Longtime friends Gwen Niles and Fifi Bell-Clanton shared a food passion–crabs. And it led to a successful new business, The Crabby Shack.
Bell-Clanton grew up eating crabs in Philadelphia on a regular basis. And all kinds of crabs, too–Blue crab, Dungeness crab, and Alaskan Snow crab. But in New York City she just could not find quality crabs. As a child Niles, likewise, dined on scrumptious crab as her father, who is from the Chesapeake Bay area, always brought crabs home after his business trips. Niles, too, was frustrated by the void of good crabs in NYC.
While eating out at a popular crab restaurant in Los Angeles, Bell-Clanton shared her idea of opening a crab eatery in Brooklyn with Niles and Che’nelle, their initial investor. And that is how Crabby Shack was born. It’s located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
The two left behind their careers in music and fashion, and became first-time restaurant owners.
“We were both tired of our industries. I came from music and Fifi came from fashion. Food had become a hobby for us. We both loved to entertain and our houses would be the place where our friends would come over to eat,” explains Niles. “One night, Fifi told me about her idea of opening a crab restaurant and I told her that i was definitely interested. We did not speak about it again until one night a couple months later after a hard day at the job I called her up and asked if she still wanted to do it. That was December 2013.”
The community got right behind the idea. The Crabby Shack was opened on July 30th, 2014, following a 30-day Kickstarter run. “We have had a great deal of support from the community. It warms my heart when people tell us that they are proud of us and that they really enjoy our food. It makes the long hours and hard work all worth it,” says Niles.
The friends and business partners did have some challenges to overcome, such as finding the right employees. “Our biggest challenge is staffing. There is high turnover in this industry which was something that was hard to get used to. We have some great people now, but it took us almost a year to feel like we were comfortable with our team,” notes Niles.
But the Crabby Shack has fast developed a solid following. “Our key to success is all about serving up high-quality, good food and a product that you can’t find just anywhere,” says Niles, who says the concept isn’t just about a place to eat crabs, but about an entire experience.
“We want The Crabby Shack to be more than a restaurant; we want it to be an experience,” adds Niles. “As soon as you walk into The Crabby Shack, you are greeted with a smile. The design and layout is a nautical theme that is light and airy and even if it’s dreary outside we want you to be immediately transported to a seaside location. We encourage questions about the food and menu and we are happy to give feedback. Our goal is to have our customers walk out feeling better than they did when they walked in.”