From dress suits to shrimp boots

Photo provided by FOX 8 in New Orleans
Friday, November 18, 2011 - 4:47pm

NEW ORLEANS, LA (FOX8) -- A high profile trial attorney traded in her dress suits for shrimp boots. No, it’s not the storyline out of a movie, it’s the real life of Mindy Nunez, who one day, decided to turn her life, upside down.

Mindy Nunez knows her way around a boat dock. The St. Bernard Parish native grew up helping her dad Marty, a commercial fisherman, doing everything from cleaning his boat to helping to bring in the daily catch. Fishing, quite simply, is in her blood.

But life hasn’t always been easy for the Nunez family. Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home, and all of their belongings. And the family’s boat, the Marty Boy, was also destroyed. Through it all, the family stayed together, but then Nunez decided she wanted to leave St. Bernard and trade in her shrimp boots, for high heels. “I spent a year and a half trying cases and I probably tried over 50 jury trials,” Nunez explained.

The fisherman’s daughter became a trial attorney in one of the biggest cities in the country, Chicago. “It’s really hard to talk me out of something once I decide, ok this is what I want to do. I feel passionate about this,” Nunez said.

And what a decision it was. Nunez was working in the Sears Tower, hob-nobbing with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. It was the time of her life. “I really liked advocating on behalf of things I cared about,” Nunez said.

But then, tragedy struck the family again, when the Gulf oil spill happened. “My first thought was my gosh what is this going to do to the industry?” Nunez said.

It was a fear also shared by her dad. “When we started realizing that they couldn't stop it and the amount of oil that was going to be put into the Gulf, we knew some kind of way it was going to affect us,” Marty Nunez explained.

Thousands of fishermen lost their livelihoods and struggled to survive, financially. Nunez watched from afar as her father tried to stay afloat. Then she realized, no matter how much money or notoriety she would gain in Chicago, it would all mean nothing, if her family’s life was destroyed. So, she made the biggest decision of her life and traded in the dress suits for shrimp boots. She quit her high-profile job in the windy city, and moved back home, to start a company that would help Louisiana fishermen sell their seafood, at a time when no one thought it was safe. “It’s very easy for other people to look in from the outside and say, oh I don't know, I don't know what’s happening down there,” Nunez said.

But she had a direct source to tell her what was happening, her dad. And when her dad told her the seafood was safe to eat, she knew it was time to come help him and the other fishermen sell their product. “I thought, hey I have this intimate connection to commercial fishing and to the commercial fishing industry and let me go back and try to bridge the gap I think exists between the fishermen, the people who are out there busting their butts and the people who are enjoying this great Louisiana seafood,” Nunez explained.

So she created Islenos Seafood. Nunez picks up fish every afternoon from the docks in Yscloskey and then delivers it to people all over the state.

The career change from trial attorney to seafood vendor wasn’t exactly an easy one for Nunez. “It’s nothing compared to working at a big firm in Chicago. And you know, my office was in....first I worked in the United building and then I worked on the 56th floor of the Sears Tower. I had a nice window view, I wore suits. I’m driving my mini cooper and then I come to Louisiana in the middle of the summer and I’m wearing shorts and sweating in a pick-up truck, peeling shrimp,” Nunex explained.

It was a move her family wasn’t expecting either. “It surprised me,” Marty Nunez said.

But one she says is fulfilling. And one that she felt in her gut, she had to make.

On this day, she has an order Uptown. Frank Relle has been a faithful customer of Nunez’s ever since she started her company, in May. “Living in southern Louisiana, you know that there’s all these fishermen catching stuff every day. You go to the grocery store and see all these seafood from the other side of the country and you think where is this fish? We have fish right there in the Gulf. How do I get my hands on that fish? That's the fish I want to eat. I want to eat right from our coast, support our local people,” Relle explained.

But local fishermen say they’re still struggling to deal with lagging sales after the spill. “October is usually our busiest month but it just wasn't there this month, at all,” Marty Nunez said.

Which is exactly why Nunez says her new mission is so important. To help people understand that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat. “I thought, hey I advocate every day in the courtroom, for something that isn’t particularly close to my heart, so I should take those skills and apply them where they matter and where I think it'll make me happy, and that's here in south Louisiana,” Nunez said.

Mindy’s dad says her sacrifice for the family is inspiring. “We're definitely proud of her, she did good, and we know anything she does, she's going to do good at it,” Marty Nunez said.

Mindy says she is truly happy. Happy to be home, and happy to be working side by side with her dad, trying to help him survive. Because after all, family, according to Nunez, always comes first.


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