Local seafood vendor keeping busy

By Trina Trice

Seafood and the sea have made a major impact on the life of Clayton County resident Robert Lee.

More than 10 years ago, Lee, who then worked for Eastern Airlines, knew the company was going out of business.

Although he thought about losing his job, he couldn't help but think of other things, such as lobster.

Lee worked with air cargo and noticed a large number of lobster shipments.

"I wondered ?hmm' where are they shipping these lobsters," Lee said.

Lee, 45, took his lobster fascination a step further by working at a lobster company in Boston while he was laid off.

Sure enough, Lee was laid off from Eastern Airlines, but he had an idea that has turned into a lucrative business called the Southside Seafood Company in Lake City.

In the early 1990s, Lee said he saw a market for a seafood wholesaler in the Southeast and began his business small by selling lobsters.

Even before Eastern Airlines went under, Lee was getting ahead in the seafood sales business by selling lobsters out of his car to co-workers.

Lee depends on word of mouth to get the word out on his company. Over time, the word has spread so far as to get celebrities in on the game.

It all started with Lee's wife Shelby Lee who has been the chef for such popular television shows as "Touched by an Angel" and "I'll Fly Away."

It was those two shows that brought Lee and his wife together. Shelby Lee used Southside Seafood Company as one of her seafood supplier.

"He finally told me if I wanted better deals I had to marry him," she said with a hearty laugh.

Following a nine-month stint working on "Touched by an Angel," the Lees traveled to Portland, Maine. Lee used the guise of business even though he had other plans in mind.

While visiting the famous Portlandhead Lighthouse, "he proposed in front of the lighthouse, he said he did it because in a lighthouse, the light never goes out and there's always someone there for you," Lee's wife said.

Following the marriage, Lee continued to deliver seafood to film sets.

While Lee was visiting the set of the "Last Confederate Widow Tells All" at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Atlanta, a man approached him about a water leakage problem he had noticed in the building.

Lee found out later that the man was actor Donald Sutherland.

"Although I don't watch a lot of TV and movies I'm thrilled with the opportunity" to work with celebrities, Lee said.

Earlier this year, Lee shipped out fresh seafood for the cast and crew of the film "The Big Fish" starring Danny DeVito, Jessica Lange, and Albert Finney, which was filmed in Montgomery, Ala.

Another film serviced by Southside Seafood Company was "Twister" starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.

"The logistics of transporting fresh seafood to the set of ?Twister' was a nightmare as filming took place in five cities in the Midwest, plus did you really think all those 8 p.m. night scenes were really filmed at 8 p.m.?" Lee said.

"It isn't every seafood vendor that wants to take on such a huge responsibility, but this has proved to be a niche market for Southside Seafood Company."

Despite the company's Hollywood connections, Lee said he continues to care for his immediate community, personally serving on the board of trustees for the local Meals on Wheels program and for the Clayton College & State University Foundation.

His company is a Partner in Education with Morrow High School, where Lee graduated.

But Lee enjoys sitting down to a cooked meal of fish, despite being exposed to it ever day.

"I like fish, but I also eat it for the health benefits," he said. "You get Omega 3 (fatty acids that are found heavily in fish and that benefit the heart, skin, joints, and brain) from fish. I had heart surgery a year ago; I had five bypasses, so I'm particularly interested in eating healthy."

Lee and his wife live in a log cabin in Stockbridge.