Market by the Bay has always been a go-to for me because of the delicious fried seafood and gumbo. With two locations in Fairhope and Daphne, I was a frequent visitor.   A few years ago, the Fairhope restaurant closed (now the OX Kitchen), and then the Daphne store closed a year later. I was sad to see them go.

The LeJune family were the owners and operators of Market by the Bay for many years. In addition to restaurant fare, they also had a limited seafood market where you could purchase fresh shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters in season. Their fried shrimp and oyster combo was terrific, but I enjoyed the half Po’boy and gumbo, as well.

Imagine my excitement when Harry Johnson told me a year or so ago that he had put together a team to reopen Market by the Bay. I’ve stopped by several times since and can attest that it’s even better as a full-service restaurant with some new features, including a Sunday brunch. I asked Harry to introduce me to chef Mike Sullivan and restaurant partner, Garrett DeLuca.

Mike and Garrett are both local guys who met after graduating from Daphne High School. Garrett went to South Alabama and earned his degree in Business Management. Mike was born in Mobile but moved to Daphne, and then earned his Culinary Degree from the Culinard School at Virginia College in Birmingham.

Garrett began working with Harry and his business partner, John Thompson (of Callaghan’s Irish Social Club fame) after the two purchased Manci’s Antique Club in 2015. In addition to Manci’s, Garrett manages Buster’s Brick Oven, both in Olde Towne Daphne.

Mike moved back home in 2006 where his first job was as a fry cook at Market by the Bay. He tells me that Horace Sledge, a carryover from the LeJune days, is an icon at the restaurant and is a terrific person.  The great relationship with the LeJune family continues, and Mike has a long history in the hospitality industry.

“I was the chef for Atria Senior Living in charge of all its kitchens throughout the South. I spent six years in New York as the East Coast Culinary Specialist and traveled a lot. It took its toll on me.”  He decided to come back to the Eastern Shore where he and Garrett had a brilliant food truck idea. 

They were far along in the planning when Mike and Garrett decided to eat at Market by the Bay one last time before they closed the restaurant, to say goodbye to the LeJunes. That’s when Victor LeJune, who owns the building, put a bug in their ear about purchasing the business. “We had enough capital to do a food truck, but not enough to do a restaurant,” says Mike. He called Harry.

“We sat at a table and discussed the idea. Harry laughed at the food truck idea and green-lighted the idea of reopening Market by the Bay. We closed the purchase on July 28, 2022, and opened in October.” Some modifications were required, hence they decided to become a full-service restaurant.

“We didn’t want to change or take away what the LeJune’s had created over 20-something years. We added some new menu items and a Sunday Brunch. We wanted to elevate the food experience and added beer and alcohol. It had always been a lunch place, and we wanted to increase the dinner crowd.”

Market by the Bay still carries a limited offering of fresh shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters from Bon Secour Fisheries. The number one question they get is, “Is the gumbo still the same?” Yes, it’s the same recipe made daily by the same guy, and it’s the best-selling item for pickup, too! 

What makes their fried seafood so special? “We have a proprietary blend batter and everything is sourced locally. Po’boys are served on New Orleans Gambino bread, and we offer shrimp, oysters, and catfish.” Sides include slaw (fresh and tasty, not too much dressing), potato salad, turnip greens, baked beans, and cheese grits. You can choose between French fries, hush puppies, or fried okra to accompany your meal.

New items include appetizers such as Boudin Egg Rolls, Calamari, Pickled shrimp, and a Chopped Cheese Po’boy, which is a mix between a Philly Cheesesteak and a cheeseburger and is very popular. They have also added a Duck and Andouille sausage gumbo. 

Dinner options include Red Beans and Rice topped with Catfish and Fried Green Tomatoes with Blackened Shrimp on top. There is always a Fresh Catch of the Day served over cheese grits covered with crawfish and shrimp sauce.

Sunday Brunch, which has been a big hit, is from 11 AM until 3 PM. “We have awesome Bloody Mary’s. We make our mix and they come fully loaded.” Other brunch items are Blue Crab Beignets, Grits and Grillades, and their special take on French Toast. Another special on Sunday is the Fried Chicken and Grits served with hot honey.

Market by the Bay offers catering packages that are popular with drug reps. They also do corporate events. You can go to EZ Cater on their website. Mike’s mother, Sonja Dowdle, who used to own Delish Desserts in Mobile, makes all the desserts including Cheesecakes, Strawberry shortcakes, and other seasonal options. You can order whole pies in advance. 

Other local favorites include West Indies Salad and Smoked Tuna dip made in-house. “We don’t want people to think we just do fried seafood. I have a smoker out back and we do grilled options on pretty much anything.” During football season they have smoked ribs and wings, and also offer that for catering. “We remind people that fried seafood doesn’t travel well, so we have lots of other things to consider.”

How are things going, I asked. “So far so good,” says Mike. “Lunch remains strong, our dinner business is growing, and the catering business is picking up nicely. Corporate luncheons are a big part of what we do.” They both tell me they like what’s happening on the food scene in the Scenic 98 Coastal area. “We like to support the local restaurants. We want everyone to succeed.”

On our way home from Birmingham on Sunday a couple of weeks ago, Linda and I stopped by to pick up a quart of gumbo to take home. The place was hopping. Harry reminds me, “If the parking lot is full, don’t let that scare you away.” It didn’t!

Mar 13, 2024
Epicurean Delights

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