Iconic oyster house is on the ropes since BP disaster

Iconic oyster house is on the ropes since BP disaster

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - One of the city's iconic businesses is in trouble.

A French Quarter oyster family says volume is down by 75, and after more than 100 years in business, they are exploring other options.

P&J Oysters was formed in 1876, when the Popich's and the Jurisich's joined together. But Al Sunseri's family ties to the oyster industry go back even further.

"So that's five generations of our family operating this business," said part owner Al Sunseri Jr.

It's a legacy that Sunseri now fears is slipping away.

"I'm bitter because I can't control my business," he said.

P&J used to handle 40,000 pounds of oysters a day, selling to chefs who made oyster po boys, oysters rockefeller, or served on the half shell. Now they handle just one-fourth that amount.

"I was looking at books today, and looking at how many people we used to do business with, and how few we're getting oysters from any longer," Sunseri said.

Prime oyster grounds like the bays east of Plaquemines Parish, which he says were some of the most productive in the world, are now virtually shut down.

"Our oysters haven't come back, and the only common denominator is the Deepwater Horizon disaster," Sunseri said.

Al and Sal Sunseri's 25 employees have now dwindled to five, including family members.

"We have problems, we lost great customers, we didn't have the product, and it's a crying shame that after doing business with companies for so long, we can no longer supply them," Al said.

He was hoping to one day hand the business over to his son, like his father did for him, but he says that's looking doubtful.

"Our attorneys told us we would be fortunate to see our day in court by 2017," he said.

Sunseri says after the spill, he turned down a half-million-dollar offer from BP, which he calls laughable given his current losses. But he says he doesn't know how much longer he can hold on.

"Only God can tell us if we can stay here or not," he said.

Al Sunseri says the secret of the operation are the families that have provided the oysters for over 100 years, and many aren't there any more. The Sunseri's bought tons of oysters, from six families, but many have moved on.

"I got two families that we get oysters from. We get them two days a week, and it used to be three or four days a week," Sunseri said.

They worked oyster luggers operating out of places like Point a la Hache, where most now sit at the dock.

"Something sterilized the beds, the beds are dead," said oysterman Bernie Picone in an interview last year.

The Sunseris now pump thousands of their own dollars into P&J oysters, and are forced to consider other options for their Rampart Street processing house.

"We're looking at this place to be a restaurant down the line," Sunseri said.

He's hoping that somehow, things turn around.

"We're not going to get in debt just to say we're still in business."

A business he feels a legacy to protect for as long as he can.

FOX 8 reached out to BP for comment on this story, but we did not hear back.

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