“There were three or four original families that settled Destin in the ’40s, and one of them, the Melvins, owned the property where Sexton’s Florida store now is on Highway 98,” says fishmonger and Pennsylvania native Roger Schroeder. Nearly 40 years ago, Schroeder got his start in seafood at Melvin’s Fish Market after coming South for the warm weather and meeting his future wife, Paula.
“It used to be totally different. The town in the old days used to be big shipyards where they’d build ships and big fishing docks where they’d load ships.”
The original Sexton’s Seafood Market was founded by Roger’s father-in-law, Paul E. Sexton, in Destin, FL, after he retired from the Air Force in the ’60s. After his passing, Paul’s wife and son Billy carried on the family fishmongering with Paula and Roger working at their side. Ten years later, Paula and Roger followed her mother and younger sister to Birmingham to open a new Sexton’s Seafood on the corner of Oxmoor Road and Green Springs. Eventually, Roger and Paula took over the business and moved it to its current Cahaba Heights location, where they’ve been for the past 14 years. Their children, Jason, Jamie and Quin, have all joined the family business, as well.
Despite struggling through a particularly rocky patch in the wake of the BP oil spill, Sexton’s Seafood is going strong, serving strictly Gulf seafood to its third generation of customers.
“We have a great clientele. It’s a really dedicated group of people that are like family to us. They kept us in business after the oil spill, but they keep coming because of our quality,” says Roger, whose standards for fish are high. Quality control measures include thorough inspection of goods delivered by carefully chosen purveyors and two long drives to the Gulf Coast each week to personally inspect the freshly caught fish. “I used to go down to the beach, and I’d go to two or three places and my truck would be full,” says Roger. “Nowadays, we go down there, go to 10 places and leave with a half-full truck, because that is all that is available of the quality that we want. When the supply diminishes, it makes it harder for us to get our product. And a lot of people don’t want to supply to us because we are too picky.”
The result of his relentless quest for quality is a beautiful selection of fresh snapper, grouper, salmon, tuna, scamp, redfish, scallops, stone crab claws, crabmeat, oysters, shrimp, mussels and more on ice. Every fish is bought whole and cleaned in-house, where Roger and his crew will not only prepare your fish to exacting specifications, but will also offer cooking tips and recipes. “We’ll assist you in any way that you’d like,” says Roger. “We can take the bones out, still leaving the fish whole. If you want to stuff it, we can put pockets in it, and we don’t charge extra for any of that. It’s in the price. If you buy the fish, I’ll do anything you want to it.”
And in the past six years, a new selection of goods has joined the displays, daughter Jamie’s prepared foods — jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp salad, crab and artichoke dip, West Indies salad, house-smoked salmon and tuna, salmon dip, tuna dip, gumbo, shrimp and corn chowder, oyster stew, ceviche and more.
“If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I would do prepared foods, I would have said ‘no,’ but, it’s been excellent,” says Roger of the new venture. They are adding equipment to their small, in-house kitchen. “In this business, in retail, you’ve either got to adapt to what the customers want, or you’re going to get lost. We’ve been in it for 35 years now here in Birmingham, and we’ve seen such a change in our clientele’s needs. Our first generation wanted to strictly cook everything themselves, and now this third generation wants more prepared foods than ever, because of the change in speed of our lifestyles. Everything has to be now and fast and quick.”
Roger’s favorite thing about Sexton’s is being able to work off of an American resource and not abuse it, being able to employ hardworking locals, having relationships with the fishermen and seeing them succeed, working alongside his three children and providing a product that people appreciate and a place where people want to come shop. “It’s a good feeling,” says Roger. “We are proud of the fact that we have been part of everybody’s lives here in Birmingham for so long.”
When not at the shop, Roger likes to spend time with the family at their beach house in Port St. Joe, just between Apalachicola and Panama City. “It’s Old Florida. We have two red lights in town. Our bay is pristine. The water quality is so excellent, we still have scallops on our bay,” says Roger. “So we and all our grandkids go down there, and we go scalloping and swimming and fishing and snorkeling. You see so many corals, crabs, anemones, fish, seahorses, giant conch and things that you don’t even know what they are. It’s just like being in the Caribbean.”
It seems fitting that this family, so fiercely dedicated to the integrity of the seafood business, spends their free time on the Gulf, snorkeling in the sparkling sea and gazing at the untold beauty of the underwater world.
Sexton’s Seafood is located at 3164 Heights Village in Birmingham. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (205) 967-3437 or click here for more information.
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