Small Businesses Adapt, Evolve Amid Oil Spill

While BP continues to come under fire for speed of response to the oil leak currently seeping into the Gulf of Mexico, a few small business owners facing the spill from the front lines say they won't go under without a fight.

Dave Marino, owner of Myrtle Grove Charters, takes people out fishing for speckled trout and redfish in Louisiana. Currently, in what is normally “the busiest time of year” for business, most of the fishing grounds he frequents with clients are closed.

He said the area he works is now more of a “spill response area” than a fishing ground. And that's where the work is now.

“I am in my boat and doing work with my parish,” said Marino. “It is through BP the work we’ve got. Almost everyone is working through contractors who are employed through BP.”

Marino is still optimistic that in the short term things will get back to normal. Currently, he is helping guide BP workers through the marsh area. Marino said that in one sense BP is helping out local businesses by using their services, but in the same sense, BP needs local guides to get them around safely.

“My business is changing right now but I am still in business,” said Marino. “This is not what I want to be doing, but I am actually still able to make changes and maybe even do better than I was doing before.”

Dickie Brennan, a third-generation restaurant owner of Dickie Brennan and Co. in New Orleans, has not, so far, seen much of an impact to his seafood inventory.

“What we budgeted to do is where we are at business-wise,” said Brennan. “I don’t see a direct impact on whatever is happening with the Gulf.”

Brennan said he talks every day to his seafood suppliers, looking at each product individually for short-term and long-term availability. Brennan said he is holding out that the resources out there are so plentiful that as clean-up efforts improve, there will still be a safe stock to be harvested.

“In this situation, get outside of your business and see for yourself what is going on,” Brennan said. “We’ve gotten on boats and really tried to see for ourselves. Anytime we do that, the end result is I want to continue to work with the people who are providing me with these products.”

Last year, Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago's Seafood Restaurant served 3 million oysters – he reckons 95% of his diners order them. Since the spill, he said he’s continuing to get oysters, but is finding it more challenging and tricky.

“We’ll be OK because unlike other areas, we’ve [had] generations and generations of great cooks that use a unique cooking style with the seafood that is indigenous to our water,” said Cvitanovich. “It sets us apart from the rest of the country. We will have an issue with seafood for the short haul here, but the cooking style is so unique that we can make anything taste good.”

Cvitanovic said that the devastation won’t be like that suffered by the hands of Hurricane Katrina, because after that tragedy most local residents were left with nothing. He said Louisiana can definitely survive and once again thrive despite BP’s mess.

“You just have to put one foot in front of the other,” said Cvitanovich. “Our big dish is oysters, but if things change and I can’t [get] oysters, we (will) bring in mussels.”