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To Sat. Gulf Coast Oil Spill Benefit while Dining @ Some NY + SF Bay Area Restaurants
Sausalito businessman organizes Gulf of Mexico benefit
Rob Rogers of IJ
Dine Out for the Gulf Coast is organized by Jimmy Galle of Sausalito owns Gulfish, a supply company that brings seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost) http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_15261428
Few people have a better idea of just how badly the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected business in the Gulf of Mexico than Jimmy Galle, whose Sausalito company, Gulfish, imports seafood from the area.
But Galle, who launched his business only last year, says his own troubles are nothing compared with those of the fishermen, hoteliers and others whose livelihoods are threatened by the massive spill. That's why he has persuaded well-known restaurateurs in the Bay Area, New York and elsewhere to offer a percentage of their proceeds over the next three days to a fund that benefits economic victims of the disaster.
"If my business was to fail, I'd figure something out. I live here, in a multifaceted society," Galle said. "But if you live on the Gulf Coast, whether you're a seafood shack, a motel or a fisherman, your options are limited. You live and breathe by the bounty of the sea and the sand that's in front of you. It's where they work, where they eat, where they play and where they live, and a lot of them really do hold that coast as dear as a family heirloom, as something sacred.
"The notion of not having it to pass on to future generations is a very scary thought."
Dine Out for the Gulf Coast, the fundraising campaign Galle organized, will donate proceeds from participating restaurants June 10-12 to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. The fund, administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, provides emergency grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit
victims of the oil spill.
Participating restaurants include Delfina, Front Porch, Nombe, Ozuma and The Slanted Door in San Francisco; Chez Panisse in Berkeley and The Pasta Shop in Oakland. While some restaurants will contribute a percentage of total sales for the day, others will donate the sales from specific menu items or specialty cocktails.
"Our chef, Justin Everett, has a relationship with one of the fishermen down there, and we decided to support this effort with a portion of our seafood sales for those days going to Dine Out For the Gulf," said Chris Fernandez, general manager of the El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen in Sonoma, which is taking part in the event.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared a national fisheries disaster in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on May 27 as a result of the spill, which has closed about 20 percent of the waters between the mouth of the Mississippi River and Florida's Pensacola Bay to both commercial and recreational fishing. Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than 1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2008, according to the Department of Commerce.
"I grew up swimming, fishing and crabbing on coastal waters. So it's a personal thing for me," Galle said. "I have some very close relationships with the fishermen down there, and it's hard for me to see what's happening to them."
A former Texas resident, Galle lived on the Gulf Coast until 1995, when he moved to California to work with Grimaud Farms, a gourmet poultry distributor. He has continued to maintain close ties to the area, and built on those ties last year when he established his seafood distribution business in Sausalito.
"Until a couple of months ago, the business was growing steadily, serving restaurants like the French Laundry and Chez Panisse - people who use quality items," Galle said. "We're now in a much more defensive position, where our goal is now to let people know what's going on, and try to get them to support not only this Gulf Coast benefit, but the continued use of Gulf Coast seafood."
Galle fears customers will avoid all seafood now coming from the Gulf - even if it has been certified as clean.
"Over 70 percent of the coastal waters of Louisiana are still available and open right now," Galle said. "In fact, the testing of the seafood now is more rigorous than ever. People see the headlines, and it scares the hell out of them. But if people stop buying, the fishermen are really going to get another whammy."
That's a concern Terry Sawyer can appreciate. The Hog Island Oyster Co. co-owner saw many of his customers stay away after the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay - even though his shellfish come from Tomales Bay, which was unaffected by the spill.
"It was a major eye-opener of what just the perception of an oil spill can do to your customer base," said Sawyer, whose three Hog Island locations are all taking part in the Dine Out for the Gulf benefit. "So many people will be scared away, whether it's from the white sugar-sand beaches of the Gulf Coast or the product coming out of the Gulf, even though the area to the west isn't currently being affected."
Sawyer sees other parallels between the 2007 San Francisco spill and the situation in the Gulf - from the frustration of well-wishers searching for some way to help to the proliferation of scam artists looking to take advantage of that goodwill.
"We had questions (for the Dine Out benefit) as to where the money was going to go, and who will handle the disbursement. And we were satisfied with what we found out," Sawyer said.
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