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Mel’s Fish Shack Captures Waves of Tradition in Savory Fried and Grilled Fish
By Betti Halsell, Staff Writer
Published September 24, 2020

 

Mel’s Fish Shack owner, Georgette Powell          photo E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel

Mel’s Fish Shack is about legacy.

Mel’s Fish Shack is about legacy. Located on Jefferson Boulevard, in the heart of the Crenshaw District, the aquamarine-colored venue’s door stands open, filling the air with enchanting smells of freshly fried catfish and soul food cuisine. The shack is a staple in the collective community; Mel’s Fish Shack was cultivated by the waves of the collective culture and continues to be a pillar that stands strong as the impacts float in from the tidal wave that is COVID-19.

“Black people ate fish on Friday’s …” declared Georgette Powell, the second-generation owner of Mel’s Fish Shack. She provided the background setting behind her family taking root in the seafood dining experience. Powell depicted the origins of her father’s journey, leading him to open his own seafood restaurant in 1982. According to Powell, within that timeframe, it was tradition for many people from the collective community to eat fish on Fridays, Mel Powell made the wise decision to open his own Fish Shack.

Fried Catfish Filet platter with mixed green salad and hush puppies. Courtesy photo

This place is where one goes to find real flavor; Mel’s Fish Shack has a unique method to prepare a meal that will tantalize everyone’s taste buds. They know the importance of fresh ingredients and the kitchen has gone through decades of perfecting the craft of frying and grilling fish.

(L-R, bottom): Georgette Powell, Mel Powell (Top): Janie Powell. Courtesy of Mel’s Fish Shack

 

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Powell explained the wide spectrum of fried catfish; she preferably likes her catfish to be fried hard. Mel’s cornmeal and seasoning blend is used on their signature catfish and has been passed down through the family; one can taste the rich history of experience and evolution of the seasonings in every bite. Powell made a point that Mel’s Fish Shack took it a step further with having their hot sauce imported from Louisiana and measured to fit the meal that is ordered.

The menu continues to adapt to the tastebuds of the community; Powell shared her concern about the guests that she feeds. She wanted to have a place they can trust to explore a healthier pallet of foods. Powell stated, “I wanted to create something that was healthy and tasted good, make their pallets happy.”  She went on to describe the development of their salad dressing that also pairs well on the grilled catfish.

Owner, Georgette Powell preparing food in Mel’s Fish Shack.          Photo E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel

No frozen fish and never greasy are pillars that sit at the base of Mel’s Fish Shack’s method of preparation. Powell stated, “You have to know how to prepare it so that cornmeal and the seasoning sticks to the fish,” she said effortlessly, as if the knowledge was ingrained into her by her father before he passed in 2001. Although grounded in their tradition, Powell stated they have a different approach to creating a great meal, to always be original in flavor.

 

(Center): Georgette Powell, second-generation owner of Mel’s Fish Shack with niece, Ayanna Harris and Taste of Soul rep. Lauren Brazil.   Photo E. Mesiyah McGinnis / Sentinel

 

Grilled Shrimp Salad lunch Courtesy photo

The story behind the sea-colored shack comes out of a place of social justice, selected artist Dezcjon Lathrop was commissioned to bring a cleansing color story to the little shack on Jefferson Blvd. Powell stressed her frustration with all of the police brutality and unjust murders happening.  She explained the Shack’s unique hue by saying, “It was commissioned because we need to pay attention and shed some light on the social injustices that have been happening.” She continued to unveil the symbolic tale that lives on the walls of Mel’s Fish Shack.

As much as COVID-19 has taken away, it also revealed the occasion to rise to new heights. With an overnight skyrocket demand, Powell broke down the swift and shift adjustments to meet the workload that came on the high tides of a global pandemic.

Mel’s Fish Shack owner, Georgette Powell, TOS Founder, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., and Ayanna Harris. Photo E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel

She provided an inside view of the impact of food delivery service apps slamming the kitchen with crazy amounts of orders. In a vulnerable moment, Powell shared her feeling of guilt for not being able to get a handle on the threshold of new traffic at first. Through this experience, Powell explained the accelerated growth the Shack had to take to meet their new speed of business. They went from one cook holding down the whole kitchen for the day, to three cooks with their areas of focus and a well-oiled system of assembly.

Powell closed with her philosophy that the blue crush color shack abides by, “I wanted to make sure that we talk about the importance of maintaining and sustaining legacy.”  She continued, “We really need to preserve our cultural legacies and make sure we leave something behind for future generations to draw on. We’ve done a lot of things throughout history and a lot of times our stories get lost … I think it is important to keep our community tight.”

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More information and the menu of Mel’s traditional and soulful dishes can be found at melsfishshack.com. The restaurant is also available on major food delivery apps.

Categories: A Taste of Soul | Business | Crenshaw & Around | Local | Restaurant
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