When Giuseppe “Joe” Patti began selling seafood out of the backdoor of his home in the summer of 1931, Pensacola was a fishing capital along the Gulf Coast of the United States, attracting thousands of immigrants from across the world to fish in the largely untapped waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Like many that had just arrived in Pensacola during the early years of the 20th century, Patti was an eager new resident ready to build his love of fishing into the American dream.
Even as the Great Depression took its hold on the nation, Patti, a young Sicilian snapper boat captain who had just arrived in the City of Five Flags a decade earlier — and hundreds of other men of similar backgrounds — found a new opportunity in sustaining a booming economy and feeding and providing for their community.
In 1919, at the age of 18, young Giuseppe set off on his pursuit of the American Dream when he arrived from Sicily by way of New York City. In Pensacola, he would meet another Sicilian immigrant, Anna Patane, and they would eventually marry in 1930. Just a year later, they would begin selling local seafood from their porch at their modest home on South DeVilliers Street in Pensacola’s diverse Tanyard neighborhood.
In the company’s early years, they mostly sold live bait shrimp, later offering staples like red snapper, grouper, and pompano. During the Great Depression, the market provided an inexpensive way to feed many Pensacola families and the business began to thrive. It was thanks to a reliable customer base of immigrants that the Patti market would soon have to expand. In just a few years, the couple expanded from their modest home to a new retail market and warehouse on Main Street that the company still occupies today.
Over the years, the quaint little market that started in a simple wood-framed cottage in the 1930s grew more and more popular and known by visitors, so much so that their slogan is “World Famous for a Reason,” and rightfully so.
Growing from a home-based mom-and-pop shop to a landmark tourist attraction, the tens of thousands of people who pass through their doors every year are enamored at the enormous variety of fresh seafood that stretches from one end of the market to the other.
The latter half of the 20th century brought many changes that dramatically expanded the company’s scope of operations. Starting in the 1960s, as the number of professional fishermen began to diminish, Joe Patti’s secured agreements with dozens of restaurants along the Gulf Coasts of Florida and Alabama. The Patti enterprise would become a regional operation, with a fleet of Patti refrigerated trucks running non-stop, seven days a week.
In the 1990s, as the fishing industry in Pensacola continued to diminish and consumers began to shop at national-chain supermarkets, the Patti’s once again adapted by refocusing on their retail operation and opening a restaurant on the downtown waterfront and diversifying the company into ship-building, which continues today.
At the same time, the company benefited from the energy of a second-generation as Joe and Anna’s son, Frank, took over the operation of the family business. In the 1980s, he and the family expanded the business to include Captain Joey Patti’s Seafood Restaurant, which quickly became a local landmark and remains a downtown fixture to this day.
Today, there remains a Patti in every arm of the business — from building the boats to fishing on them, from administrative paperwork to retail selling, and from working the docks to loading the freezers. Most weeks, the more than 100 employees at the company will sell more than 10,000 pounds of shrimp and ship thousands of pounds of fish to seafood-lovers in every state, including Alaska and Hawaii.
While the traditional wooden fishing smacks are no more and there are just a few families left that survive off the industry and fishing. Gulf-caught seafood is still enjoyed and shipped all across the United States from a handful of fresh seafood markets that remain in the Pensacola Bay area, including the Joe Patti Seafood Company — which has the claim of operating longer than any other and has helped make Pensacola known across the world.
In 2021, Joe Patti’s Seafood Company will celebrate 90 years of selling wholesale seafood to the public, and for all of that time, it has remained a family-run business. Through all these changes, the love for Joe Patti’s has remained constant in Pensacola. Inside the sprawling market, there’s always a new catch brought off the boat to discover and for all to enjoy.