Collins began working for the Galbreath family, who owned Marko's Drive-In and Aunt Catfish on the River, when he was 19 years old.
Brendan Galbreath, who owns Aunt Catfish on the River, said the restaurant has endured because of three key factors: a strong foundation established by his father, Jim; a good location; and long-time employees.
Among those employees is Morris Collins, who announced he will soon retire after working for the Galbreath family for more than 40 years.
Collins history with Aunt Catfish began before the restaurant was founded.
In the 1950s, Ann Galbreath founded Marko’s Drive-In, which she named after her husband.
Marko’s closed for a short period of time in the 60s before her son, Jim, bought it. The 16-seat restaurant eventually gained momentum, growing to about 450 seats and serving more than 1,000 guests during the summer peak season.
Riding on the restaurant’s success, Jim purchased an old fishing dock off the Dunlawton Bridge, known as Dave’s Dock, and opened Aunt Catfish on the River.
Collins, who was 19 years old at the time, worked as the manager at Marko’s, where he and his wife, Tammy, met when she was hired as a cashier.
Collins later became the manager of Aunt Catfish, and Tammy became the office manager. He has worked there since November 1978 and witnessed the grand opening in February 1979.
In 1995, Jim sold Marko’s, but Aunt Catfish remained. Nearly 10 years ago, his son, Brenden, took over the family business.
“I’ve seen four generations of the family,” Collins said. “I’m going to miss it, but I’m ready.”
Collins said he has seen a lot of the changes, primarily growth and development. He said he remembers when the Port Orange Police Department was a trailer across the street.
Over the years, he has enjoyed the customers above all else.
“That’s the business,” he said. “You’re nice to the customers, and they’re nice to you.”
Though Tammy said she isn’t retiring soon, she said working with the people has been the best part of the job.
She said the city and restaurant have grown a lot, but customers, including those who return from other states, remain the same.
“You recognize their voices when they come in,” she said.
Many co-workers have come and gone.
Morris said bout 300 continue cooking, washing dishes, serving, seating, prepping food and more in different shifts.
Many employees are high school or college students working during their time off. Though they don’t often return after graduating, their children eventually seek employees years down the road.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Tammy said.
“It makes me feel a little old,” Morris said.
Brendan, who began working with his father when he was 13, said it is not going to be easy letting go of Morris and Tammy.
For as long as he remembers, he said the pecking order was his father, Morris and him.
“And I’m not even sure I’m third,” Brendan said.
He said Morris was instrumental in continuing Jim’s legacy, and though he’s retiring in February, they already are creating a list of tasks he has performed daily through the years, many unwritten.
“I hope he doesn’t change his phone number,” Brendan said.
Morris, who lives in New Smyrna Beach two houses down from where Tammy grew up, said it will be hard not to come back.
“It’s hard to say how long I’ll miss it,” he said.