• “Beds spread from Louisiana to Texas, and it’s not in one small area. It can never affect every last bed. We don’t have all our eggs in one basket. We are used to picking up and moving on. We get stronger as we go. We get better and better! We are true to this. This is what we do!”
    -Susan Jones

    ..................................................................................


    A lifelong New Orleans resident, Master Oyster Shucker Michael “Hollywood” Broadway grew up in the “Desire Projects” of the Lower Ninth Ward. The fourth born child of a family of nine, Hollywood came from a very hardworking background. His mother was a cook by day and nursing home worker by night while his father was a butcher by day and taxi driver by night. His parents’ professions, which mixed food and social interaction, was not lost on the young Hollywood. His parents worked hard to support the family, and bring home a good dinner, and a bad meal or waste was not tolerated. As his family would say “You burn it, you eat it!.”

    As he grew, Hollywood could not pinpoint exactly what he wanted to do, but knew through watching his parents that it would involve food. His first job in the industry was not at one of the storied restaurants of New Orleans, but at a local Burger King. But living in a city that is known for its cuisine, Hollywood realized that he wanted to work in an establishment in the fabled French Quarter. After a short search he along with a few of his brothers began working at the Court of Two Sisters.

    By chance, Hollywood found the job which he would continue on for 38 years. Walking down Bourbon Street one day after work, he saw oyster shuckers having a good time with customers at the Desire Oyster Bar and realized “I want to do that!” He was hired, as a bus boy at first, but used his time there to learn the art of shucking by sight; self-teaching himself the profession.

    In March of 1982, he became a shucker at Acme Oyster House, where he rose up the ranks to become a certified Master Shucker.  He has worked during the good times and bad in Louisiana. During Katrina, he and his family had to evacuate New Orleans to Dallas; but while his body was in Texas his mind was on the people of New Orleans and the oyster industry he had grown to love. Within one month of the storm, he travelled to New York City for the Unemployed Restaurant Workers of Louisiana Fundraiser. The main attraction was a contest to raise money on guessing how many oysters Hollywood could shuck in one minute. After tallying an amazing 11 oysters, Hollywood helped to raise $60,000.00.

    He next went to Beaumont, Texas to help feed the Katrina Emergency Wiring Crew. He would also volunteer his time at the church while in Beaumont. He was trying to do anything and everything in his means to get the people and oyster industry back in South Louisiana. In appreciation, Habitat for Humanity built a home for him in case of another natural disaster.
    Hollywood made it back to New Orleans 8 months after Katrina and began to work at the Acme Oyster House® in Metairie. He was able to go back to his home with no damage. Looking back he says, “I was one of the blessed ones.” Because of his good work during and after the storm, the Mayor of New Orleans asked him to give a speech on behalf of the New Orleans Oyster Shuckers at Gallier Hall. In his speech he stressed the other shuckers to “teach themselves how to open oysters from all over, and that they have to be able to open whatever is given to them.”

    Of course as things began to recover from Katrina, another disaster struck the people of South Louisiana and the oyster industry as a whole: the BP Oil Disaster. Once the spill happened, just like many others, he wanted to how far the oil was from the oyster beds that service the New Orleans restaurants. Hollywood made himself informed of the situation, and served as a new source for locals and tourists alike who would come in and want to know what was going on. Even Today people come and ask if the oil spill has affected the oysters and the restaurants. Ever honest and cordial, Hollywood says that business has been very good and that it has picked up tremendously.. He stated, “If it’s good, we got it. if it’s not good, it doesn’t come across our door.”

    He believes the biggest misconception of consumers is when the beds are shut down for precautions. “Beds spread from Louisiana to Texas, and it’s not in one small area. It can never affect every last bed. We don’t have all our eggs in one basket. We are used to picking up and moving on. We get stronger as we go. We get better and better! We are true to this. This is what we do!”

    Michael “Hollywood” Broadway feels blessed because he was given the opportunity to do what he enjoys doing and that he is able to pass it on to young people who are just learning the ropes. He has been able to work in the oyster business for over 38 years and has gained the respect of the people in the industry. He plans on continuing doing what he is doing and doing it to the best of his abilities. He and his fellow shuckers of Acme Oyster House are here to give you a reason to come to New Orleans.

    As always, he is determined to continue to be a bad mother shucker. “Now I am the best of the best business and I fulfilled my dream! I really think that’s priceless.”
  • "Of course the oyster grounds which include Grand Lake, Snail Bay and Bayou Saint Denis are fine oysters, but they don’t taste the same as the Caminada’s"
    -Susan Jones

    ..................................................................................


    Life has changed for 4th generation Oyster Farmer, Captain Wilbert Collins, ever since April 20, 2010. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe has changed the lives of many Louisianan’s from different walks of life, but for Captain Wilbert, his children and grandchildren the prospect of a flourishing Oyster Business as it was, seems far reaching now.

    His son’s, Nick, Levy, and Paul, weathered by years of heaving sacks of oysters since before they could legally drive, are rightfully concerned about their future. The areas of production were once considered the “World’s finest oyster,” the Caminada Bay Oyster, which always offered the perfect balance of fresh and salty sea flavors for consumers throughout the region. Through the changes of environment since the spill, Caminada has had too much of a fresh water influence, killing production and natural flavors.
    “Of course the oyster grounds which include Grand Lake, Snail Bay and Bayou Saint Denis are fine oysters, but they don’t taste the same as the Caminada’s,” Wilbert said.

    The family business is really only providing their oysters for retail right now. “Customers want more, restaurants want ‘em, dealers want ‘em, and during Thanksgiving and Christmas, people fight over ‘em. Wilbert reminisces, “yeh, it’s not like the old days when it was nothing to load two trailers a week for P&J in the City.”

    In the 70’s, the Collin’s Family used to sell quite a bit of their oysters to Black’s Seafood Restaurant in Abbeville. Brian Bourque was the proprietor of that restaurant and would only get oysters from Captain Wilbert. Brian boasted, “That’s all we get, nothing tastes better than the ones they grow. That’s why my customers always come back.”

    The most prized oysters on Collins' Caminada reefs this season were harvested in the fall from public grounds in Black Bay and from their private leases in Snail Bay. They were replanted in Caminada, where the nutrient-rich waters work like a naturally occurring marinade as the oysters reach plump adulthood. The cultivation process is, according to Times Picayune’s Brett Anderson, “the molluscan corollary to a rancher feeding corn to cattle in the weeks leading up to slaughter. It is also laborious, and it exposes the oysters to an ecosystem swarming with predators who appreciate the oysters as much as the Collins’ paying customers.

    The oyster business is not the easiest thing to get into, much less survive in for over four generations. First you have to lease the grounds from the State. Nurture those grounds by building up your reefs with cultch (clam shell – oyster shell – lime stone – other rock.) Then you have to seed – plant onto the reefs, most of the time traveling on the other side of the river to load from the State reefs, and then wait for the oysters to grow. But in that time, challenges do arise: predation from drum fish and snails – thievery – hurricanes – tornado’s - fresh water diversions – drought – red tide – State and Federal regulations – attrition (who wants to keep doing this type of hard work) and of course oil and gas issues.

    Captain Wilbert is no longer working on the boat, but Nick and Levy are still at it. The future is uncertain, but their love and passion to produce great oysters is in their blood.

    Maybe you’ll have a chance to see the family at the Oyster Fest in New Orleans.

    Ask them if they entered a monster sized oyster in the “Biggest Oyster Contest.”
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