WEST OCEAN CITY — More than 20 years ago, “Captain” Joe Crocetti, owner of The Shrimp Boat, brought two unique things to the Ocean City area — head-on shrimp and the idea of selling seafood from a landlocked boat.
“I’ve owned 15 boats in my lifetime,” said Crocetti, “and this is the only one that has ever made me money.”
In 1989, Crocetti started the business, selling roadside shrimp from the back of a truck. A year later, he decided to construct a more memorable image and replaced the truck with a boat. He’s currently on his third boat.
“People seem extremely responsive to that type of approach,” Crocetti said of the restaurant’s unconventional design.
In the decades since Crocetti first moved into the location, the site has expanded beyond the boat that gives the business its image. An entire building has been added that houses kitchens, including one currently under construction, and outdoor, covered-seating for customers. The menu has evolved as well.
Besides shrimp, Crocetti now serves clams, crabs, lobster and other seafood. The food is available for pick-up, market-style or can be cooked and served at the location. There’s even a non-seafood menu, dubbed “by land,” that includes pizza and prime rib sandwiches. However, Crocetti remarked that his main focus would always be on the “by sea” portion of the menu.
“When people come here, they intend to buy seafood,” he said.
Crocetti pointed out that the shrimp his establishment is famous for are never frozen and are cooked whole, with the “head-on”. Preparing them like that seals in flavor, according to Crocetti, and makes them sweeter and better tasting than traditional headless shrimp. He backs up the claim by urging customers to try a free sample before they order.
While classic shrimp is the bedrock of his business, Crocetti said that he’s always trying new things on the menu. One such item, “shrimp sliders,” which are miniature burgers made with shrimp patties, has become popular, going so far as to attract the attention of The Baltimore Sun, which also named The Shrimp Boat one of the 100 “best beach eats” from Ocean City to Lewis, Del.
Crocetti attributed a lot of his success to his family. Everyone from nieces and nephews to in-laws have worked, or currently do work, at The Shrimp Boat.
Crocetti noted that his late wife, Rose, played a huge part in running the business, and that the new kitchen is in her honor.
Crocetti believes that his customers are part of his family as well. “We make them feel like family,” he said.
He estimated that 90 percent of his customers are repeats and that many of them have been eating at the restaurant for years.
Besides the food and atmosphere, Crocetti admitted that his location helped pull in business.
“It’s very accessible,” he said of the spot, located on Route 611, about half-a-mile south of Route 50.
When asked how the economic downturn was affecting business, Crocetti remarked that the slow economy was actually helping, since people were looking for less expensive places to eat.
“It’s better seafood for about half the price,” he said.
Crocetti also proudly explained that, in 22 years, The Shrimp Boat has never gone backwards in sales. However, he acknowledged that all of his good luck could change at the “drop of a hat.”
Though the business has been steadily growing, Crocetti still feels more can be done with the location, if he and his family chose to do so in the future.
“We’ve always been open minded about an expansion,” he said.