In a county known for catfish camps along the Tombigbee River, Mike and Sandy Scott are growing, harvesting and selling a catch of the day most Alabamians associate with neighbors down on the bayou – clawed, crimson and crustaceous crawfish.
Choctaw County’s Bama Crawfish, the Scott family business, is one of the first documented crawfish farms in Alabama and distributes 4,000 pounds of crawfish weekly to customers from Demopolis and Camden to Starkville, Mississippi.
“Over the years, I’ve established relationships with my customers,” said Mike, 53. “If our product is good, they’re going to come back.”
Mike, a registered forester, and Sandy, a certified public accountant, are both Mississippi State University graduates who never planned on operating a booming crawfish business when they moved to Butler in 1991. But after Mike began wholesaling crawfish for a friend in the Mississippi Delta, he expanded into Butler. That led to a gig cooking crawfish at a local restaurant, which then boiled over into selling out of his ForestSouth, Inc. business office.
“It just got bigger and bigger,” said Mike.
In 2004, Mike dug three ponds on swampland right outside town. To his surprise, the land was home to naturally occurring crawfish populations, which he attributes to the ponds’ productivity.
“My ponds are very productive for the amount of acreage we have,” said Mike, whose ponds total 20 water acres and average 1,000 pounds of harvested crawfish weekly. The other three-fourths of Bama Crawfish’s wholesale product comes from a family in Louisiana – the Landrys, stars of History Channel’s “Swamp People.”
To catch the freshwater crustaceans, wire traps filled with artificial bait are lodged in the bottom of knee-deep ponds. Crawfish crawl in from the bottom and are harvested every few days using a Louisiana-built push boat.
“This is the way they do it in Louisiana,” said Mike, whose live crawfish sales run from February to June. “This is how the majority of farmers do it.”
In 2007, the Bama Crawfish restaurant moved out of Mike’s forestry office to its current location in the heart of Butler under the water tower. Open Friday and Saturday nights from February to May, they serve classic boiled crawfish with potatoes, corn and sausage, boiled shrimp, raw oysters and crawfish-topped pizza.
“We’ve found the way we like it best and stuck with it,” said Mike about his family’s crawfish-boiling technique, especially when it comes to their secret spice blend.
Bama Crawfish has been Mike’s baby from the start, but when the restaurant opened, Sandy, his wife of 25 years, jumped on board. Their children, Logan, 22, and Gray, 19, both students at the University of West Alabama, also pull their weight at the restaurant and on the farm, where the Scotts also have 20 head of cattle.
“It turned from a hobby into a business,” said Sandy, whose busiest time of year – tax season – coincides with crawfish season. “And since our kids have graduated high school, the restaurant gives me a chance to see people I don’t normally get to see.”
The restaurant also caters events like wedding receptions and birthday parties – even the University of West Alabama’s annual alumni crawfish boil.
“We wouldn’t be here if the town didn’t support us,” said Sandy, who makes an effort to hire locals at the crawfish shack, as she and Mike affectionately call their business.
Timmy Brannan has been Bama Crawfish’s head chef for six years and is part of the Scott family, according to Sandy.
“We’re here to please the public,” Brannan said. “There’s not a whole lot of people who do this.”
The Scotts, whose farm property is insured by Alfa Insurance, have a special relationship with their local agent, Alex Deshotels, whose family back in Louisiana owns a crawfish processing plant.
“We know a lot of the same people in Louisiana who helped Mike get his business off the ground,” said Deshotels, who attends church with the Scotts and frequents Bama Crawfish.
Although crawfish prices fluctuate during the season, demand tends to stay up. However one thing remains the same for Bama Crawfish: a solid, unusual product people love.
For Mike, he still loves mudbugs, but doesn’t eat too many these days.
“If I go to a crawfish boil, I’ll eat as many as anybody,” he said. “Here (at the restaurant), I stick to quality control.”