OCEAN CITY – As the holiday season rapidly approaches businesses prepare for the rush of holiday shoppers. Crabcake Factory U.S.A. is also getting ready for the seasonal rush, as they get ready to ship out thousands of orders for the holiday season.
Johnny Brooks, owner and CEO of the Crabcake Factory, sat down with The Dispatch to discuss the shipping process and the growth of the business over the past 12 years.
Crabcake Factory U.S.A. may be known to thousands for its tasty crab cakes and other specialties, but few know that the popular uptown restaurant actually started as a breakfast and lunch diner with no crab cakes on the menu.
Brooks was no stranger to the restaurant business before he opened the Crabcake Factory, with nearly 11 years of restaurant experience under his belt. He was the owner and operator of Terrapin Station in uptown Ocean City when he was approached about opening a restaurant on 120th Street. Brooks explained that a frequent customer of Terrapin Station approached him about opening a restaurant at the 120th Street location, a site that had not fared well for businesses in the past.
Prior to the Crabcake Factory’s success, six restaurants rotated through the location in six years, leaving many to believe it was not a viable location for a variety of reasons, including limited parking. Brooks decided to take a gamble anyway and open a breakfast and lunch diner called Northside Grill.
“One day I decided to put some lump crab cakes on the specials board,” Brooks said, adding that what would become a crab cake phenomenon began with only one can of lump crabmeat that turned into four crab cakes.
“I thought, this is a pretty good idea,” he said, and in 1997, the Crabcake Factory U.S.A was born.
Brooks explained that they began selling crab cakes through a small carryout section in the bar area.
“It pretty much ate the restaurant and took it over,” he said.
Today Crabcake Factory ships crab cakes and other specialties all over the country, all year round. Brooks noted that when they began, they were shipping 50 orders during the week before Christmas, but have increased significantly, with about 3,000 orders shipped last year during the week before Christmas.
“We anticipate about 10,000 orders two days before Christmas this year,” Brooks said.
Orders are shipped Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday through FedEx straight from the 120th Street location. Items are made fresh and flash frozen to seal in the flavor before being shipped. This holiday season the store will be taken over by holiday orders, with three FedEx trucks being dedicated solely to the Crabcake Factory holiday operations. Brooks explained that the shipped items, which range from crab cakes to Maryland crab soup to soft-shell crabs, are a great gift idea or addition to holiday parties. Gift cards are also available through phone, Internet or at the restaurant. Ordering can also be done through the website.
As for the restaurant, there have also been significant changes over the years. Brooks explained it now a year-round operation with the exception of a couple weeks in February, during which they shutdown in order to revamp and make changes. Brooks noted his affinity for change, explaining that the dining room has changed five times in the past five years.
The restaurant expanded to include alcohol six years ago with a carryout beer and wine section. Since then, the bar area has grown to 20 seats.
Forty-two TV’s, six satellites and what Brooks noted as the biggest HD-TV in town can be seen in the bar and dining area of Crabcake Factory. All the sports channels plus the ESPN Game Plan package help add to the sports environment. Brooks joked that although it is a Ravens/Redskins restaurant at heart, all sports teams are welcomed.
Next summer will mark an even bigger expansion with the franchising of the Crabcake Factory. Brooks explained that the same company that franchised The Greene Turtle would be working with them to expand the Crabcake Factory throughout Maryland.
Crabcake Factory keeps the off-season going with a variety of specials. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are also three half-price nights during the off-season. Sunday night features half-price crab cake platters, while Thursdays feature half-price baby back ribs. On Tuesdays, half-price cheese steaks are featured. “We actually do it better than Philly,” Brooks said, boasting about the tasty cheese steak subs.
A $5 lunch special can also be enjoyed daily. Wednesdays have become known at the Crabcake Factory with drink specials from 9 p.m. until midnight. Brooks explained that it’s a great way to begin a Wednesday night out.
With a rapidly growing business that is constantly changing, one thing has remained the same, employees. Brooks explained that the majority of employees return each year, with several summer employees returning for eight or nine years in a row. The manager has been with Brooks for 13 years, since the days of Terrapin Station.
“I really owe a lot to my employees,” Brooks said.