GRAND BOULEVARD — Two Fish Crab Shack, which is marking its fifth anniversary this month with a series of all-you-can-eat specials, is also celebrating another milestone: The South Side restaurant’s seafood can now be found in 125 grocery stores in Illinois and Chicago.
The crab shack at 641 E. 47th St. known for its seafood boils faced a unique set of challenges during the pandemic — but it also forced owner Yasmin Curtis to great creative and led to her success in grocery stores.
“I still wanted our food to reach the customers because people were still hungry for fish. But we were only able to do carryout — which wasn’t my favorite, but it was something,” Curtis said of the early days of the pandemic. “So while we were on lockdown, I’m like, ‘OK, let’s just see if I can make this a frozen meal that people could cook at home.'”
There was a bit of trial and error involved, but eventually the Low End native perfected the recipe, sharing her success with a fellow restauranteur who told her about Mariano’s vendor market. The market allows entrepreneurs to meet with leaders of the grocery chain and try to convince the chain to sell their products in local stores.
The fellow restauranteur invited Curtis to share a table. But once Mariano’s heard of Curtis’ plans to attend, they offered her a table of her own.
Taking a gamble, Curtis rented an ice cream truck, slapped her logo on the side, packed it with bags of frozen seafood and bottles of her popular sauces and posted up in the supermarket parking lot alongside other vendors selling their goods. Within 30 minutes, she was sold out.
The following day, a seafood buyer from the supermarket chain stopped by her restaurant, looking to strike a deal that would put Curtis in local stores.
“Initially, they put me in five stores the first week of January, and within a week they sold out. They had stocked the shelves that Thursday and, by Sunday, everything was gone,” said Curtis, who attributes the success to the quality of her products, her consistency and being in tune with customers’ needs. “People just want to be able to grab stuff and go.”
While a number of Chicago restaurants closed due to the pandemic, Curtis credits customers — and her community of fellow entrepreneurs — with helping Two Fish Crab Shack stay afloat. As a firm believer in the power of economic development, having the means to continue providing 47th Street with a quality sit-down restaurant is what matters most, she said.
As Two Fish Crab Shack’s fifth anniversary approaches and restaurant restrictions have eased, Curtis said she’s excited to celebrate. To mark the occasion, Mariano’s will start carrying the restaurant’s “shrimp-only” bags next month, and — every weekend in May — dine-in customers will be able to enjoy an “all-you-can-eat” special with chargrilled oysters, crawfish and more.
“I don’t usually do anything for our anniversary. I’m like ‘OK, we’re still here! Good!’ But it’s been five years, and that speaks volumes. It’s reason to celebrate,” Curtis said.
Two Fish Crab Shack is open varying hours Thursday-Sunday at 641 E. 47th St. Check the restaurant’s website for more information.
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