By Greg Gelpi
It began as a part-time job, but Robert Lee's interest in lobsters has developed into a regional seafood presence.
The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce named Southside Seafood the chamber's Small Business of the Year during its sixth annual Small Business Luncheon.
Lee, president of Southside Seafood, said he began the Lake City business in 1987 as a part-time venture, while working for Eastern Airlines. Flying to Boston on his off days, he worked with a lobster company to learn the business and began operating Southside Seafood full time when Eastern went out of business.
"Lobsters looked like an interesting opportunity," he said. "There didn't seem to be any competition in the Atlanta area."
Southside Seafood started as a seafood wholesaler and has since expanded, Lee, who is partnered with Steve Stanley, said. Southside Seafood now operates the Seagrill Restaurant, sells retail seafood and caters events, such as television and movie sets, including "Free Willy 2" and "In the Heat of the Night."
Bringing in live seafood daily, Southside Seafood sells "several thousand pounds" of lobster weekly and keeps 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of live lobster on hand, as well as other types of seafood.
Matt Clarkson, the president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, called small businesses the "lifeblood of the community."
Large businesses are important, but they "spin off" many small businesses, Clarkson said. Dollars pumped into the local economy by large businesses are spent seven times before leaving the community and often times are spent at small businesses.
More than 70 percent of chamber members have 10 employees or less, he said.
S. Truett Cathy, the founder and chief executive officer of Chick-fil-A, delivered the keynote address and recalled starting his first restaurant with $10,600. Chick-fil-A now has an annual revenue of $1.7 billion.
"I remember being a kid the only thing I had to play with was a loose tooth and that tooth wasn't even mine," Cathy said. "It was my brother's."
Growing up during the Great Depression, he said commitment is the key to succeeding in life and in business.
"It's the commitment that makes the difference," Cathy said. "If you don't have a full commitment, then you're not likely to succeed."
Cathy's commitment extends to the community. Chick-fil-A has given away $18 million to its employees for college scholarships. Cathy continues to conduct Sunday school at Jonesboro First Baptist Church and will be conducting a Bible study at the White House. Recently, the Jonesboro Post Office was named after Cathy for his contributions to the community.
He received the "highest compliment" when a group of children visited his office, he said. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, one child responded, saying he wants to be just like Cathy.