July 16, 2013

Fresh As Can Be….Frozen at Sea

2009-12-31 23.00.00-585

This article was featured in the July edition of the Valley Business Report magazine

For three generations the Burnells have been shrimping in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was the year 1941 when Burnie Bernard Burnell initiated what has become a family legacy. It is hard to know if he ever envisioned the future of the shrimping industry in the Rio Grande Valley, nor if he ever realized his family would offer the freshest, chemical free and locally caught shrimp in the 21st century.

The Shrimp Outlet is a family owned enterprise managed by Burnie Bernard Burnell’s son Charles Bradford Burnell, his daughter Lela Burnell, son-in-law Christopher Korab and sons J. Keil and Charles R. Burnell. They all work hard to offer their customers the best of what the gulf has to offer.

Before Lela and her brothers there was Charles, their father, who as an independent young man in 1967, realized he could earn more money shrimping than some school teachers he knew. Furthermore, he found out he not only enjoyed following in his father’s footsteps, but he found out he was good at it, unlike some of his friends who would not tolerate even two hours out at sea.

But the early days were not easy. “My father owned a row boat and a gill net that he used to catch fish during the depression. He would put the fish on ice and him and my mother would go all over the valley to sell it. Nobody had any money then, but they managed to make it,” said Charles adding that his father was a pioneer of the local shrimping industry and how in those early days, sirens would blow to let the people know that iced, fresh shrimp had just arrived. “Things changed with the freezing process after WWII,” Charles asserted with a reminiscent look.

The family business has come a long way since those hard days.  Technology has brought in GPS devices that help locate shrimp and assist with navigation, and the internet has opened the doors for the family to promote and sell their product outside of the Rio Grande Valley. “We went from ice boats to freezer boats, and from cotton nets to synthetic nets in just a few years,” explained Charles. But it is the government regulations that have reshaped the industry resulting in the saturation of the market with farm raised and foreign seafood brought from Vietnam, China and India. Regardless of these obstacles, the family remains firm on their guarantee to deliver FDA approved, American, and wild caught shrimp that is frozen at sea and is preserved using chemical free methods.  The fresh shrimp debate is complicated for shrimp can be frozen and defrosted to appear fresh at some local markets where shoppers demand the “fresh” product.

Lela and her husband Chris handle the marketing and online sales. The family owns a fleet of 8 boats that are managed by Charles and Boat Captain Keil; Charles’ two sons. Every year their market has grown to where they harvest tens of thousands of pounds of shrimp per season. The shrimping season begins in July and ends in May summoning Keil out to sea for many weeks.

Lela said the Winter Texans are their biggest clients and promoters, for they love to explore and visit the shrimp basin to see the boats and hear about the packing and processing that takes place within a 50 mile ratio. Winters Texans also share with their friends and family, and even after they leave, they continue making online purchases.  “Our main selling point is the appeal of our location,” Lela stated. Spanish is spoken at the Shrimp Outlet, something that has facilitated the interaction with customers from Mexico who stop to buy shrimp on the way to South Padre Island. Local restaurants also choose the company’s high quality shrimp such as Gabriella’s, Cobbleheads, House Wine, Collettis, and Chilli Willies among several others.

The family recently purchased an adjacent building which will be remodeled into a spacious new store.  In addition, Lela is working toward increasing online nationwide sales, and hiring more employees to expedite the packing and shipping of the product.  For Chris, it is imperative to keep moving toward a 100% chemical free product.

Their frozen shrimp is sold in large, jumbo and colossal sizes for retail and wholesale orders. But how, in their opinion is the best way to boil shrimp? “You do not want to overcook shrimp,” said Charles firmly.  After some friendly debate between Lela and her father Charles, Lela and Chris said they add Old Bay seasoning, onion and garlic to the water and let it boil. Then they add the shrimp, wait until it starts bubbling, and take it out after a few minutes. They also recommend adding lemon to the water or placing it on ice to loosen the shells of the best shrimp the gulf has to offer.

For more information visit or contact Lela at (956) 831-8114

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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