It’s a sunny Wednesday and Joey Lugo is doing what he does: making neighbors feel the love at his restaurant, Shipwreck Seafood Boutique.
“James – how’s your moms?” he asks, fist-bumping a man walking by. “Hey, I got those Reese’s Pieces you like,” he calls out to a little girl, about five, heading home with her mom. She grins, “Can I come tomorrow?”
When Lugo comes outside next to check tables, a woman is asking for money. “You hungry? I got you!” he says, and she smiles, “Yeah,” and takes a seat.
Lugo has been running Shipwreck Seafood Boutique on Bedford and Greene Avenues in Bed-Stuy with generosity and a personal touch for the past four years. In that time, he’s got to know a lot of names.
“You gotta know people by name, this is our Cheers,” he laughs.
He’s quick to let the BK Reader know that he doesn’t usually do interviews. He wants to make sure Shipwreck is for the neighborhood.
“We’re not here to do anything else but take care of our families and our neighborhood and our community, that’s it. Nothing else matters.”
While Lugo typically shies away from the limelight, he can’t stop his neighbors from raving about him on social media.
In a recent post to a Bed-Stuy Facebook group, one local suggests people support the business. Not only because the food is “great,” but also because the owners had been seen giving food to people in need on multiple occasions.
The Bed-Stuy Facebook group doesn’t always agree, but this time was an exception. The post hit more than 100 comments and 680 likes.
Since its opening day, Lugo has made it a Shipwreck Seafood Boutique policy to feed seniors for free every Thursday, from 11:00am to 2:00pm.
“You gotta take care of the elderly, they been here before us, they deserve it. You gotta pay homage,” he said.
Lugo said it got to the point they were feeding 60 to 70 elderly people every Thursday. He says, “sadly,” they had to stop the practice just last week due to numbers blowing out expenses.
As well as feeding the elderly, Shipwreck was also feeding anyone in need through the pandemic. “We were open, it wasn’t easy, we were selling fish but we were also mainly providing for our community,” Lugo said.
He had the idea to reach out to a friend, Tabitha, who had a great shrimp, grits and cheese recipe, and the restaurant started serving up free shrimp ‘n grits every Saturday and Sunday through the pandemic. “A lot of people were hurting. You gotta do what’s right,” Lugo said.
Lugo said he and his family “grew up poor” in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick. His mother, grandmother and great grandmother, who were on welfare, were “incredible women” who molded him into the man he is today.
“I used to deliver milk to a fish store. And then I got a job at the fish store and I could see something I could do for my family where I never had to look back again.”
He spent a number of years selling fresh fish out of his car and home, before joining with business partner Pierre Mallrebanche to open Shipwreck.
“We don’t have fresh fish in this neighborhood,” Lugo said. “I just wanna give the community good quality fish at a reasonable price.”
Today, Shipwreck is a family-owned business made up of Lugo, his wife Francine, sister Alexis, and nephews and cousins, Joey, Tyler, James and Renee.
“I always say, my wife is the brains, I’m just the muscle.”
Every morning, Lugo wakes up at 2:00am to head to Hunts Point in the Bronx and hand-pick the catches of the day. He gets back by 4:30am and starts unloading and filleting.
When the BK Reader went to the store this Wednesday, the daily special was grilled yellowfin tuna with grilled jumbo shrimp and salad. “I guarantee the product every day,” Lugo said.
Indeed, it can only be a good sign that, on this day, a couple of Food Safety Inspectors from the NYC Department of Health have chosen Shipwreck as their lunch spot of choice.
And if Lugo doesn’t know them by name already, it’s not going to be long before he’s asking how their moms are. It’s just what he does.
“When they come here, everybody’s equal, everybody’s the same,” he says. “No divide.”
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