Chef Chat, Part 2: Danton Nix of Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen
Yesterday, we spoke with Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen executive chef Danton Nix about his menu and the good and bad of customers having favorite dishes. Today we talk oysters, Groupon and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
EOW: What do you think about the move to give appellations to Galveston Bay oysters?
DN: I have strong feelings about it. It's a great marketing tool, especially for out of state. And I think it's going to be a good thing for Texas oysters; I've been serving them for 30 years and they're some of the best in the world. But for me, to pay twice as much for the oyster I've been eating all my life, I struggle with that. I know that REEF and Goode Company and a few other places are selling appellation oysters, but my customers are not ready to pay double the price they've been paying.
Now without a doubt, oysters from different reefs and different bay systems do have different flavors. I've got oysters from San Antonio Bay today -- every day you can come in, and I'll tell you where my oysters are from -- and they're sweet and they're very good. But I'm not going to participate in selling appellation oysters at this point. I sell so many oysters, it's all I can do to shuck the 200 oysters I have going out on a Saturday night, much less keep three or four different kinds. But I'm all for it; I'm for anything that can promote Texas and especially our seafood. We need it, because we're still suffering from the BP backlash. Some people still think Gulf Coast seafood isn't fresh enough or is somehow tainted.
EOW: So you've seen a drop in your business since the Deepwater Horizon spill.
DN: Absolutely. A definite drop, over an extended period of time. I've of course applied for some relief from BP and have gotten absolutely nothing, but that's an ongoing process. They're slow doling out money to people who were affected. It affected everyone in this town in the seafood business.
EOW: When you first opened, you ran a promotion with Groupon. How did that go?
DN: Well, I can only speak for myself. We offered a half-price brunch through Groupon, and in a 24-hour period we sold well over two thousand. But it turned out to be a real nightmare. We put a time limit on it, and a lot of people didn't come in within the time limit, and when they called Groupon, they were told to come here and we'd give them a full refund. Also, discounting is a very expensive way to get somebody through the door. Especially with Groupon users. We didn't see a lot of repeat business; they were just following whatever the deal was.
Discounting is a necessary evil at this particular time, but people who offer a good product are realizing they don't need to do it. There are a couple programs that are okay - OpenTable and Restaurant.com. But in the restaurant business, profit margins are just minimal. People have no idea. Everyone thinks that restaurants have so much money. We don't. It doesn't take much to kill my profits. I'm not a proponent of discounting, and I would like to see it go away.
EOW: Where do you do your personal grocery shopping?
DN: When I have time? I'll go to Whole Foods primarily, and also H-E-B and farmers' markets. Typically the one on Tuesday at Rice University, and the Saturday one on Richmond. But I don't have a lot of free time.
EOW: Danton is an unusual name. Are you by any chance named after the French Revolution figure Georges Danton?
DN: No. I wish I had a good story for you. My father came up with it, and I'm not sure how. I think at some point there was a movie star named Danton back in the '50s. I've only run across one other person with that name. Growing up in the '60s you didn't want to be called Danton because nobody could pronounce it, but as I've become older I've become a little more attached to it.
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