How Croatian native Misho Ivic built an oyster empire on the Gulf Coast
By K. Pica Kahn
Misho Ivic, owner of Misho’s Oyster Company, one of the three largest oyster producers in Texas, didn’t start out in Texas or in the oyster business. Originally from Croatia, Ivic’s father, an engineer and a professor, told him he needed to leave his homeland for a better life in the U.S.
“When I was 11, he said, ‘this is not a country for you,’”said Ivic. “‘Go to America, but get an education first.” He had been asked to join the communist party three times and refused. He wanted a better life for me. My father was raised by the Franciscan monks after his mother died when he was a child, and he was suppose to be a monk. Someone in our family had been a monk for 300 years.”
But life had other plans for the father. Speaking five languages, his father was one of a few people who could communicate with Yugoslavian/Croatian business people, so that and his work as an engineer helped him support his family in style. He was sent to South America where he was able to earn a good deal of money and upon his return, he was asked to be a professor. So the son also went to university to become an engineer.
He got a job in the oyster industry making $20 a day as a deckhand on an oyster boat. The second year, Ivic bought his first oyster boat, a 50-foot boat for $8,000. As his own boss, he had job security, couldn’t get fired and learned the trade. Without finishing his degree, he came to this county at the age of 32 and finished his education at the University of New Orleans as a mechanical engineer in 1976 after working for over two years in Croatia in the oyster industry.
“I was advised by a friend to go to Texas and buy an oyster lease, which I did,” said. “I came to Texas and in 1977 I bought three leases. My dad said you need to work as an engineer, so I did that too.”
He worked designing several boats and equipment. He was also involved in designing some conveyers for oysters. He now had eight boats and six leases producing 420 acres of oysters.
“In 1983, I went to work as a mud engineer making $54,000 a year as an engineer and making $120,000 in oysters. I was married by that time and had four kids, and I’m still with the same woman 45 years later.
“That was the last time I ever worked for anyone again. I had the oyster business, and I never went back to engineering. I decided we needed to buy a dock.”
However, the property he wanted in San Leon was $150,000 and he couldn’t afford it. But after Alicia, the owner went down to $50,000 and Misho had his docks.
He now has seven docks, he owns four and leases three. With six children, all but two of them work in the family business living within 15 miles of each other from League City to San Leon. They are all hard workers, he said, and they all seem to adore their father. The feeling is mutual, he says. The family’s closeness and devotion to both the family and the business helps, they believe, to make them successful.
“People can feel how much we care,” said daughter Annie. “I think it even makes our oysters taste better,” she jokes.
Emily, is a teacher in Austin and Kathy is in Croatia, involved in real estate and is a good mother. Annie, is in business with dad. Michael is his right-hand man, while Annie and Joy work in the oyster business in administration. Francis is a mom with three kids. Unlike some families they get long well and spend a lot of time together.
“I love my family and I love oysters. I eat them almost every day,” he said. “I like Gilhooley’s restaurant for oysters. I liked them so much, I bought the restaurant recently. Oysters need brackish water; part saltwater and part freshwater. Gilhooley’s make them with Parmesan cheese and charbroils them. They are delicious.
“Our oysters are not processed, have no hormones or preservatives, and they are pure as can be and very good for you. In countries where they eat a lot of oysters, there is almost no diabetes or heart disease and they attribute that to the oysters. They help blood move throughout the body. That is why they are thought of as an aphrodisiac.”
Misho’s Oyster Company is among the top three oyster companies in Texas although they sell all over the country from Texas to Virginia and Maryland. Half are sold in Texas.
“I am very proud of the company, but all my life, I have been riding a roller coaster. I never feel secure,” he said. “You never know when everything can change. If I have to, I can always go back to working on the boats, but not for $20 a day. No more deckhand for me. This time I will be the captain!”