“ALWAYS ASK HOW, NOT WHY”
is a philosophy entrepreneur Rodney Thompson took to heart. Rodney never questioned why an idea failed; he would always figure out a way to make the failure work. Amazingly, his journey into the seafood business – and the Rock Shrimp Story – began not on a shrimp trawler, but through his early experiments fabricating boats out of fiberglass.
Back in the 1960’s, Rodney’s company, T-Craft Boat Company, was one of Florida’s premier boat builders. At a time when conventional wisdom said wood was the best material for the job, Rodney began experimenting with ﬁber-glass hulls. First, he designed and constructed his own racing boat, then applied what he learned to build recreational boats that were sold nationwide. Never being satisﬁed with status quo, he moved on to bigger and grander dreams and built the Western Hemisphere’s ﬁrst ﬁberglass shrimp trawler, the R.C. Brent Jr, in 1968.
Rodney was certain that shrimpers would em-brace this new fiberglass hull, but the old-timers weren’t convinced. He could not ﬁnd a buyer for this revolutionary vessel. To make ends meet, he switched hats from boat builder to fisherman and set out to prove the worthiness of his boat. But the “how” still eluded him – and he couldn’t catch enough brown or white shrimp to turn a proﬁt.
One afternoon, Rodney and his crew happened to pull into Port Canaveral-empty handed again- right next to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Research Vessel, Oregon II skippered by a Captain Barrett. Captain Barrett looked at the trawler’s empty nets and asked “Do you want to make a million dollars? I’ll show you how!”
The very next day, Rodney and his crew followed the Oregon II to a location twenty miles off the coast of Melbourne where they caught over a thousand pounds of a hard-shelled shrimp called “peanuts” (also called “trash” or “hardheads”). “Captain Barrett told Rodney “If you can figure out how to sell these, you’ll be a millionaire!” Rodney knew Captain Barrett was right; he just had to find out “how.” Pondering his “peanut predicament,” Rodney and his family spent many nights around the kitchen table working to solve this puzzle. Lo and behold, one of his daughter’s, suggested they treat it like a small lobster: split and butterﬂy, then little peanuts and drizzle them with a little butter.
They were delicious – and a whole new industry was born! Rodney went on to develop the first splitter able to process this hard-shelled shrimp. It’s the basis of the same machine still used today at Wild Ocean where we hand-process chemical free “Split & Cleaned Rock Shrimp”.
While Rodney’s discovery did not lead to “millionaire status,” his first shrimp trawler opened up an industry that introduced many independent boat owners to a new, clean sustainable type of shrimp to harvest. Rodney continued his production of fiberglass commercial fishing vessels under the name of Thompson Trawlers. The fiberglass boats eventually became widely accepted and are still fishing the waters in the U.S. and Caribbean.
An economic downturn in the late 70’s brought the proverbial “how” back again. Commercial boat sales evaporated and Rodney was faced with moving on. He opened up a seafood market and found that everyone wanted their seafood cooked for them. From his cooking experience in the Air Force, the world-famous Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant evolved from a small seafood market to a place where patrons could have local-caught seafood dinners made to order.
Now in its fourth decade of operation, Dixie Crossroads has become an icon on the East Coast of Florida. After 24-plus years serving some of Florida’s best seafood, Rodney & MaryJean were ready to pass the torch on to their daughters. Laurilee stayed with Dixie Crossroads. Sherri, like her Dad, had the vision to partner with another family and develop Wild Ocean Seafood Market featuring premium, wild-caught seafood from Florida. One of the last boats Rodney built still fishes for Wild Ocean Seafood Market.
Today, people all over Florida—and across the nation—enjoy the fruits of Rodney’s entrepreneurial vision, as The Rock Shrimp story and popularity continue to grow…