Michael Adams, Jr., was a successful restaurant owner, boat captain and bass fisherman. And then the economy swung south. And then the oil spill hit. And then Mike Jr. started asking: What’s going to happen to me now?
story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published September 2, 2010
The dream, all along, was to fish. Mike Jr.’s dad was the oyster-shucking champion of the coast 14 years running. Mike Jr.’s neighborhood backed up to the piers on Biloxi’s back bay, where the shrimp boats were hauling in seafood faster than they could sell it. Mike Jr. was 11 years old, and all he wanted to do was fish.
Then it all started to happen. He’d hit 33, and after 15 years working maintenance for the county, he’d quit. His parents had just opened Mikey’s on the Bayou, a restaurant in St. Martin’s, to great acclaim, and they decided to open a second location over in D’Iberville. They called it Mikey’s Cafe and Oyster Bar, and they made Mike Jr. manager. Place opened in September 2007.
Then it really started to happen. Mike Jr. had been fishing semi-pro over in the FLW’s Bass Fishing League, maybe 10 events a year all around the country. He wasn’t part of some big-time fishing conglomerate. On his competition uniform, it read, “Team Mom & Dad.” But then in October 2007, he went up to Gilbertsville, Ky., about halfway between St. Louis and Nashville, and Mike Jr. nabbed himself a prize-winning bass. They gave him a boat and $40,000 as the grand prize winner of the Kentucky Lake BFL Regional.
Then Michael Adams Jr.’s luck ran out.
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Mikey’s Cafe and Oyster Bar will close tomorrow, a few days shy of its third anniversary. The promise was huge for a restaurant like Mikey’s, down off of Central Ave. in D’Iberville. The tables turned on pork chop night, and the catfish plates sold, and a 120 lb. sack of oysters couldn’t stay full. The economy was going strong, and everyone had a FEMA check to spend.
But then the economy swung, and Mikey’s customers, almost all local, stopped eating out as much. Adams started selling 60 percent fewer pork chops on pork chop night. Then the BP well blew sky high, and the price of seafood went with it. Sales dropped 30 percent.
“It’d done well, and then it kind of gradually slumped with the economy,” he says. “But we were doing good. But when the oil hit, it just done us in.”
The first time I met Adams, he was quietly boiling over. He’d been to the BP claims office again, and he’d seen it happen — again. He’d seen the characters from a CCR song walk in there and walk out with a guarantee that BP would pay them to cater a lunch for cleanup workers. Adams just wanted to do the same.
But Mike Jr. wasn’t a senator’s son, and when it came time to decide who’d get the bid on the a catering job, it wasn’t much of a choice between the son of the politician and the son of the oyster-shucking champ.
Then the economy swung, and Mikey’s customers, almost all local, stopped eating out as much. Adams started selling 60 percent fewer pork chops on pork chop night. Then the BP well blew sky high, and the price of seafood went with it. Sales dropped 30 percent.
In three months, Adams had been given one catering job by BP — “just about had to beg them” to get it, he says — but it kept the lights on at Mikey’s. A month ago, Adams was worried about the arrival of fall, when D’Iberville’s set to begin construction on Central Avenue, off of which Mikey’s sits. When construction’s done in a year, city officials predict that it’ll do great things for business, but Adams was worried that construction crews could scare customers away.
“I’m hoping it’s not the nail in the coffin,” he told me. 
To keep the business going, Adams opted to stop serving dinner on all but Thursdays and Fridays. Then, when we spoke two weeks ago, Adams admitted that unless something changed, he was going to have to shut down.
This week, the final decision was made: Close Mikey’s.
“It’s kind of been coming,” he says. “We were hoping BP would bail us out, but we didn’t see a dime.”
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The bad luck keeps coming. In March, Adams launched Fort Bayou Charters, his charter fishing company. For anywhere between $300 and $500, Adams will take a small group out for a full day of fishing, and at that price, he says he started to book charters quickly.
“For just starting out, it was looking good,” he says.
His bass fishing boat could only carry two other passengers, so Adams decided to buy to a bigger boat. He had a dozen charters booked for the month of May when the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused oil to begin hemorrhaging into the Gulf of Mexico.
State officials closed local waters, but Adams was hearing that the well would be fixed within days. He assured customers that the fishing would resume soon, and he went ahead and purchased his new boat.
Within days, all but one of the charters had canceled.
Since the spill, Adams says he’s chartered just three fishing trips. And more bad news: two weeks ago, his new boat just stopped running out in the middle of the Gulf. Two weeks later, his mechanic’s still not entirely sure what’s wrong with his purchase.
“I never should have bought that damn boat,” he says.
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Adams takes me out on his boat — the working, bass one — to see the backwaters near his other restaurant, Mikeys on the Bayou. That’s where, as of Monday, he’ll be working as manager. He says the view of the water helps the restaurant, and business there is still strong.
For someone who’s been so thoroughly hosed by BP — his restaurant is closing because they doubled or tripled the price of seafood, and then they wouldn’t toss him but a single catering job, and then their oil shut down his fishing business — Adams doesn’t seem to be that outraged, at least outwardly. I ask him about this, and he reminds me that five years ago, he was driving a truck for the county government. Now, he’s working two jobs that he enjoys.
“Once you’ve done tasted this,” he says, “and you enjoy something as much as this, you’re willing to work on it and sacrifice things.”
Still, Adams knows what’s at risk. He’s got a wife and two children. Since Katrina, he’s been the sole source of income for his family. The money from his 2007 bass fishing win has run out, and he’d like to find a new revenue stream.
So he’s got this other idea in the works: a bayou tour. Biloxi already has a shrimp tour, where for $15, tourists can go out on a boat and see what it’s like to be a shrimper. Adams wants to do the same for the the back bayou. He wants to dock a boat next to Mikey’s on the Bayou and offer daily tours for a dozen or so people. He’d charge $25 a head. He’d offer the history of the homes along the bayou, and point out wildlife on the way, and toss a giant net out into the water to catch mullet, the foot-long fish that locals call “Biloxi bacon.” He thinks that once it launches — and once he buys the boat big enough to make it work — it’ll sell.
But the plan hinges on one thing: tourists returning to the coast. If they don’t come, Adams doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
Or maybe something will break his way. Adams will take his bass boat north to Florence, Ala., at the end of the month for a FLW American Fishing Series event. Winner gets a boat, a truck and a big cash prize.
One great cast could make it all happen again.
Couldn’t it? ❑