OKALOOSA ISLAND — It took just over one minute for Tommy Campbell of Saltwater Restaurants to fillet a fresh-caught grouper at The Boardwalk.
It's been seven years since Campbell set up shop at the "seafood commissary" hidden away underneath The Crab Trap, where a large fence covers the door just to the left of The Boardwalk's main entrance.
The commissary is Campbell's pride and joy. It's the heart of The Boardwalk. And, he said, it's time people knew it.
"A lot of people think we have frozen fish and shrimp at our restaurants," Campbell said while de-shelling alongside a co-worker on a recent afternoon. "As you see, everything is actually fresh. We bring these fresh fish and shrimp straight upstairs where it's served at our restaurants. We're trying to let everyone know."
Trucks begin delivering the day's catch to The Boardwalk at dawn each morning. The workers load the fresh-caught fish, shrimp, oysters and more into large coolers, where they sort through what the Gulf will offer to diners that day.
Campbell said his team sorts, fillets, packages and ships about 1,500 grouper by the afternoon daily. About 600 pounds of shrimp are peeled and packaged, he added.
It's a revolving door of seafood devoured each day by droves of locals and visitors, Campbell said. But he makes sure no parts of the fish go to waste.
"You see this?" Campbell asked while holding a small piece of fish. "This is a grouper cheek. It's a delicacy. Most people throw away the fish heads, but not here. I take out the grouper cheeks and throats and we either sell them or we serve them as specials at our restaurants. The Crab Trap uses them in their gumbo.
"We ship over exactly what each restaurant requests," he continued. "We cut it in portions and put it in containers packed with ice. We then vacuum pack it to keep it all fresh."
The seafood is shipped to all nine Saltwater Restaurant locations along the 120-miles stretch from Miramar Beach to Perdido Key.
"We're passionate about it and we didn't realize we weren't sharing this story," said Misty Rae Ruthrauff, spokeswoman for Saltwater Restaurants. "The Gulf-to-table movement has been strong these past couple years."