Trent Wallace grew up in Destin, Florida, the “Luckiest Fishing Village in the World,” surrounded by boat captains, fishmongers, and fishing poles. He learned the ins and outs of grouper, snapper, and shrimp, and developed a love of fresh seafood, tagging along with his mom (Ann) while she helped out a friend who owned Skipper’s Seafood Market. He had a bird’s eye view of the daily operation of a seafood market, and baking key lime pies for the hungry tourists, for ten years.
After graduating from Florida State University, Wallace tried on a couple of professions that didn’t stick. He started out welding until he, his teacher wife Val, and young daughter Alex moved to La Paz, Bolivia, where his wife grew up. He came back to the Emerald Coast (with another daughter in tow, Anna) and went to nursing school with dreams of opening a clinic in Freeport, Florida, his new home. The pandemic quashed that and he picked up a job at Skipper’s, coming full circle to his childhood surrounded by fish.
“While working there, I kept thinking this is a real straightforward business. I developed contacts, learned all the ins and outs, and eventually Chet (the owner) asked me to partner with him to open another one in Destin,” Wallace said.
But he lived in Freeport and wanted to be close to his family. The kernel of the idea formed and Wallace decided to open his own seafood market in his home community. A spot became available, they reeled it in, and T’s Catch became a reality.
“I always knew I wanted to open my own business, but until I worked at Skipper’s, I didn’t know what it would be.
The Freeport community was desperate for a good seafood market where you could get fresh seafood and cooked foods that make weeknight dinners easier,” he said.
“We already offer a lot of prepared dishes, but we’re planning to expand to family meal specials and more grab-n-go.”
Walking into T’s Catch, the wide variety of spices, fish fry fixings, seasonings, and sauces catch your eye. Just beyond that, two big coolers stay stocked with seafood gumbo, crab bisque, shrimp slaw (a secret family recipe), and West Indies salad. Wallace’s mom can be found on site most days cranking all these delectables out, along with her famous key lime pie that Trent claims, is the best around. He contributes homemade smoked tuna dip—sometimes you can catch him smoking the fresh tuna right there— homemade cocktail sauce, and remoulade.
The freezer case features snow crab, Dungeness crab, mussels, and even stuffed chickens. There are the usual suspects, hushpuppies, different types of sausage (including gator), boudin, and other cajun specialties. They also carry Halperns’ filets, strips, and ribeyes for the meat connoisseurs.
Then there’s the main event, the ice-filled bins stocked with fresh grouper, snapper, wild-caught salmon, sushi-grade tuna, mahi mahi, huge scallops, and four different types of shrimp. There are oysters and jumbo lump crab meat.
Then there’s Wallace’s crab cakes he makes by hand every day. Those tasty morsels and his mom’s key lime pie are the perennial top sellers.
Wallace gets deliveries every day, always looking to what his customers request. He sticks by his motto, “fresh to a fault” which presents his biggest challenge with the fledgling business: the shelf life of fresh food. “It all has a timetable and it’s instant, especially the fish. Waste is my biggest challenge,” says Wallace.
It’s a delicate balance of trying to order enough of what everybody wants so you don’t run out, while not ordering too much and having to throw a bunch away. Wallace says he’s gotten better at figuring out the puzzle, especially when he bought a little smoker for the market and started whipping up smoked fish dip. Since he gets orders in daily, customers can also call ahead and have a mess of shrimp steamed for the family coming into town, or get three pounds of grouper for a big fish fry.
Despite the growing pains while finding his groove, Wallace feels blessed to have the opportunity to follow his dream of entrepreneurship. He adds, “I’ve wanted to go into business for a long time. Now with T’s Catch, my girls come help out, my wife pitches in to make the pies, and my mom does a lot of the cooking.” It’s a family affair.
Stop by T’s Catch next time you’re in Freeport and say hello to the family, maybe you’ll even spot Wally, their golden retriever, who likes to hang around the office. Be sure to congratulate Val—she just passed her citizenship test and got sworn in on her birthday. And if you’re throwing a shindig for the big game, give them a call for a heap of shrimp, a mess of crab, corn, potato, and sausage seasoned with love.