Our story begins in Port Isabel Texas in the late 1800’s when Great Grandfather Bernardo Perez fished the Lower Laguna Madre Bays of the Gulf of Mexico. Bernardo would take his schooner out into the bay, spread his nets across the water, pull them in by hand, and catch fish native to the Texas Gulf Coast: Redfish, Drum, Flounder, and Speckled Trout. Most of his catch was sold to the local population and this was the inception of our family seafood business.
Bernardo was the father of eight children, one of which was Hortensia Perez – our grandmother. While Bernardo and his sons, Rodolfo and Noberto, made a living fishing the Texas Gulf Coast, Hortensia grew up and married George Groomer, a mechanic from Missouri, who was working on the construction of the jetties in South Padre Island. During this time, Port Isabel grew from a small obscure fishing village to a veritable hotspot for recreational fishing and became home to the largest shrimping fleet in the nation. In fact, locals refer to this time as the “Golden Age” of Port Isabel.
Hortensia and George had two sons, George Jr. and Gilbert – the patriarch of Groomer Seafood. Unfortunately, George Groomer died when his sons were still very young. Their uncle Rodolfo became a father figure to the boys and was especially close to Gilbert, teaching him to fish the flats of the Lower Laguna Madre just as his father had taught him. By the age of 22, Gilbert (as he will proudly tell you today) owned ten fishing boats and was selling his catch to Gavito’s Seafood and Pace Seafood out of Brownsville. He would often transport his fish to Magnolia Seafood House in Houston, where he got 10 to 25 cents per pound for the fish.
At the same time Gilbert was becoming a skilled fisherman, our maternal step-grandfather, Jake Jenkins, was an oil wildcatter in Oklahoma. The legend goes that during a late night poker game, one of the players ran out of money and placed a shrimp boat located in Port Isabel up for collateral. Jake won this hand with the ace of diamonds. Finding himself the proud owner of a shrimp boat, Jake moved his family to Port Isabel to try his hand at shrimping with his new boat which he christened “The Ace of Diamonds”.
Seafood worlds collided when Gilbert Groomer wed Jake’s eldest stepdaughter Susie, in 1950. This union produced four sons (Rick, Mike, Russell, and Troy) with saltwater in their veins and they grew up working in the seafood industry. Gilbert Groomer formed a new company called Groomer & Sons Seafood that sold fresh and frozen seafood in the Port Isabel / Harlingen area.
Tough economic times hit the Rio Grande Valley during the late seventies and early eighties. We knew changes had to be made or else we would have to risk going out of business. It was at this time that we adjusted our vision of the seafood industry and what our company could accomplish.
We changed our name to Groomer Seafood and moved from South Texas to San Antonio, in 1982. We would be centrally located and could supply seafood across the state of Texas. We became the “Federal Express” of seafood. If a restaurant wanted product, our goal was to have it to them within hours of their order, something unheard of and difficult to do even today. We spread our operations across the state and eventually had facilities in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Port Isabel.
By 1993, we realized that we could not sustain so many warehouse locations and consolidated our operations to a central location in San Antonio. We built a custom, state of the art, temperature controlled, 20,000 square foot facility and began doing what we’ve always done best.
During this time, the Groomer brothers all got married and had their own children. Tradition ran strong, even with this new generation, and the new line of Groomers were taught how to cut fish, sort oysters, make crab cakes and more.
A New Generation
Once the brother’s children started to get into and graduate from High school, their time became a little more free and again the vision changed. We began to push hard to bring the Groomer product into Austin and the surrounding areas and then even to Corpus Christi and to Houston. With the big push for healthy, sustainable food coming with the trends, good seafood became something everyone was searching for.
And it wasn’t just chefs and caterers looking for premium seafood, we began to get just regular everyday foodies coming to our door asking if they could get items for personal use. We decided to test these waters and we configured some former office space into a very small retail store of which Ryan Groomer, the eldest of the new generation took over. He made it a point to have our team give every person the best customer service possible, whether someone was getting 1 pound of fish or 100 pounds, they were treated like family. Every member of that original team was well versed in seafood of all sorts and we so we dubbed ourselves your hometown seafood experts.
What happened next we never saw coming. Our small retail store, day after day, week after week, was flooded with customers. We were utterly blown away, and due to the demand, we decided to take the plunge and knock down some walls to make the current 3,000 square foot store we have today.
Blake Groomer came on board to take the helm as Ryan was leaving to pursue his future as a lawyer, and a big focus was put on our social media presence. Meanwhile, we began to fill this new store with all sorts of foodie oriented items; from cajun seasonings and fish fry, to imported pastas and olive oils, to knives, cookware and hardware. We started bringing in local vendors to sample out our fish with their products, we began doing cooking demos and we even started bringing food trucks out on Saturdays.
With the wholesale booming and the retail expanding, we then opened up a new facility in Corpus Christi on North Beach to sell both retail and wholesale just like in San Antonio. We started shucking our own oysters and we were able to work more directly with the local fishermen for sustainability efforts. Our next plan is to set up shop in the city of Austin. We already deliver there, but the time has come to bring Austin it’s very own Groomer Seafood Market.
But this is only the beginning of the Groomer legacy. History is made everyday here, and we are proud of our rich heritage and the way our lives have been shaped by those who came before us. Simply put, seafood is forever in our blood and we would not have it any other way.