Russo’s Seafood celebrating 75 years in Savannah
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - With his friendly, engaging demeanor, Charlie Russo would be one of the most popular people in Savannah if he never sold a single piece of fish. But he has become an icon to so many in the city through his family seafood business that’s marking an impressive milestone this year. And Charlie is still right in the middle of it all.
“Coming up as a little guy, I was 6-years-old and daddy already had me fileting flounder,” Charlie Russo remembers.
When Russo says he has spent his life in the seafood business, he means his whole life. Even longer, actually.
“My great grandfather, he was a fisherman. He came from Buenos Ares, came into the Savannah River and we were locked in here,” Russo said.
This year, Russo’s Seafood Market is celebrating 75 years in business, beginning with the store Russo’s father opened on Waters Avenue after coming home from World War II.
“They worked seven days a week from seven in the morning to seven at night. On Sunday, he’d get off at 11, they’d go in at seven and get off at 11, for $10 a week,” he explained. “Not $10 an hour, not $10 a day, $10 a week. And I’m sure he probably gave grandmother half of that.”
Charlie has run the shop at Abercorn and 40th streets almost since it opened in the early 50s. And like the location, he has been in the heart of Savannah ever since.
“Well, it’s the security and everyone knows you. When they are thinking about seafood, they’re thinking about Charlie Russo. So, all my friends, everybody in town. I’m a good camaraderie guy, so, it’s just been enjoyable to know all these friends I have and all the customers,’ said Russo.
Russo is acknowledging 75 years in business the same way he has spent that time - working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. almost every day of the week to fill orders for everything from quick weeknight fish fries to extravagant family celebrations.
“I come in in the morning and we’ll have orders lined up, like right now, and there’s maybe 15 or 20 orders. I’ll get those up and out of the way, get invoices made, that kind of thing. Now, by 8 o’clock or so, I’m restocking the freezer and then I put an apron on and we start cutting fish all day long until, yeah... I had been doing that for six days a week most of my life and the past couple of years, I decided to take Thursdays off. Daddy never did that, so, I feel guilty sometimes,” Russo said.
And while he maintains his fish guy persona by being hands on in the back of the shop, Charlie Russo’s personality comes out when he steps to the front of the shop.
“Hey Cynthia, nice to see you. What do you need,” Russo asked a customer who wanted oysters for their daddy’s birthday.
“The little old lady who has been getting stuff from us for 50 years, she wants to give her order to me. She doesn’t want to give it to anyone else... you get caught so many times, you’ve seen that customer and you’ve seen that customer, and I’m to the stage now that I’ll see them and I’ll say, oh lord, I forgot her name. But by the time I walk up here, I’ll say, Genoveve O’Connor. And I’ll figure, ‘where did that come from?’ The ones I don’t know, it’s Buddy, he buddy, what do you say,” Russo explained.
But what Russo always remembers are the lessons he learned at the start that have made him and his business Savannah institutions.
“The quality that we’ve given people in this city over the years. Because I’ve been to other towns and there’s nothing to compare to this... and my father instilled in me, we’ve got that extra everything, cleanliness and the whole nine yards and given people quality stuff. And Daddy always told me, he said son, they will remember the quality long after they forget the price,” Russo said.
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