Not even one seafood specialist ranked within the first 30 slots on this year’s Top 500 sales ranking from Technomic, and only three—Red Lobster, Captain D’s and Bonefish Grill—placed among the 100 highest-grossing chains. But far lower on the list are the makings of a subsegment whose participants intend to crabwalk their way up the roster.
Such full-service concepts as Boiling Crab, Crafty Crab, Angry Crab and Hook & Reel specialize in seafood boils—a batch of shellfish and other seafoods that are usually cooked in some type of pressure-building container, be it a pot or a sealed plastic bag. The food cooks quickly without losing flavor, which is often enhanced with proprietary spice mixes that blend with the proteins’ juices.
The finished product is reminiscent of a New England clambake or a Louisiana crawfish boil.
The fastest-growing among them is Hook & Reel, whose 65 units generated systemwide sales in 2021 of $80.2 million, or roughly double the volume of the prior year. That placed the brand as the seventh fastest grower in terms of year-over-year sales growth among the Top 500.
Sales pencil out to an average unit volume of about $1.6 million, closer to the mean of Captain D’s, a quick-service operation, than Red Lobster’s $3.4 million.
But the operations run lean and mean. The company did not respond to Restaurant Business’ request for an interview, but a visit to one of its stores underscored the focus on containing costs. Tables are covered with patterned butcher-paper-like sheets. Utensils and napkins are provided in bulk, eliminating the need to fully set tables after every turn.
The décor is simple, with even the booths sporting hard-surfaced seat backs. The seafood motif is delivered via decorations like fake starfish and nautical touches right out of a 1960s rec room.
The result is a menu of high-quality seafood—king and Dungeness crab are staples—at an attractive price. For $55, two guests can split a seafood boil that includes two “clusters” of king crab legs, a pound of clams, a pound of shrimp, two potatoes and two half-ears of corn.
“Mini boils,” or servings for one, run as low as $8 (a half-pound of mussels, two potatoes and a piece of corn).
Patrons can custom-build their boils through a la carte selections, starting with a half-pound of clams for $7.50.
Lunch-type items include several types of po’boy sandwiches, soups and protein-topped salads.
The visited unit featured a full bar. Domestic beers were bargain-priced at $3.99 each, and margaritas are a specialty.
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Many of the items are common to other brands in the emerging seafood-boil segment. But the features don’t necessarily turn crabs into gold. One stalwart of the group, The Lost Cajun, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2021.
The Top 500 is an annual ranking of U.S. restaurant chains by their systemwide sales. It is compiled by Technomic. a division of Restaurant Business parent Winsight Media.
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