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Fledgling seafood chain bringing Alaska crab to the US heartland

With launch of new franchising initiative, restaurant chain hopes to see sustained expansion.

Although it is some 4,000 miles from Alaska’s crab-fishing grounds, the fledgling Shell Shack restaurant chain is looking to bring the Pacific Ocean delicacy to diners in Texas and other parts of the US heartland.

The first crab-boil themed Shell Shack opened in Dallas in 2013. Since then, three additional Texas locations – Plano, Arlington and Mesquite – have come on line, with each unit generating around $4.1 million (€3.8 million) in sales annually.

But far more rapid growth could be on its way for the chain, which is now embarking on a franchising strategy that could bring the restaurant brand to a number of Southwest states and others that border Texas.

“You basically look at the Texas map and expand out one or two states in each direction, and that’s pretty much the growth,” John Glaser, director of Franchise Development for the chain, told IntraFish.

If all goes as planned, he said, you could see Shell Shacks in Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Georgia Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas and Mississippi in the coming years.

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The restaurant fills a market niche between fast-casual and casual-dining, Glaser said.

"It’s a unique segment. We’re not up against Pappadeaux and the big seafood [restaurants] with large menus. That’s not really our target audience.”

Crab, shrimp and crawfish are the heart of the menu. You can find some burgers and chicken items as well, but the focus is on seafood, Glaser said.

“So you have king crab, snow crab, Dungeness crab, crawfish and oysters. We are a family-geared restaurant so there is a lot of table sharing," he said.

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Diners select the seafood they want and then can chose from a selection of flavors that includes Cajun garlic, lemon pepper and the “Kitchen Sink,” which is a mixture of all of the flavors together. From there, diners choose how hot, or spicy, they would like their seafood – mild, medium, hot or "Diablo." The crab is boiled and is mixed with the seasonings and poured out on the table to share or served in a bucket.

Consumers appear to liking the concept. “It’s common for some of our restaurants to have an hour-and-a-half to two-hour wait,” said Glaser.

The chain expects to open two more corporate stores this year and some franchise outlets, with the goal of having eight units open by year’s end, he said.

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