With Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Lent converging, Shane Billiot made big plans for his two restaurants. The Army veteran ordered a boatload of crawfish for OMG Seafood, his Texas-based locations in San Marcos and Bryant. But when a deep freeze descended on the state, outages made food a scarcity in the community. That’s when he found a way to turn the downed power grid into an opportunity to take care of roughly 1,000 people within OMG’s reach.
Three thousand pounds of crawfish were going bad without refrigeration, and the former soldier says he saw no reason to let the supply diminish with demand peaking at the worst time.
“I decided, let’s go cook ‘em up,” he said, and on February 16, free crawfish was on the menu.
Doing the right thing was easy for him but knowing from experience also contributed.
“I know how it feels to have food insecurity,” Billiot revealed.
Growing up, Billiot didn’t know his mother, had an unstable father, and the family lived in a trailer electricity in rural Louisiana. The food supply was only slightly more reliable. Often “the only time we ate is if we caught something (hunting or fishing),” he says, and open fire served as the stove.
Things got better when public housing became available but life soon turned.
“My dad went to jail when I was nine and I moved to different foster homes,” Billiot said.
He added there was uncertainty and abuse, and depression and PTSD resulted. However, the experiences forged a determined spirit that always had him hoping for better.
“It made me have a strong work ethic because no one gave me anything,” he said. “I have to work and do what I have to do to survive.”
At 16, Billiot entered independent living and began waiting tables and taking college courses. When the attacks of Sept. 11 happened a day before his 22nd birthday, he felt compelled to act. The idea germinated, and combined with financial struggles, he made the decision to enlist in 2003.
His background played a part in easing the transition, though.
“I was used to situations changing very frequently — like they do in the Army,” Billiot said.
So making do on the fly was old hat.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust and adapt,” he said. “It helped me to be a good soldier.”
Billiot was assigned to the 18th Air Brigade and in 2004, he deployed to Bulgaria. A year later, the specialist was on convey patrol in Afghanistan, and his service tragically left an indelible mark.
“We lost 12 people in our unit,” he said.
The tragedy didn’t end there either. His wife’s sister was injured when a generator blew up while serving in Iraq. Spc. Marisol Heredia later died in San Antonio. He describes his service as a double-edge sword.
“The Army was a huge blessing for me,” he said. “It’s got a lot of hurt as well.”
Still, Billiot used free time to study up on business, the stock market, and real estate. So returning to college lay ahead, and in 2007, he did. An associate degree in business technology followed at Baton Rouge Community College.
He was soon working at a finance company and caught the eye of one executive. Seeing Billiot waiting tables one night and learning that the young man was also going to school, the colleague was impressed.
“He took a liking to me,” Billiot said.
The businessman recruited Billiot to help him open a second restaurant.
“That’s when I started in the crawfish business and then I grew to open my own restaurants,” he explained.
Things started slow in 2019, but OMG Seafood took off when Billiot posted on a local news Facebook page.
“I’m from Louisiana, and I want to share our food and culture,” he wrote.
The blip got 7,000 shares. Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused a detour. OMG closed indoor dining and switched to deliveries. Now reopening, he said it’s been tough, but he sees better days soon.
Nonetheless, he’s still focused on what’s most important and before the crawfish, there were free meals for healthcare workers and donations to various local causes.
“I just try to give back as much as I can,” Billiot said. “Because I want to show we have a heart and we do care.”Read comments