The Crazy Crab Harbour Town: Celebrating 30 years of sumptuous seafood and fun
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: John Brackett
In 30 years, siblings Andrew Keller from Atlanta and Katie Keller McKay from Memphis haven’t missed spending a part of every summer on Hilton Head Island. It was 1986 when their parents first rented a home for a week on Snowy Egret in Sea Pines, and five-year-old Katie and seven-year-old Andrew unknowingly began what they would now call their mutual love affair with the island. “We played on the beach all day every day and went into Harbour Town every night,” Katie said.
“Sometimes we got ice cream, and our parents sat in the rocking chairs looking at the people and the boats; and sometimes we went to The Crazy Crab for dinner. We were there the first year they opened in Harbour Town, and we’ve been there every year since.” Now adults with spouses and children of their own, Andrew and Katie, along with their parents, still rent that same home on Snowy Egret, and still go to The Crazy Crab for at least one special dinner during their time on the island.
Celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, not a lot has changed at The Crazy Crab in Sea Pines’ Harbour Town, and that’s a good thing. Opened two years after their north island restaurant located on Jarvis Creek, The Crazy Crab is the quintessential seafood house, perfectly situated in the heart of Harbour Town, overlooking the world-famous lighthouse, the yacht basin, the historic Liberty Oak (under which musical icon Gregg Russell performs to standing-room-only crowds), and the Calibogue Sound. Just out of Cornell University’s hotel restaurant management school, Chuck Larson first met Tom Reilley when they were working at the Hyatt in Palmetto Dunes. Larson partnered with Reilley, Peter Kenneweg, and David Reilley, and opened what is now an island institution.
“Tom, David, and Peter had The Crazy Crab on the north end of Hilton Head when I joined them, and we opened the Harbour Town location,” Larson said. Originally another restaurant, the previous tenants took everything with them, leaving The Crazy Crab owners with a blank slate. The view was the stunning starting point, and the cozy, fishing village décor fits perfectly with the setting. Ropes, pulleys, cleats, and deeply polished woodwork provide nautical accent to the whimsical wooden fish suspended from the ceiling, along with real fish mounted throughout the restaurant. “Every [type of] fish we have ever served is hanging on the wall,” Larson said.
The Crazy Crab’s menu is deliciously dictated by the availability of fresh seafood and the seasons. “We buy local whenever we can, particularly shrimp and oysters when they are in season,” Larson said. “Otherwise, we get three daily deliveries out of Savannah and Charleston.” If the oysters are not from local waters, The Crazy Crab has the best of them brought in from Apalachicola, Florida and St. James River, Virginia. “We also offer a New York strip and rib eye steaks; at lunch time, we add sandwiches and salads; our kid’s menu has a little bit of everything; and our desserts are homemade—chocolate peanut butter pie and our specialty key lime pie.”
Visitors and locals find their way to The Crazy Crab not only for the great food, but for the people and the service, where special occasions are celebrated daily. “We have families coming back who were here as kids. Now they’re back with their own kids. Recently we had a couple in; he is a chef in New York, and they got engaged here 10 years ago. They had two-pound lobsters ten years ago (You can order them 48 hours in advance). This time they called a week ahead and said they wanted to do the same.”
30 years and counting at Crazy Crab Harbour Town (pictured left to right): Albert Murray, Peter Kenneweg, John Bowman, Lisa Schaeffer, Pam Swift, Chris Wagner, Chuck Larson, Sean O’Sheill,Tom Reilley, Beth Castles, Marty Pellici, Dago Robles
Bar manager Chris Wagner is one of the reasons visitors and residents return to The Crazy Crab. Joining the team 29 years ago, he thought it was going to be a short-term gig. “I never left,” Wagner said. “It’s not a bad office, overlooking Harbour Town, and it’s rewarding because we have a lot of regulars who come back every year. A lot of people arrange their vacations around birthdays or anniversaries, and we like to make their celebrations special. A local gentleman proposed to his wife here, and they come back every year on their anniversary; they sit at the same table and they always order champagne.”
The Crazy Crab has 10 staffers who have been with the restaurant from the beginning, and the partners never underestimate their team’s importance to the operation. “Guests remember the staff and keep coming to see them,” Larson said. “We treat our staff like we would like to be treated. They make good money, and it’s a fun place to work. Our team members plan their year, saving money during the busy season to get through the winter season.”
With their stellar location and reputation for excellent seafood and service, Wagner, Larson, and the rest of The Crazy Crab crew have seen their share of celebrity guests, whether visiting for fun, or business, or for the PGA’s RBC Heritage golf tournament. “Bill Clinton ate here when he was still governor of Arkansas; Walter Cronkite, Julius Irving, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Stan Smith all ate here,” Wagner said. “Payne Stewart, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Fuzzy Zoeller, Ben Crenshaw, and Curtis Strange all came here during the Heritage,”—just to name a few.
“It’s been growing steadily for 30 years,” Larson said. Part of that growth is the exciting addition of two new partners, Brendan Reilley (Tom’s son) and Courtney Kenneweg (Peter’s son). “I grew up here bussing tables, and I’ve always wanted to come back,” said Courtney Kenneweg. Be on the lookout for The Crazy Crab to continue growing and welcoming guests to celebrate special occasions or every day events.
Andrew Keller and Katie Keller McKay are anticipating their July 2016 visit, looking forward to celebrating 30 years on Snowy Egret with their own growing family, and along with their friends at The Crazy Crab in Harbour Town.
The Crazy Crab is located at 149 Lighthouse Road in Harbour Town, (843) 363-2722, and 104 William Hilton Parkway on Jarvis Creek, (843) 681-5021. For more information, visit thecrazycrab.com.