Sudie’s Catfish House is open on Spencer Highway in Pasadena where current owner Paul Bailey has served homemade seafood dishes and desserts for almost 37 years.
In surviving two hurricanes, Paul Bailey has weathered the worst Mother Nature could offer in his 36-plus years of owning and operating Sudie’s Catfish House.
At least that’s what he believed until 2020 arrived.
Bailey says unequivocally that he has never encountered a foe quite like the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Sudie’s, a seafood staple in the Pasadena community, is fighting to stay afloat in unprecedented times.
Even though Bailey never closed the restaurant during the pandemic, it is a daily struggle.
“I really can’t say if we’ll make it — I think it’s anybody’s guess,” Bailey said. “I want to stay in business to get to the other side, as they call it, and see what happens.
“I just don’t know, and I don’t think anybody else knows.
“I keep data on it every day when we get day-end reports,” he said. “Now, we’re right about 60 percent dine-in and 40 percent to-go orders.
“We commonly have an 80-20 split, and I think that shows that there’s still a lot of people afraid to come back. We’ve done some stuff like online ordering, which has added about 5 percent on to the gross.”
A bad first half
Bailey said the pandemic couldn’t have struck at a more crucial time for his business.
“The big thing for us is we’re at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year,” he said. “We’ve been there 20 years. We’ve grown accustomed to the rodeo and Lent - because we’re a seafood establishment. We rely heavily on the first half of the year for the majority of our income.
“It drops off the second half, and now it put us in a bind to make it. One in every three restaurants aren’t going to make it, and you don’t want to be that one. We’ve been around too long.”
Bailey has seen, first-hand, the effects of the pandemic.
“One of our competitors up the street looks like it’s closed,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s permanent or temporary. I’ve driven by it a few times and there’s no one there.”
Continuing to offer full menu
Bailey is doing his best to keep his chin up.
“One thing I was proud of that other restaurants weren’t able to do is that we were able to provide a full menu through all of this,” he said. “We didn’t go to a partial menu like a lot of them did.
“We had the core guys in the kitchen that could pull it off and they did.”
Bailey said his team has become more aggressive in trying to secure external business.
“We put three of our employees we brought back doing cold calls to businesses in Houston to attract business for our catering,” he said.
“We’ve done a number of social distancing caterings where we cook on site. We cook it there, box it and put it in these XL containers. Then we put them on a table away from where we make it and let them pick it up.”
In November, Bailey hopes to celebrate 37 years of serving customers in Pasadena.
“I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” he said. “When you see these chain guys shutting down a lot of restaurants or getting out of the business, and then you see mom-and-pops struggling like us, it’s anybody’s guess.
‘Giving it our best shot’
“We’re giving it our best shot by fixing up the place and just doing the best we can in every area. We didn’t shut down. When this started, we went straight to-go orders and never closed our doors.
“The customers really want to see us make it, and boy, I sure appreciate them. On the busiest day we have, which is Good Friday, we had all to-go orders. No dine-in this year.”
At one time, Bailey opened a second location, but his business sense benefited him in that regard.
He sold the League City restaurant shortly before Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017. That site flooded, and the building remains vacant.
The Bailey family has been operating its Pasadena restaurant at its current location since 1983, specializing in Mississippi farm-raised catfish.
Other old-fashioned recipes include hand-butterflied and hand-breaded shrimp along with signature items such as fried green tomatoes, fried dill pickles and in-season hot boiled crawfish.
Son Clay Bailey has assumed many of the day-to-day operations from his father.
The elder Bailey wishes he had a crystal ball.
“Doing to-go orders … you can’t meet what you do on dine-ins,” he said. “Particularly after July and August, we’ll see what it’s going to be like.
“At the rodeo, we’d go out there and build a booth that looks like an old house next to our trailer in the parking lot. We’d serve a bunch of people the entire run of the rodeo.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. Our two biggest revenue months are lost,” Bailey said. “For us, you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen.”