You always remember your first: your first kiss, first car, first job. For the new chef and co-owner of Market by the Bay, he's right back where he started.Michael Sullivan grew up in Daphne and …
You always remember your first: your first kiss, first car, first job. For the new chef and co-owner of Market by the Bay, he's right back where he started.
Michael Sullivan grew up in Daphne and graduated from Daphne High School in 2004. Throughout his youth he worked at his mother's Mobile bakery, Delish Desserts. He admits desserts and baking are not his favorite, but his experience cooking dinner for the family when his mother worked late developed his love of the savory cooking.
After graduating he headed to culinary school in Birmingham, but when he returned to the Eastern Shore in 2006, he had a challenging time finding a job.
"That is when I found Market by the Bay. They had just added on their restaurant side. It used to just be a fish market," Sullivan said. "I put an application in, and they hired me on the spot."
In Sullivan's memory, no one locally was making gumbo and po-boys. He said he would arrive at 9 a.m., and before opening at 11 a.m. they would have call in orders for 30 or 40 po-boys.
After a year at Market by the Bay, Sullivan, like many chefs, traveled around. He spent two years working offshore and credits that for helping him to grow up. Then he took a position as a production chef at a casino in Milwaukee, gaining experience in high volume and fast-paced kitchens. After a few years he felt the pull of home.
"I came back and worked in my mom's restaurant. That was the start of me doing me. She let me run the kitchen and I boosted their business," Sullivan said.
He took the dessert-focused business with a small lunch selection and upscaled the lunch side. He also gave them a social media presence. But after five years it was time for a new challenge.
Sullivan landed at Rosie's in Daphne (where Southwood Kitchen is now). He took a position as a cook and worked his way up to lead chef. During his time there he boosted their brunch business and social media and added his own twist to the menu. After two or three years, Sullivan seized another opportunity.
"I left the restaurant business and went to the senior living hospitality business. I saw an ad for a job at Atria Senior Living in Mobile. It was great. The hours were great, I could be home by 7 p.m., had benefits where in a lot of small restaurants you don't. I was the kitchen manager and did that for three or four years at the Mobile location," Sullivan said.
Through his work with Atria, Sullivan had the opportunity to travel the country while working at senior living centers within the company. As a professed foodie, he explored the cuisine of each area as well. His last three years with Atria were spent as the Regional Culinary Specialist in the New York area. He moved to New York just before the global COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, nothing changed for him career-wise, as he oversaw 30 facilities, trained staff and turned around bad situations.
A change in management and the pull of family brought him back to Daphne just two months ago. On a whim, he quit his job and moved home without a plan.
He got together with his old school mate (and managing partner at Manci's and Buster's Brick Oven) Garrett DeLuca. Together they came up with a food truck concept and were full steam ahead. They had found a truck to rent, got a business license, created a menu and were approved by the health department. Then the news broke on social media that Market by The Bay was closing.
"I have always kept in touch with the LeJeune family. They always treated me very well. I went in to pay my respects and to get a last meal and Victor LeJeune offered me this deal," Sullivan said.
It was an offer he couldn't refuse. He headed straight to Buster's Brick Oven to talk to DeLuca and Harry Johnson (partner at Manci's and Buster's Brick Oven).
"I think both were a little skeptical at first, but then were on board. We are all equal partners, and we officially took over last week," Sullivan said.
As soon as they signed the papers, Sullivan and DeLuca wanted to put something on the sign at Market by the Bay to get the buzz going. They posted, "Sea you in September" on the sign, then posted it on social media without adding more context. Inquiring minds wanted to know and their inboxes quickly filled.
The loyal Market by the Bay customers will see some changes, but nothing drastic. Sullivan believes you shouldn't fix something that isn't broken.
What is changing?
"Not a knock to the LeJeune's, but they never updated their prices on the menu, which I think hurt them a lot. You must keep up with the times. People know gas is $4 a gallon but people still have to get gas. People have always paid for good gumbo, always paid for great seafood, so as long as you have a good product, I don't think that is going to stop us," Sullivan said.
What is staying the same?
"They had a really good thing going so I don't want to change it too much. If you can make it anywhere for 20 years that is great. They did and they could have gone longer. They didn't shut down because they weren't busy," Sullivan said.
Robin LeJeune said his family is looking forward to seeing Market by the Bay continue to be a fixture in Daphne.
"These young guys are going to have the energy and ability to make it their own. We want them to transform, do what they need to do to make it their own and push Market by the Bay and continue it on. It gives us great joy to see how it transforms into the future and the name is still around," LeJeune said.
"Being here and being a part of Daphne has been a wonderful thing for our family and myself," he said. "It is very exciting to see the continuation of the name, however they want to make it their own."
His first job out of culinary school has now become the first restaurant he can call his own.
When asked what it feels like to come full circle, Sullivan said, "It feels great. It felt like it was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. I left my job on a whim, moved down, went out to eat and this fell in my lap. There is a part of me that wants to make them (the LeJeune family) feel proud of it."