont, but Jeri Sartin, who founded the chain along with her husband, Charles Douglas Sartin, never left Sabine Pass. And when Hurricane Rita came along last September, it hit that part of the Texas coast the hardest. Most of the town was destroyed, and the Sartins' home was flooded with eight feet of water. But still they aren't planning to move.

The couple's son, Doug, has opened several Sartin's restaurants over the years, and he lost them all to either natural disasters or failed marriages. When Rita hit, Doug and some buddies bought 15 cases of beer and rode out the storm in a small rice-growing community called China, about 25 miles inland from the Gulf. After the storm passed, they discovered that the Sartin's on the Eastex Freeway in Beaumont was missing its roof and that 600 pounds of shrimp, along with lots of crab and other seafood, were about to go bad. Doug and his friends cooked it all up and gave it away to cops, firefighters and volunteers who were assisting with rescue operations in Beaumont.

(The Sartin's location in Nederland -- now owned by Doug Sartin's ex-wife -- survived Rita more or less intact, as did another one in Beaumont, which is owned by his estranged wife.)

Last spring, Kelli Sartin, Doug's sister and the daughter of the founders, opened Sartin's newest location in Houston, across the street from NASA.

We wish her the best of luck. She's probably gonna need it.

 
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