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Joe’s Crab Shack in Rough Waters


Joe’s Crab Shack—of the most intense restaurants I’ve ever dined at and an icon of 1990s suburbia—is on the rocks as locations abruptly close across the country and its parent company significantly shrinks the brand’s unit count. I am truly surprised ye old Crab Shack has hung on as long as it has given some inherent contradictions in the kid-friendly seafood concept.

I remember my last visit to Joe’s like it was yesterday, even though it’s been several years now: a pleasantly casual, informal atmosphere, netting and other sea-themed flotsam as decorations, Corona buckets overflowing with empty shells, delicious looking corn on every table, the delicious smells of seafood, big margaritas and children, my goodness the children.

Was this a macaroni and cheese-, hot dog- or tater tot-themed restaurant? The paper tablecloths understandably attract families who want an informal place where they can dine without messy-kid guilt, and all the staff singing and dancing underscores the vibe. Surely the kid’s menu with things like mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, fish fingers and mini burgers also attract a family demographic, but was this the right focus for a seafood restaurant? I would argue to the contrary.

Here in the Twin Cities, like most typical cities, seafood choices range from upscale (here we’ve got Sea Change, Smack Shack, Sea Salt, Oceanaire Seafood Room), a few local fish places and chains like Red Lobster and Bubba Gump Shrimp. For how popular and delicious seafood is, the scene definitely isn’t overpopulated like burgers, burritos or pizza—especially at a midrange price level.

Options are limited for 20- and 30-somethings looking to hit up a casual, fun seafood restaurant with a nice selection of local beers. We could definitely use a Slapfish or Captain D’s up here in the land of 10,000 lakes.

At risk of sounding like the ultimate Scrooge McDuck, allow me to posit that singing and dancing  should happen at no restaurants outside of a Chuck E. Cheese—”where a kid can be a kid”—or the Rainforest Cafe, which I briefly worked at their Mall of America location back in college. The singing and dusty animatronics brought me to my breaking point, and it’s the only job I ever left without a two week’s notice. Hey, I never claimed to be a trooper.

Picture a better Joe’s with me: less netting, but still maybe some; local craft beer pairings; a less kitschy decor, especially at the bar; local fish choices like fried walleye that’s so popular here in the Upper Midwest; and servers who aren’t being visibly tortured by forced performance art. It’s at least a few solid steps in the right direction.

In all seriousness, I have nothing but love and understanding for family-friendly restaurants and the brave parents who bring their little wildcats out for a much-needed night out. It’s the cornerstone of our continuation as a species, after all. But I’ll never understand Joe’s positioning, and would argue pivoting toward a more general audience—with no singing or dancing allowed—would be a great last-ditch effort I would support with my own wallet.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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