Chances are that if you eat seafood in Houston on a regular basis then Jim Gossen provides at least some of it. Gossen is the founder and CEO of Louisiana Foods, one of Houston's largest seafood distributors.
The history of Louisiana Foods reads like the recent history of the seafood business in Southeast Texas and South Louisiana. In 1972 Gossen teamed up with Billy and Floyd Landry to start the first Don's Seafood restaurant in Morgan City, Louisiana. In 1976 they opened the first Don's Seafood in Houston and in the following years opened restaurants throughout Southeast Texas and Louisiana.
As the chain grew, Gossen determined that a central kitchen was necessary to provide a consistent quality of ingredients and seafood to the restaurants. Additional Houston restaurants such as Magnolia Bar & Grill and Willie G's were added and the central kitchen became known as Creole Foods. Eventually Tilman Fertitta bought out the Landry brothers to create Landry's Restaurants, Inc. In the deal Gossen retained ownership of the Creole Foods central kitchen and rechristened it Louisiana Foods.
Today Louisiana Foods provides seafood products to some of the largest grocery store chains and restaurants in Texas.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the offices of Louisiana Foods is the smell: not of fish, but of gumbo. That's your first clue that Louisiana Foods is not just a purveyor of whole and raw fish but also a provider of finished and ready-to-cook seafood products to Houston restaurants and grocery stores. Giant vats of gumbo and etouffee stew side-by-side with trays of newly minted crab cakes and stuffed crabs. Additional preparation rooms reveal giant grouper and salmon being filleted for shipment to Houston restaurants.
In addition to the prepared seafood, Louisiana Foods is the go-to source for global seafood procurement. Gossen has the enviable task of traveling the world to source the best seafood and has the rolodex to prove it. A warren of cubicles is filled with buyers calling fisherman, docks, and seafood markets around the world looking for the best product.
In another group of cubicles are the seafood salesmen taking orders from around Houston and the United States. Reflecting the globalization of seafood markets, multiple languages are spoken here: a Japanese salesman servicing the growing number of sushi restaurants in Houston as well as Spanish-speaking salesmen catering to Latin American seafood restaurants.
Once the order is completed it is sent to the warehouse where it is filled and packed and then readied for shipment in one of Louisiana Foods' fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks.
Obviously in the 30 years that Louisiana Foods has been in existence the seafood business has changed dramatically. Certainly part of the company's success is the ability to change with the times. Worldwide depletion of seafood stocks is always a consideration: Louisiana Foods promotes sustainable fish species whenever possible.
And to ensure a dependable supply for Houstonians' insatiable demand for blue crabs, Louisiana Foods operates its own crab processing facilities in Mexico which produce much of the lump crab meat you see in plastic containers in the seafood aisle of grocery stores.
Food safety is another concern, with increased governmental regulation always a possibility. Gossen has met this concern head-on by employing a full-time, onsite auditor to monitor Food and Drug Administration foodservice requirements (the equivalent of having a private FDA inspector onsite at all times).
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But one of the best things about Louisiana Foods is that you don't have to be a giant grocery store chain or fancy restaurant to benefit from the company's expertise and experience. Tucked in to a corner of the office and warehouse building is a deli and seafood market that sells directly to the consumer. Open weekdays for lunch, the market offers seasonal fish, shrimp, and oysters by the pound. The deli offers a selection of Cajun dishes such as fried catfish, fried chicken, and gumbo.
On a recent lunchtime visit I devoured a plate of crispy fried catfish and tangy tartar sauce and then ordered a pint of seafood gumbo to go. Later that night while eating the spicy, dark roux gumbo I realized that some things never change -- it reminded me of the gumbo I used to eat many years ago at the long gone Don's Seafood restaurants.
4410 W. 12th St.
Houston, TX 77055
Deli hours: Monday thru Friday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.