Prestige Oysters Inc.

The world’s largest oyster shipping company
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
James Logan

Prestige Oysters Inc. (Prestige) is a family-owned and –operated processing and distribution company based in San Leon, Texas. Johnny Halili, an immigrant from Albania, founded the company with his wife, Lisa Halili, in early 2001. After landing in Chicago, Johnny had worked several jobs, eventually making his way to Louisiana to work as a deckhand. Eventually, he bought his own boat, the Lady Katherine. He and Lisa worked year-round, harvesting oysters in the winter and catching shrimp in the summer.

Over the years, the one-boat operation grew into a successful seafood distribution business with a focus on oysters. Today, the couple’s son, Raz Halili, operates the business. His official title is executive vice president, though Johnny and Lisa have scaled back their involvement with the business in recent years. Raz now works with an in-house team of more than 50 professionals, spread between two processing plants and several dock operations.

Fresh from the sea

The processing side of the operation is a more recent addition. Prestige offers fresh and frozen oysters to customers all over the United States, making the processing component more important than ever as the company’s geographic footprint grows. Raz and his team sell oysters under the company’s flagship brand, as well as to other processors. In order to keep product as fresh as possible, the business relies on innovative technology and efficient processes to turn over product quickly and without compromising the quality of the oysters.

For fresh oysters, Prestige utilizes a distinct high-pressure process to reduce the presence of Vibrio Vulnificus and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus bacteria to non-detectable levels. The company has acquired a Quintus 215L high-pressure machine for its new facility in Louisiana. These machines treat and shuck oysters, separating clean meat from the shells for shipping. Once the oysters are properly prepared, Prestige packs the products in 100-count bags and boxes by the pound, depending on customer requests.

Prestige also offers frozen oysters to a broad consumer base. Utilizing a Cryo-Quick chilling tunnel to instantly quick-freeze the tasty seafood, the company is able to extend shelf life while maintaining taste and quality. These oysters can last up to two years on the whole or half shell. All oysters are high-pressure treated before being frozen.

Staying afloat

Over the years, Prestige has stood apart from other distributors and processors with a reputation for taste, quality and food safety. Despite the reliability of the company’s products, Raz and his team have faced a unique set of challenges. “We are thriving despite being dependent on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem,” he explains. “We have dealt with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, hurricanes and the changing salinity in our harbors that have affected our trade.”

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the team’s first concern was the people involved and their families. Few people initially understood the environmental repercussions of the rig failure. As time went on, however, it became evident that the Gulf of Mexico was deeply affected, along with all of the wildlife calling it home. The ocean has begun to heal again, making it safe again for consumers to eat oysters. Still, the spill had a major impact on business and many people are still hesitant to eat seafood from the Gulf.

Most of the challenges Raz and the crew face are beyond the company’s control. Hurricanes can disrupt operations for weeks at a time. Dredging can also affect habitat and raise salinity levels, two factors that can have a major impact on oyster populations. “Anything can happen and wipe out the oysters,” Raz explains. “Right now we have a huge algae bloom and our Texas operations are shut down. Our boats have to wait until it is gone in order to make sure the seafood is safe. There are risks in this business that we just cannot control or specifically plan for.”

Instead, Raz focuses on the factors that the business can control. He and his team strive to remain competitive. Oysters are gaining popularity again, though many factors have made the shellfish harder to come by. “Over the next few years, we will continue to expand our processing capabilities,” he says. “We have come pretty far. Our processing operation is still growing and we are looking to do more of that, especially for the retail sector.”

Above all else, Raz remains positive. “We always have to stay innovative,” he adds. “We are always looking for new and better ways to process and keep growing.” Raz and his team are determined to keep growing. Now that the market is catching up again, the crew is optimistic about the future of the industry. The family has built up a work environment that fosters quality and safety, factors that will contribute to a continued upward trend for Prestige Oysters Inc.

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