A Great Catch
Harvesting freshness at Castnet Seafood
Written by Frank Etheridge
Where can you find the freshest raw oysters in New Orleans? The answer is East New Orleans, specifically at a locally-owned and operated business called Castnet.
“Me and my wife, Denise, opened up in ’88,” Ken Bondi, owner of Castnet Seafood on Hayne Boulevard, recalls of his business’ beginnings. Castnet is one of the only retailers in the region to shuck and sell its own raw oysters, according to Bondi. “You can come, bring an empty quart, and get your fresh, raw oysters,” he explains. “We also try our best to offer great customer service.”
The location on Hayne Boulevard was once Joyce’s Seafood, placed on the market following the death of the namesake matriarch. Bondi grew up across the street from “Miss Joyce’s place” and worked there as a kid while attending neighborhood public schools.
“We’re a neighborhood business,” Bondi explains of his present-day enterprise, which combines Castnet’s dining room and a retail area shared with a separate barbecue counter (owned by the Walker family) and adjacent snowball stand (owned by the Kaufman family).
“We rely on our neighborhood customers. We live and die on repeat business,” describes Bondi. “It’s nice with the neighborhood kids able to come out, get a snowball and wave ‘how’s your mom and em?’ while picking up some hot boiled crawfish for the family.”
Managing roughly 30 employees — a mix of “10 top-tier, full-time workers, with a good mixture of part-time teenagers and part-time retirees.” With a large boiling area in the back of Castnet’s 6,000-square-foot building, Bondi even operated a Christmas-tree lot on the property — selling and delivering them during the holidays for roughly a decade before ceasing a few years ago.
Bondi also now sells limestone to buyers in St. Bernard Parish, who then seed them, sink them in saltwater on the levees and generate oyster beds (which takes about three years to develop).
Along with po’boys served on fresh French loafs from local stalwarts Leidenheimer Baking Company, Bondi also buys local when it comes to his oysters, procuring his from long-time preferred vendor Brocato’s Seafood in Hopedale. “They’re good hard-working people, they know where all their oysters come from, and they give a good handshake,” he compliments of Brocato’s before chiming in: “And we love Barq’s root beer cold in the bottle — old school.”
“Getting good product is key in this business,” Bondi says.
Castnet’s seafood suppliers stretch from Texas to the Carolinas. “We work the whole coastline,” Bondi states. “We reach out a lot more — we have to, to provide both variety and freshness.”
Expanding into its current size in steady steps over the first 15 years, he adds that Castnet “might not have survived” its first few years without the appetites of 1,500 workers building the levee across Hayne Boulevard at the time, consuming plenty of Castnet’s 99-cent buns. Today, the business is thriving as the East neighborhood continues to grow and develop.
10826 Hayne Blvd.,
New Orleans, La., 70127