Snapper Grabbers may be a four-hour drive from the ocean, but you wouldn’t know it from their seafood. Every day begins with barren cases of ice, evidencing a good yesterday. “We can order something from Hawaii or Alaska and have it in here the next day, it’s that fresh,” says Pam Scott, who owns the market on Highway 31 with her husband, Kent.
Early each morning Kent, chief quality control inspector and gumbo chef extraordinaire, meticulously examines overnighted shipments to make sure there’s nothing too fishy going on. “We look at everything the moment it comes in the door. If it doesn’t pass my husband’s test, then he’ll send it right back. This happens daily,” Pam says.
Pam likens her husband’s methodical routine to a doctor making a diagnosis, except it takes a well-trained eye—and nose. “It doesn’t even take him two seconds, because he’s done it for so long. Are the eyes cloudy on the fish? Has the meat started to turn soft? How does the gill smell?” Pam articulates.
Kent’s early immersion in the seafood industry heralded his lifelong fascination and undeniable astuteness in the field. In 1956, he was just a toddler when his father took over Birmingham’s oldest seafood business, River Fish Market, situated on the north side of town. By the age of 14, Kent began learning the tricks of the trade, and he eventually inherited the market when his father retired in 1993.
Kent sold the Birmingham fish market in 2001 to enjoy his own retirement, spent traveling with Pam. But when Vestavia Hills’ premiere seafood shop opened up for grabs a quick decade later, the couple found themselves at the helm of a new adventure. “You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I think I’ll open up a restaurant,’ or I think ‘I’ll open up a seafood market.’ It’s a progression,” Pam says.
Pam, also a native Birminghamian, grew up slurping down Grapico in her daddy’s hamburger stand, which he opened in the ‘50s after leaving his job as an Airforce mess hall chef. She says her mother, like Martha Stewart, was also a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. The couple’s common backgrounds didn’t lead them to each other—they met at the swimming pool—but they helped forge a family-friendly, customer-oriented business model with which the couple accredits their success.
A little over a year ago, Snapper Grabbers took a new step in becoming Snapper Grabber’s Land & Sea. The new café and butcher shop addition, both operated by Pam’s brother, seasoned chef Patrick McCown, formerly of Chez Lulu, was the answer to customers’ calls for an expansion beyond fruits de mer. “We let our customers tell us what their need is, and we do our best to meet it,” Pam says.
Pam isn’t afraid to admit they’re still learning when it comes to the ‘land’ aspect of the protein world, as farming complicates matters a bit. “You can’t tweak seafood,” she says. “There’s no control over the ocean or what comes out of it, except for how fresh it is, and that’s it. But with cattle, hogs, pigs, chickens, we control what they eat and if they’re cage-fed.” In addition to farm-raised chicken, pork and beef, the team caters to adventurous palates through more exotic offerings like wild boar, bison, rabbit and ostrich.
The Scotts may still be getting their toes wet in the world of ‘land’ proteins, but they’re honing their craft the same way they turned thousands of Vestavians into fish fiends—by making it approachable. “People are afraid of it! We hear many say, ‘Oh I don’t cook seafood because I don’t know how. I go out to eat it.’ So we’ve broadened locals’ knowledge of seafood. That’s what we like to do,” Pam explains.
Any day someone with zero seafood experience could walk into Snapper Grabbers and confidently prepare a perfectly seared fish filet later at home—no Googling necessary. At Snapper Grabbers, the chefs aren’t stingy with their secrets. Chef de Cuisine and wine aficionado Tim Hughes, formerly of Hot & Hot Fish Club, has more than 16 years of knowledge he’s more than happy to pass on. “He’ll get a call from someone who’s making a certain dish or needs help with a wine pairing, and he’ll spend 45 minutes with a customer. He puts a lot into it,” Pam says.
Contrary to its original namesake, Snapper Grabbers now operates at a level beyond a simple ‘grab-n-go’ fish market. Café, meat, seafood, wine—customers can, and do, get it all at this one-stop shop.
The couple’s top-selling concoction is the result of a grueling labor of love, perfected over the course of 30 years. Enter Kent’s “Almost Famous” gumbo. Folks from Louisiana may hate to admit it, but Kent’s gumbo is just as good as any they’ve had back home. “He’ll be here at 5:30 a.m. until the evening. It’s rare that we haven’t sold out. He’s established a little following,” Pam says, smiling.
Still, the Scotts are planning to introduce more grab-n-go prepared items, as customers rave over the shrimp salad and various smoked fish dips. “We have people who come here to buy seafood, and carry it to the beach with them. That amazes me. It’s the highest compliment, that someone would buy our seafood and take it back to where it came from.”
To the many calling for a Snapper Grabbers 2, Pam says, hold your seahorses. “Unless my husband could clone himself, he would probably never consider opening a second location, because he is so hands-on. He rarely leaves.”
The shop also functions like a second home for Snapper Grabbers regulars, who will inadvertently hook up with family and friends while stocking up on seafood. “Sometimes it can feel like a huge homecoming because surprise reunions are always happening. It’s just a fun business. We love our customers, and they seem to love us. We really try to cater to them and help them enjoy good food,” Pam says.
These loyal customers know they’re the luckiest landlocked seafoodies around, because when it comes to enjoying fresh-caught fish in town, there’s no catch.
Fishing for Something to do?
Snapper Grabbers offers more than just a market and menu.
Cooking Classes – Prepare and enjoy a three-course meal with the help of Chef Tim and a local sommelier.
Wine Walkabouts – Treat your palate to small plates and boutique wine pairings at various culinary stations
Customized In-house Events- Shoot the team a message and they’ll cook up something just for you. They can hold more than 25 people.
Café Menu Preview
- “Almost Famous Seafood Gumbo” – Kent’s labor of love
- Butcher Burger – made from scraps of high end meat
- Shrimp Tacos – grilled Gulf shrimp, served Mexican style
- Blackened Shrimp Salad –Full of Gulf coast shrimp and local organic greens
- The Daily Hook – flat-top grilled fish of the day, served on a brioche bun