Bubba Gandy Seafood brings family tradition of fresh Florida catches to Columbia

Bubba Gandy Seafood brings family tradition of fresh Florida catches to Columbia

Bubba Gandy Seafood and Cajun Market brings three generations of experience to its seafood business, and has become a popular spot for fresh Florida catches in Maury County.

Chuck Gandy is the fourth man in his family line to go into the seafood business, a tradition stretching back to his great-grandfather Melvin’s founding of the Gandy and Sons fish business in Panama City in the 1950’s. That business is now owned and operated by Chuck’s uncle Kenyon and Grandfather Buddy, whose children and grandchildren keep the tradition alive. In March, Gandy and his wife opened Bubba Gandy Seafood and Cajun Market in Columbia to bring their family’s tradition of Florida fresh seafood to Maury County and surrounding communities.

But the Gandys haven’t exactly transferred their whole lives here from Panama City.

“We saw a huge need for quality seafood,†said Chuck, who began his own branch of the family business with wife Chantel in 2007, the Gandy’s Oyster Bar in Panama City. “But we knew we couldn’t meet a need that size by ourselves. So we started Gandy’s Seafood Company, working as wholesalers to provide fresh seafood to restaurants and other businesses all over Alabama and as far north as Nashville.â€

The business was a success, but a series of broken promises and bad checks from other parties caused the couple to rethink their approach to the seafood game. Having done well as fish wholesalers in Nashville, the Gandys decided to try a retail business for seafood in Cool Springs.

However, instead of making a permanent move of residence to Tennessee, the Gandys chose to remain living in Florida where they could purchase the seafood that they would then transport north on weekly trips. The arrangement is a bit unusual, but it allows them to take advantage of a great market in Middle Tennessee while maintaining family ties close to home.

The Cool Springs version of Gandy seafood lasted from its opening in the summer of 2013 until last December. Eventually the family saw that the Cool Springs location didn’t fit their niche.

 “I don’t know how you explain Cool Springs,†Chuck said. “It’s a community that loves to go out to eat, and the restaurants there are just [making a] killing. But as far as finding customers who wanted to come in and take some fish home, it just wasn’t happening there.â€

Chuck and his wife made the decision in December 2013 to close up shop in Cool Springs, and move all of their equipment and inventory virtually overnight to their new space at 2524 Hospitality Lane in Columbia, which opened in March. The couple continues its weekly schedule of arranging purchases of seafood on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays while in Panama City before loading up and heading north for Columbia in the small hours of Thursday morning. They then have what Chuck calls “down time,†running the store all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, “just hanging out and doing what we like to do, which is talk to customers.â€

The couple drives back to Florida on Saturday nights to start the process again by Monday.

“We deliver our own seafood here straight from Panama City,†said Chuck. “We work with four or five different wholesalers between Destin and Apalachicola. We call them Monday morning or Tuesday to inquire what they have at what price. We try to delay getting live products like blue crabs until [Wednesday] to maximize their freshness upon arrival in Columbia.â€

When they closed up shop in Cool Springs, they took a survey on Facebook to determine which other Middle Tennessee community had the highest demand for their unique services. The Columbia/Spring Hill area won in a landslide, and the new location has worked wonders for the Gandy business.

“Our sales for raw seafood are better here than they were in Cool Springs,†said Chuck. “Business out here has been much better, and we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. And the reduction in our rent of course was huge. [Not to mention the fact that] we spent about $10,000 a month in advertising while in Cool Springs, but here we haven’t spent a penny. So it’s an amazing [instance] of ‘It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.’ Now we just have to find a way to let the folks here in Spring Hill and Columbia and the other towns around know that we’re here.â€

Cool Springs was particularly tough on the days when Chuck made just $300 all day in sales, knowing he needed “more like $4000 or $5000 a day just to break even. Days like that you’re like, ‘Dude, we just lost $5,000.’ That’s terrible. And here, we just need to make $700 or $800 a day to break even. And although we do have those $300 days still, the weekend will offset that a bit. But we don’t need to make much out here to do well. Our goal is about $1000 a day in sales to break even, and then maybe even put a little money back to anticipate emergencies.â€

Chuck said that his hope is to draw attention to the business by reaching into the surrounding communities and neighborhoods.

“For example, we’d like to make event offers to neighborhoods,†said Chuck. “You come here and register your neighborhood, and we’ll show up in your neighborhood and do a crab boil or something fun for your group. So we could do a deal with them to set up a big block party.â€

Soon after opening, Gandy Seafood took some boiled shrimp to the Columbia Fire station as a way of getting to know their new neighbors.

“And just to say we appreciate you, keep up the good work,†said Chuck. “Now we see two or three of those guys in here once a week. We do little things like that, and we’re always on the lookout for a worthy charity to help out with. We’ve worked with charities in the past, when we had the restaurant. We’ve noticed that good things happen when you do good things.â€

Gandy would specifically like to find a charity benefitting mothers and children that he could help with.

The shop has made a habit of holding special events once a month for customers. Lately they’ve had crawfish boils and sold plates for lunch. In August, there are plans to build a 30-foot-deep lean-to beside the store to be set up as an oyster bar with drinks and stools.

“We have local friends coming up from Florida,†said Chuck. “They’ll help us shuck out 200 dozen oysters all in one day.â€

The store is named for Chuck’s dad who is known to family as Bubba.

“Bubba Gandy is a catchier title than Chuck Gandy Seafood,†said Chuck.

Hauling between five and eight hundred pounds of fresh seafood a week, Bubba Gandy is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is run by other staff when the Gandys are home in Florida.

Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for BrentWord Communications. Contact him at greg@springhillhomepage.com or follow him on Twitter @JinkersonGreg.

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