History of P&J Oyster Company
The story of P&J begins many thousands of miles from New Orleans in Italy, Sicily and Austria along the coast of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas.
Three Sunseri brothers, all immigrants from Trabia, Sicily settled in New Orleans in the 1860's., Onorfrio, (Alfred), continued his career as a merchant in the French Market buying and selling seafood, fruit and vegetables along with his brothers Philipo and Antonio who were shipping clerks for the family business. The brothers business had numerous fellow Sicilians working alongside them unloading vessels which cargos were mainly bananas from Central America as well as fruits, vegetables, and oysters, from Plaquemines Parish. Part of their services included cleaning the vessels and preparing them for their next voyage.
In 1870, two Jurisich brothers, Giuseppe, (John, 23), Giuseppe, (Joseph, 21), who were both farmers coming from Austria, brought a young Antonio Popich to New Orleans to start an oyster farming business in the town of Olga, at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish. They later brought their sons Biaggia, Blaise, Vincent, (Vlaka), and Anthony, (Ante), in the 1880's to grow their oyster harvest business. Keeping it all in the family, Augustino Mazzola, great-grandfather to Alfred Sunseri, shipped oysters and other seafoods, fruits and vegetables on his oyster schooner the C. Mazzola, named for his wife Christina.
By 1876 the Jurisich brothers, along with Popich, opened an oyster shucking house on Royal Street that was called Popich and Jurisich, or better known as P & J Brand Oyster Company.
P & J Oyster Company grew exponentially through 1900 owning a fleet of oyster vessels including the schooner John Eugene, Luggers Carolina, St. Giuseppe, Fourth of July, Little City, Alabama, Admiral Techetaff and the sailing skiff Two Brothers. The company's oyster bedding grounds included those on the Westside of the Mississippi River in Taylor Pass, Grand Bay, Little Bay, Yankee and Small Bayou, Sandy Point, Bay Jacque, Bay Coquette, Bastian Bay, Bayou Ferren, Bayou Cook, Bay Adams, Grand Bayou, and Four Bayous and on the Eastside of the Mississippi River in California Bay, American Bay, Bay Crabbe, Cox Bay, Treasure pass, Blind Bay, Lake of Two Trees, Christmas Camp Lake, and Lake Machias.
After a number of changes in location of the original oyster shucking house on Royal Street, P & J settled at its current location at 1039 Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. In 1921 when Alfred Sunseri came to work for his cousin Joe Jurisich and his partner John Popich the company grew by leaps and bounds adding a list of customers that he brought with him from his other full time job with the United Fruit Company. The company used Railway Express to deliver fresh oysters, both shucked for cooking and in the shell for raw consumption to all major cities in America. P & J grew to be the largest shipper of oysters in the South. By 1937 Sunseri became an equal partner with Popich and Jurisich.
By 1952 it was time for the next generation of Popich's, Jurisich's, and Sunseri's to take over the successful oyster farming, processing, and distribution operation. Sal Sunseri, an accountant John Jurisich, a former Marine and the Popich brothers, Joe, Spider, John, and Bonnie worked their entire life on the oyster farms living on the bayou.
In 1980 Sal's son Al left college to come help his father at P & J when Sal's office manager Louis Biane had some health issues. Mr. Biane never returned to P & J and Al never continued his college career. In 1984, with the World's Fair coming to New Orleans, Al's brother Sal Jr. left college to come help with the anticipated increase in business. He went back to the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1985 to complete his degree in Mass Marketing and came back to work full time at P & J in 1986.
In 1989 the brothers ventured into the oyster business in southern California with some venture capitalists. Sal moved to San Diego to start the P & J Old New Orleans Seafood House while Al stayed in New Orleans shipping our cultivated oysters from Louisiana and Texas to Sal in Southern California. By year 2 the company had been a great success shipping over 80,000 lbs. of half-shell oysters per week topping 2 million dollars in sales. It was a great venture but failed to prosper long term due to some changes in market conditions and a new vision directed by the venture capitalists. Sal returned to P & J in the fall of 1992 to continue his career at the family business.
In 1991, Al and Sal's younger sister Merri moved back to New Orleans from Florida and became the office manager and "Mother" to P & J's family of employees. She was the first women in our family to work at P & J because we were always told that that the oyster house was not the right environment for a women to work in. She proved that not to be the case.
Later in 1991 Sal, Sr. retired to complete his tenure of 39 years at the family business.
During the 1990's Al and Sal bought the two industrial properties in the French Quarter from their grandmother Elvira as well as from the Popich's and the Jurisich's completing the family's dream of owning 100% of P & J Oyster Company and the historic buildings that houses the oldest continually operating oyster company in the United States of America.
In 2002, Al's son Blake started working at P & J during his summer vacation from high school to get a taste of the family business. He was given the most difficult jobs working in our shucked oyster packing room and delivering hundreds of minisacks of oysters each day making him learn the hard way how difficult this business is to run day in-day out. By the time Blake graduated from high school in 2004 he had 2 summers under his belt and was given an opportunity to work full time at P & J if he enrolled to be a full time student at Delgado College. Following Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, Delgado was closed due to flooding and we needed Blake to focus on helping the family oyster business remain successful since nearly all of our drivers, floormen, and skimmer men had moved away from New Orleans. Blake has been reared in the business to be able to take over the oyster operation and run it successfully for another generation.
While there has been many obstacles for our family to overcome during P & J Oyster Company's 139 year tenure in the oyster business such as 3 economic depressions, 2 World War's, numerous catastrophic hurricanes, including Katrina, and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Sunseri's continue to persevere selling the finest quality cultivated oysters available on the market today. We've always put our customers on a pedestal believing our "Customer is King." We make sure that they get the freshest shucked oysters that are packed by a "true" volumetric gallon measure of oysters rather than the common practice by many where there is as much water in their containers as they have oysters. Our half shell oysters are sold by the volumetric measure as well, 4/10ths of a bushel and a half or what we have called a minisack for some 35 years.
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