Sea Life from a different perspective
Very few seafood and bait & tackle shops can boast the longevity and customer loyalty built by the Platt family of Cherry Grove in North Myrtle Beach and their 52-year-old Platt’s Seafood on Main Street. For co-owner Timmy Platt, it’s a family affair started by his father, Eugene Platt in 1970, a life-long resident of the area who passed away years ago. Partnered with the Boulineau family, another Cherry Grove dynasty, for the past 18 years, Timmy Platt and his family chip in 364 days a year to supply area seafood lovers the fresh catch they desire, and the area’s fishermen the bait & tackle to get the job done.
While Platt’s Seafood had already been open for two hours, Platt and his industrious staff have been hard at it, deep-cleaning the seafood cases, stripping them down to the stainless steel, scrubbing away at the nooks and crannies, and refilling cases with fresh ice.
“You have to work to keep a clean [store] that smells good and looks good,” says Platt, noting that the ice in the massive cases that nearly stretch the length of the store gets replaced every day and a deep cleaning gets done twice a week.
“I’ve been to a lot of [seafood] shops all over and I like to watch the customers when they come through the door,” he continues. “If they’re hit with a foul odor, or the case doesn’t look good, they often don’t buy. We’re dealing with a very perishable item. The kitchen requires constant deep cleaning as well.”
On days that Platt and his 13-year-old son, Austin, aren’t harvesting blue crabs from their 75 crab pots in Little River, he’s in early. During the school year, Platt takes his son to school each morning and picks him up every afternoon. The store is generally open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, with the exception of Christmas. In the summer months, and without school duty, Platt is in much earlier—around 5:30 a.m. on many days. He takes a dinner break around 7:30 p.m. each day and heads home, which is around the corner, to have dinner with his family before returning to the store to close things down, finishing around 9:30 p.m. each evening.
As Platt answers the phone and discusses daily tasks with his staff, customers have already been rolling in, even at this early hour. The first batch is made mostly of fishermen here to purchase mud minnows that live in the tanks just outside. Old photographs hang on the walls and depict the early days of founder Eugene Platt’s fishing and seafood commerce, where he and his crew fished with haul nets right on the beach just down the street. The practice is no longer allowed, but that doesn’t stop the family from harvesting the bounty of the sea and making it available to eager customers.
Platt, 52, is a quiet, friendly man with a ready smile. I asked about his name, Timmy, which I found a bit unusual for a grown man.
“I’d been working with my dad since I was in high school and he always called me Timmy,” just that simple.
Platt is well known to his customers and his suppliers, and they all call him by name when cashing out, making deliveries, or in for a visit just to tell fish tales.
Platt’s mother, Evelyn, still works in the store four days per week, and Platt’s staff has been by his side through the worst of the pandemic with few work outages.
“We were really blessed,” he says. “I know other seafood stores had a rough time staffing. For the most part, we were good. We have a great staff. They’ve been troopers through this whole [pandemic] thing.”
Most of the fresh fish has been moved from the walk-in coolers to the clean ice, and placed carefully, like works of art, catching the light just right. One of the many reasons seafood lovers prefer to prepare their own at home is the abundance of local seafood from stores like Platt’s that isn’t always available in area restaurants.
While Platt’s certainly carries the must-haves from out of the area, such as snow crab clusters, salmon, and other varieties of fish, the vast majority of the seafood he sells is fresh and local to the Grand Strand or nearby North Carolina waters and comes in daily.
While changing the oil in fryers, Platt runs through the list of local seafood he sells.
“We carry all the local stuff that’s available to us,” he says, “a lot of local flounder, North Carolina scallops, clams from McClellanville… I try to sell all the local shrimp we can, along with local grouper, snapper, Mahi, wahoo, whitefish and catfish. We occasionally get a little local tuna, but most of that comes from Miami.”
Even the oysters and pasteurized jumbo lump crabmeat he sells comes from the Carolinas.
Though Platt works seven days a week, he’s a family man, too.
“I will take half-days off, because of my kids,” he says. “My son likes to ride four-wheelers and fish. He goes crabbing with me every chance he gets. It’s kind of our time together. My daughter, Casey, will be 19 in July. She’s already been through school and works full-time as a hairdresser.”
On a “good day” and in just a couple of hours on the water, Platt says he and Austin can harvest three to four bushels of blue crab per day. The store sells them live or steamed to order.
With the kitchen about to open at 11:00 a.m., Platt is busy preparing the fryers and grill and checks the stock of seafood and side items he and his staff will prepare for carryout orders well into the dinner hour.
With the lunch hour officially underway, customers roll in to place or pickup carryout orders; shrimp, fish, oyster, clam strips, catfish and fried blue crab baskets with sides of hushpuppies, fries, fried corn, soft shell crab, boom boom shrimp, deviled crab and coleslaw. Sandwiches round out the menu. If a customer doesn’t see what they want on the menu, they can pick from the fish case and have it cooked to order while they wait for a small fee, known as a “you buy, we fry,” transaction. Blackened, grilled, fried, or sautéed–Platt’s customers get what they want.
During a short break in the lunch rush, Platt discusses the unprecedented rise in food costs, a rise which is at a level he’s never seen before.
“Crab meat has nearly doubled in price over the last year,” he says, also noting that the live Maine lobster he sells has gone up close to $10 per lb. over the previous year.
“Surprisingly, even with the pandemic, shrimp is one of the items that has not seen a huge jump.”
With the summer months in, and school out, Platt and his son will spend more time fishing and crabbing.
“It’s not probably something I need to be doing, but my son and I really enjoy it–that’s our time. He and I fish a lot. We mostly catch and release. When I fished on the beach with Dad, I couldn’t wait to get out of school,” he notes with a smile, remembering his own youth as a fisherman’s son.
Platt doesn’t own a fleet of refrigerated trucks or delve into much wholesale trade.
“We don’t run a route to wholesale to restaurants,” he says, “but they come to us when they’re running low between deliveries.”
Platt takes a run to the local middle school to pick up Austin and deliver him home, then it’s back to the store by 4 p.m. and the start of the dinner rush.
“Our kitchen shuts down at 8 p.m.,” says Platt, “and then it takes us about 30 minutes to close down properly.”
When asked about the timelessness of the Cherry Grove community, which is reminiscent of what the entire Grand Strand once resembled, Platt is unashamedly happy about the life he was born into and is continuing in this place he calls “home.”
“Cherry Grove was late developing, which is good,” he says. “I have been all over the Grand Strand and I don’t think you could find a finer place to live than right here.”
Platt’s Seafood is located at 1108 Sea Mountain Highway in North Myrtle Beach. The store is open 6 a.m.–9 p.m. all summer long