Old-fashioned mullet smoker to close after 43 years of business

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – A Sarasota fisherman is nearing the end of an era.

For 43 years, George Nodaros has been a champion of old school cooking, spending countless Saturday mornings smoking mullet for eager customers. His method is an old fashioned style that’s rarely seen around modern Sarasota.

Using a massive smoker he bought more than 30 years ago, the fisherman smokes his freshly caught mullets for hours on Saturday mornings, starting at the crack of dawn. The recipe is a simple one consisting of salt, pepper, paprika and patience.

Tough work, but for Nodaros, it’s rewarding enough to keep coming back year after year.

“It’s something I enjoy,” he said. “It works like anything else. You don’t get anything for nothing, but I just enjoy it.”

For decades, his passion has paid off. Every Saturday between July and December, he starts selling his fish right outside his house where he prepares them, and every Saturday loyal customers come back to buy up every piece.

Some of them have been swinging by for lunch for decades. John Esola, a fisherman himself, said the fish his friend cooks are a special reminder of the past.

“If you want mullet, the best smoked mullet in town,” Esola said. “It’s old school.”

Nodaros said few, if any, fisherman smoke mullet the way he does anymore. Back in the day it was commonplace, but over the years the craft has faded away.

“They just don’t take the time and the energy to put in the process to do it right,” he said.

It is a lot of work. The mullet, Nodaros explained, must be smoked for at least four hours until the fish becomes tender and juicy without getting overcooked.

He’s spent countless hours standing in front of his massive equipment, feeling waves of smoke blow into his eyes as he cracks open the lid. That hard work, however, pays off every time as customers consistently line up to grab a bite.

“Forty-three years they don’t stop,” Nodaros said. “They come every week from July to December.”

Our crews saw the enthusiasm firsthand watching car after car pull up as we spoke to Nodaros, each driver walking up with cash in hand and a smile on their faces.

However, fans of his cooking are bracing for a change. Soon Nodaros said he will be closing his smoker for the last time, saying his age is catching up to him making it too tough to keep going for much longer.

He expects this year or next to be his final season.

All good things must come to an end, but he said it won’t be easy to walk away after devoting so much of his life to his work.

“It’s going to tear me up because I feel like I’m letting my customers down, and I don’t ever want to do that. They’re just all good people. I just love them to death.”

Even still, there is hope for mullet lovers in Sarasota. Nodaros said he’s talking to some of his younger family members who may take up his mantle by learning to cook fish the same way he always has and take up the tried and true business.

He wants to hand off the spatula, but he has a word of advice for anyone who wants to continue his legacy.

“You’re not going to get rich at this,” he said. “It’s just the pleasure of making other people happy. That’s what I enjoy. That’s it.”

Nodaros serves his smoked mullet every Saturday morning between July and December. The fish is prepared in front of his house, which is located at 3020 40th Street in Sarasota.

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