Being in full swing of crawfish season, we're guaranteed a choice of multiple boils every weekend in Dallas. The atmosphere of people gathering around community tables to pop tails and suck heads while guzzling beer is truly something to behold. Now approaching the end of season, these little bug-eyed morsels are reaching full maturity. At nearly every boil we either pose or hear questions such as, “I wonder how fresh these are,” or “How long does it take for them to get to Dallas?” There’s one company that ensures they reach our tables as fresh as possible — and in fact, owner and President Mike Fruge of Fruge Seafood has been delivering them to Dallas himself from Branch, Louisiana, for more than 20 years.
Fruge has become such a trusted source of seafood in Dallas, he’s practically embedded himself as a key component of our culinary scene. Restaurants and chefs like Nathan Tate of Rapscallion, Franchesca Nor of Dive, Kent Rathbun of Abacus and Bryce Gilmore of Austin’s Barleyswine and Odd Duck have relied on Fruge to deliver what they claim to be the freshest food straight from their family farm to your table.
“Crawfish have about two days of freshness and we can get them to the plate within a 24-hour time frame,” Fruge. “We have more shelf life, over 80 percent, which is why we have such a large customer line of over 400 restaurants to serve. The number one cause for high food cost is spoilage, so our reputation relies on our promise of the freshest possible.”
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This method of business has been with Mike and his brother, Mark, since the beginning. When most college students are playing into college student stereotypes, in 1983 the Fruge brothers started delivering crawfish for extra cash to get through school, eventually expanding to the Dallas market in 1989. “We were literally driving an old beat-up pickup truck; we didn’t have much," Fruge says. "As we grew, we opened our distribution center in Grand Prairie with other seafood products. We were fishermen first, now growers and producers of a farm, and we’ve applied that mentality to our whole operation.”
The farm has now expanded from the initial 20 acres to 1,500 acres for crawfish and they’ve added 1,500 more acres for another product line that adds to the cycle of sustainability: rice. They plant the crop in the spring when it needs a couple of inches of water to grow and by July, the fields are drained and the rice begins to mature as blankets of grain. Fruge explained that the leftover straw becomes a food source for the burrowed crawfish for the next season. Shells grow around straw, and crawfish love shells. It’s very cyclical, he said. Their seafood distribution now has a global reach over three continents, but they still focus on their bread and butter, maintaining the crawfish farm.
Fruge Seafood is donating their goods to this year’s Chefs for Farmer’s Kick-Off Seafood Boil at The Rustic at 4 p.m. Sunday. Chefs John Tesar, Graham Dodds, Nick Amoriello, Stephen Rogers and restaurants like Half Shells Oyster Bar, TJ's Seafood Market and Grill, and Fish City Grill will be participating. The $75 tickets are still available and proceeds go to farmers who have direct impacts on our local economy.