Palacios native sells shrimp with a side of Gospel
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 2, 2013 at 4:02 a.m.
Updated Sept. 3, 2013 at 4:03 a.m.
Across the trailer of Barbara Shake's early model Ford pickup, an iridescent "fish" decal shimmers in the sunlight.
The sticker identifies the Palacios native as the local "Shrimp Lady," who drives through the Crossroads four days a week selling fresh-from-the-Gulf jumbo shrimp from the bed of her truck.
"I love this job," said Shake, 64. "People know me wherever I go. I couldn't imagine doing anything else."
Dirt kicks up behind the Ford's back tires as Shake turns right and left down winding Inez country roads.
It's 1 p.m. Friday, and she's already visited about eight clients in three counties.
"They call me for shrimp, and I'll go by and see if they need any," she said. "Sometimes, they're home, and sometimes, they're not."
All day long, the Shrimp Lady drives by the homes of existing clients - a Rolodex that's grown to about 4,000 people since launching Barbara's Shrimp Co. in 2000.
At each stop, she knocks on clients' doors then brings her buyers around to the ice chests in the back of the cab and pulls out chilled, sealed bags of 6-inch, de-headed jumbo shrimp.
Lois Green, of Inez, is one of the Shrimp Lady's clients. She is always hungry for Shake's fresh shrimp.
"She's got the best shrimp. It's always fresh and iced down. I've never gotten a bad one," said Green, 73, who has been buying shrimp from Shake for the past decade. "I would never buy shrimp at the grocery store."
Green, a self-proclaimed seafood lover, said she could eat shrimp just about every day. But she buys shrimp from Shake because they're caught local and fresh every day, and they're larger than any shrimp she could buy at the store.
"They're all big jumbos. She never mixes in the big ones with the small ones," Green said.
There's another reason why Green prefers Shake's shrimp - it's served with a side of friendship and spiritual guidance.
"We always talk about God and pray for each other," Green said. "She's a good woman, a trustworthy woman."
Shake said sharing the Gospel of Jesus with her clients is almost as important as selling the shrimp itself.
"It's not just a business. It's a chance for me to show love to people and tell them about Jesus," she said.
Green's family has been in the shrimping business for about five decades, but she said she started Barbara's Shrimp Co. with her daughter, Laura Longoria, 10 years ago.
"I used to sell real estate in Mississippi, and Laura convinced me that if I could sell houses, I could sell a bag of shrimp," Shake said.
Each morning, Shake goes to the Palacios shoreline and picks up about 300 pounds of fresh jumbo shrimp.
She'll drive as far as Dallas to get rid of her load each day.
"I can always tell if it's been a good day by how much money falls out of the glove compartment at the end of the day," she said.
Friday was the eighth anniversary of her daughter's death. Her daughter was killed in a car wreck Aug. 30, 2005. She was 38 years old.
"I think she would be proud of me that I continued our business," Shake said, wiping a tear from her eye. "Had I been the one who died and she stayed behind, I would have wanted her to continue, and I would have been proud of her."
Shake said she plans to continue the shrimp selling business so she can keep sharing the message of God with her clients and so she can honor her daughter's memory.
"I do this because I know my shrimp is good and because my customers mean so much to me," she said. "It's fresh shrimp. It's Texas shrimp. I can't stop doing this, or my customers would go hungry."