As the sun rises, Jimmy Hayward is already on his boat, checking his pots.
The fisherman goes out three or four times a week, leaving the metal baskets in the water and returning to see what he caught. At 83, Mr. Hayward, owner of Commander Cody’s Fish Market on Shelter Island, still baits for porgies, weakfish, bluefish, blackfish and sea bass.
But he’s not limited to catching just those species.
Aboard the Working Girl 2 on a July afternoon, Hayward spots a spider crab clinging to one of the pots.
“Those things, you can’t eat them,” he says with a laugh. “They ain’t good for nothing, just make your life miserable.”
The usable haul is taken off the boat and loaded into a truck, which then heads a little ways down the road to his market, which he’s owned since the 1980s.
The business began to take shape when Hayward, originally from Charleston, S.C., would sell the catch of the day from his home. He even made local deliveries around town,
“I used to go in the truck to the post office and sell the ladies in the post office fish,” he said. “I would go out in the morning when I had my dragger and I would get 100 pounds of flounder and I’d come home and I’d cut it. And that’s how I built the house.”
In the mid-1990s, Hayward added an extension to the back of his home, making it a formal restaurant.
As guests of the Smith Street eatery travel the gravel driveway, they are greeted by a fence adorned with a plethora of signs shaped like lobsters and chickens and advertising soups and specials. Flowers decorate the porch of the brown-shingled building.
Inside, family pictures adorn the refrigerator behind the table where Hayward slices open a blackfish, cutting it to be sold later that day. The pictures, which also decorate the bathroom, feature Hayward and his daughters, Chloe and Amanda, as well as other friends and family throughout the years.
The photos also include the dogs Hayward, also known as the Commander, has called family over the years. The market’s name is a tribute to one of his pets.
“I had a dog named Cody and my dogs are always with me and he was always on the boat,” Hayward said of his chocolate Lab, who died nearly two decades ago. “So when he died, I decided to give the business a name and put the two together, me and him. They always called me the Commander and then we added Cody.”
But Cody isn’t the only family member to have played a key role in the business.
Hayward’s younger daughter, Amanda, 34, is the chef at the restaurant, whipping up flounder, oyster and shrimp dishes, soups, fried chicken and more.
Many of the vegetables used in the meals, including potatoes and tomatoes, are grown in the garden out back.
Bragging about his children, Hayward notes that Amanda attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and has worked at Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton and other restaurants across the country, including in Las Vegas.
While he’s proud of her accomplishments, he’s also quick to note that he, too, knows his way around a kitchen.
“I had to cook for 12 people,” he said of growing up in Charleston as the oldest of 10 children. “Six girls and four boys and all of us are still living except one … I can handle most anything [in the kitchen.]”
Even at 83, the Commander still works seven days a week. That is, until January and February, when he closes the market and heads down to Charleston to spend time with family.
“That’s when I party, cause I still love to party, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I might be old but I ain’t cold.”
As much as Hayward enjoys a good time, he still looks forward to work and time on the island serving locals and visitors alike.
While he has no plan to retire anytime soon, he hopes that when that day comes, Commander Cody’s will continue.
“That’s why I want Amanda to do it, so she can take it over,” he said, a smile breaking out across his face. “She’s worked here since 10 years old. If she don’t, she got a rock in her head.”