In the 1960s, entrepreneur Rodney Thompson owned T-Craft Boat Company. During this time, T-Craft Boat Company was one of Florida’s premier boat builders. Most people thought wood was the best material for hulls, but Rodney thought he would try using fiber-glass hulls. Rodney started with building his own racing boat, then applied what he learned to construct recreational boats that were sold nationwide. Rodney decided to move on to bigger dreams and built the Western Hemisphere’s first fiberglass shrimp trawler, the R.C. Brent Jr, in 1968.
Rodney believed that shrimpers would embrace his new idea, but the old timers were stuck in their ways and Rodney could not sell this revolutionary vessel. Rodney knew these old ways wouldn’t open new doors, but to make ends meet he went from building boats to becoming a fisherman.
At first he could not catch enough brown or white shrimp to turn a profit. Then one afternoon Rodney and his crew happened to pull into Port Canaveral-empty handed again- right next to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Research Vessel, Oregon II skippered by a Captain Barrett. Captain Barrett looked at the trawler’s empty nets and asked “Do you want to make a million dollars? I’ll show you how!”
The very next day, Rodney and his crew followed the Oregon II to a location twenty miles off the coast of Melbourne where they caught over a thousand pounds of a hard-shelled shrimp called “peanuts” (also called “trash” or “hardheads”). “Captain Barrett told Rodney “If you can figure out how to sell these, you’ll be a millionaire!”
Rodney knew Captain Barrett was right; he just had to find out how. Pondering his “peanut predicament,” Rodney and his family spent many nights around the kitchen table working to solve this puzzle. Lo and behold, one of his daughter’s, suggested they treat it like a small lobster: split and butterﬂy the little peanuts and drizzle them with a little butter.
They were delicious – and a whole new industry was born! Rodney went on to develop the first splitter able to process this hard-shelled shrimp. It’s the basis of the same machine still used today at Wild Ocean where we hand-process chemical free “Split & Cleaned Rock Shrimp.”
While Rodney’s discovery did not lead to “millionaire status,” his first shrimp trawler opened up an industry that introduced many independent boat owners to a new, clean sustainable type of shrimp to harvest. Rodney continued his production of fiberglass commercial fishing vessels under the name of Thompson Trawlers. The fiberglass boats eventually became widely accepted and are still fishing the waters in the U.S. and Caribbean.
An economic downturn in the late 70’s affected commercial boat sales and Rodney was faced with moving on. He opened up a seafood market and found that everyone wanted their seafood cooked for them. From his cooking experience in the Air Force, the world-famous Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant evolved from a small seafood market to a place where patrons could have local-caught seafood dinners made to order.
Now in its fourth decade of operation, Dixie Crossroads has become an icon on the East Coast of Florida. After 24-plus years serving some of Florida’s best seafood, Rodney & MaryJean were ready to pass the torch on to their daughters. Laurilee stayed with Dixie Crossroads. Sherri, like her Dad, had the vision to partner with another family and develop Wild Ocean Seafood Market featuring premium, wild-caught seafood from Florida. One of the last boats Rodney built still fishes for Wild Ocean Seafood Market.