DISHING UP HISTORY, ONE BITE AT A TIME
By Omar L. Douglass Contributing Writer for Golden Isles Magazine/The Brunswick News/bon appétit
DONTE HABERSHAM is focused. Looking comfortable in polo shirt and slacks, he leans forward over the custom-made conference table in his office behind Mr. Shucks Seafood – his restaurant and fresh market that turns 10 years old this year. He is examining his website and discussing strategy with his Director of Operations, Teona Chaduneli. Habersham is scrutinizing the site as he does every aspect of his business. From the source of the shrimp, crabs, oysters, fish and the other ingredients he combines into the brilliant stew of success that has culminated into his living dream.
“You have to give people what they want, but you give them the best thing you’ve got. If you put your heart into it – like I do with my food, people will come back because they love what you do too. And smile!”
He says all of this in one breath and with a hearty laugh. It is clear at first blush that Donte Habersham is Mr. Shucks himself. Like his food, his personality hooks you immediately. It’s also clear that the attention he puts into every detail of his business is much of the reason why Mr. Shucks is not only present, but also thriving, ten years later.
Despite his success Donte is humble and does not boast about himself – his food on the other hand is a strong point of pride. THE HOMEPAGE OF THE WEBSITE OF MR. SHUCKS SEAFOOD boasts that I will be
“Hooked at First Bite!”
Although, I am not one who falls easily for cute taglines and slogans, I have to tell you, this one is absolutely true. The garlic butter crabs taste like a wonderful homage to the first ancestor who ate a blue crab and dreamed a thought so beautiful that it created a song. The flavor lingers way past the time it takes you to wash your fingers – or lick them – clean.
The restaurant website looks clean; not clean enough for Donte yet though. “We’ll talk about that later”, He seems to say about the website. Keeping up with Donte is a lesson in stamina. Walking with him from the front of his restaurant to the offices behind is a whirlwind for my senses. I try to peek and get a glimpse of what I can only smell – the sweet salt-air infused aroma of blue crabs draped in garlic-herb butter. And then there is the matter of the “Shucks Sauce”; but we will revisit that one later too.
oThe business is indeed his, but he tells me,
“There is no Shucks without my wife, Natalie. She is our General Manager and handles everything too, including me sometimes!”
He says this with a smile and the loud hearty laugh that I heard earlier. Although I want to know more about the food (especially what’s in the Shucks Sauce), I am drawn to another question. I ask, “What is your vision and goal for Shucks?”
Instantly more serious now, Habersham looks me in the eye and says,
“I want to make history.” I am now inspired to sit more upright as well. He continues, “I want to pave a way for a young man or a woman to thrive and flourish in business – and life.”
I am impressed. In as much as he is a mentor, the truth is, Donte Habersham is also a student of American culinary history. Having been trained by his father and the Sea Island Company, Mr. Habersham comes from a strong tradition and a long line of Southern chefs and cooks who have utilized the immaculate bounty of the Low Country and the coastal plains of the United States.
THE LOW COUNTRY BOIL AT SHUCKS reminds me of my childhood growing up, eating out of boiling pots on small patches of dirt lane and beach
on St. Simons Island, GA. It is really, really good food. In an instant, it is clear that Habersham’s continued honing of his craft and cuisine, and its connection for him to what he describes as his God-given purpose to bless others with all of his talents and energy is the secret ingredient to the success that he and his team at Mr. Shucks continue to create. Now that I think of it, that must be why the Shucks Sauce is so good too.
The knowledge of how to grow and catch the ingredients that inspired the recipes and the way in which they are made have descended through time, from Africa with the Gullah- Geechee ancestors, melding with Old World Europe as each encountered the New World together, to their place as Southern Low Country staples, and directly into the 21st Century onto the tables of Donte Habersham’s dream – a restaurant of his own – a place where he can serve of the dishes he and his staff prepare with love and appreciation.
A master of Southern Low Country cuisine, his father, Mr. Herbert Habersham is a pit master and worked as a caterer when Donte was younger. From the age of 8 years, he worked and learned at his father’s side as simultaneous sous chef, chef de partie, expediter, and chief steward. Mr. Shucks started as a call by friends to make small orders of garlic crabs. That turned to catering larger events with expanded offerings, until one day, Donte and his wife Natalie had an opportunity to secure a brick-and-mortar location and took the plunge, opening Mr. Shucks Seafood in May of 2010.
For the 10th Anniversary Celebration Mr. Shucks is planning several events and specials to pop-up all year long. As for what is coming, all Donte adds is, “Stay tuned!” In the meantime, you can enjoy some – or all – of the Habersham Family’s Low Country delicacies at the location their location at 107 Altama Connector in Brunswick, Georgia; the place where they gracefully serve up Southern Low Country hospitality, Monday through Saturday, every week of the year – and for many more years to come.
Come Get Hooked!