Chicago has had its share of great restaurants with a world-class reputation for some of the best food that has influenced American cuisine. Much of our American food history has come from the culinary skills of Black slaves and our Southern roots. What we’ve come to know today as Soul food, many chefs from various backgrounds have remixed the term from “Soul” to “Southern” comfort food. Our roots run even deeper as seafood has gathered much tastier options through simple methods of cooking. None could be closer to the popular seafood boil craze that has taken over more Northern cities.
A new restaurant has opened its doors to welcome customers into the world of seafood bibs, paper table coverings and messy eating. The Crazy Crab Chicago is located at 9204 S. Western in the Evergreen Park community. The brainchild of Martin and Cindy King, the intimate sit-down restaurant is open seven days a week and boosts a diverse menu.
Martin King is no stranger to the business world and has a long history, growing up on the Southside of Chicago. As a young community activist and member of Operation Push, now Rainbow PUSH—he’s worked closely with Rev. Jesse Jackson over the years since his presidential run in 1984.
Over the years, King has worked in every area imaginable in nurturing community and political relationships throughout the country. As a successful attorney, he served as board chair of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and worked closely in developing several of the organization’s programs.
His vision to create a viable business on the South Side was another extension of building jobs and providing management training for African-Americans.
When you enter The Crazy Crab, its dining room is welcoming and provides a family-friendly environment with a warm wait staff. The menu offers an array of options aside from the various seasonings to accompany either the shrimp or crab leg boil bags. Each hearty serving includes corn on the cob and red-skin potato boils and marinated juices that will keep the paper towels in full use.
Other menu items range from chicken wings, chicken tenders to the tasty lobster roll sandwich, shrimp po’boy, calamari, fried shrimp, fried catfish—and other non-shellfish items.
With an aggressive plan in place to eventually open a franchise of 30+ locations throughout the Midwest in the next few years—King is committed to open three new locations in the next four to six months.
What encouraged you to open a seafood restaurant in Evergreen Park?
We traveled to San Diego, California, and we saw several concepts that served seafood in the bag. We came back to Chicago, we saw some concepts (mostly on the North Side) that did it as well and we thought it just made sense to have this concept on the South Side. There aren’t many sit down restaurants on the South Side of Chicago, particularly not seafood. If you want a sit-down dinner, you’d have to go to Red Lobster, which is usually located somewhere between five or eight miles outside of the African-American community.
In the last few years Chicago restaurants have adapted more ‘Down South’ influenced seafood boils. The variety of seasonings and preparation has been in the African-American community for a long time.
I agree—I think that our culture is changing in terms of people wanting to eat a little healthier and seafood is a great option to eat healthier. In terms of the boil—the seafood in the bag concept—it was created in the South on the coast, in areas such as New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama where you get shrimp and crawfish pretty regularly and pretty easily in the Gulf region.
In the Midwest, seafood was kind of restricted because you have to fly everything in so I think that now that you have so many suppliers out there that serve or that supply fresh seafood, there’s opportunity now to bring it into the Midwest and bring it into the urban areas.
The Crazy Crab Chicago is one of the few Black-owned and operated businesses in Evergreen Park. Do you make it a point to employ people of color?
Sure—a majority of our staff is African-American. We don’t discriminate but we do try to hire people with similar backgrounds. We try to give these young people an opportunity to see an owner of a restaurant be involved on a daily basis. My theory, ‘if you can’t see it, then you can’t have it’. I’m also a professor at Chicago State University and I teach business—Business Law as well as business plan writing and entrepreneurship. So, many of our young people have not seen entrepreneurship close up and I think it’s important that I engage them and show them that you’re not just the dishwasher or you’re not just the cook.
You’re a professor at CSU teaching students the do’s and don’ts of business. Have you encountered speedbumps in the road running your business?
You run into snags all the time–undisciplined employees along with commodity items having price increases along the way. Anytime you build a business from the ground up—this is not a franchise—you run into some challenges and you just have to find solutions to those challenges and work your way through them. We’ve had a lot of support from our community, especially from the Evergreen Park community. We’ve had the benefit of good fortune and a lot of God’s grace.
What makes The Crazy Crab successful in providing great service?
My wife Cindy is very involved, I have a good crew of kitchen staff and a great wait staff. I would say that customer service for our servers is second to none. There’s no cost to being nice, and being kind to a customer makes a difference, which makes them want to come back.
What I teach my students in class: ‘I can’t handle mean but I can handle you not being the most intelligent person, and I can teach you anything if you’re willing to learn—if you’re willing to have a good or pleasant attitude.’