OCEAN CITY – Little did Johnny Brooks, owner of Crabcake Factory USA on 120th Street, know when he opened the restaurant in 1996 he would be celebrating its 15th year anniversary in the midst of preparing to open its first franchise location in downtown Ocean City.
According to Brooks, over the last three years he has been approached on several occasions about franchising Crabcake Factory USA. He had initially looked into a location in Ocean Pines but once that fell through he settled into a decision to allow his wife, Krista, and his 5-month-old baby, Emma Grace, to relax through another successful summer.
Once the rumor had circulated that Brooks was weighing the option to franchise, local commercial property guru Peck Miller of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokeerage made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The offer allowed him to buy the commercial front of a building on 25th Street, formerly the home of Quiznos.
“So I ended up buying the entire front of that, the commercialized part of the building, which left me with a 3,000-square-foot restaurant underneath,” Brooks said. “So, of course, I decided that was going to be a Crabcake Factory.”
Brooks opened his first bar at the age of 21 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and said that he isn’t looking to be the one in the “grind” all the time and decided it would be better off to have two long-time employees, Brandon and Megan Mohr, run the franchise on 25th Street.
Brooks plans to have the new location retain the same atmosphere and motif but with a twist to fit its downtown location.
“It’s got sort of a Key West seafood shack motif,” Brooks said. “We want it to be more of a destination type place to go where we don’t see anything like that downtown.”
Just like the Crabcake Factory on 120th Street, Maryland sports will remain involved with the downtown location’s atmosphere but because Brandon Mohr is originally from Philadelphia, the new franchise will also be a Philly sports hot spot.
Brooks explained that because the new location has a second floor that overlooks the bar, it will become the “Eagles Nest”. It seats 12 people and will come equipped with satellite television and its own server.
“So it’s going to be a neat little place come Eagles season for sure,” Brooks said.
He also plans to provide life acoustic entertainment. The menu will also cater to the downtown Ocean City beach atmosphere and will have a full liquor license. There will be seating for 70, including a carry out window and a front porch.
“We will always have the crab cakes, but we are going to cater our menu a little bit differently to the beach location,” Brooks said. “So it will be more of a fry and sandwich location. We’re really looking forward to bringing our game down to the Boardwalk area.”
Currently, Brooks is looking to open two other franchise locations, one in Rehoboth Beach, Del. and in Bethesda, Md.
“People running these particular places are going to be well versed in how we do things here,” Brooks said. “We’re not just selling a franchise by giving them a manual and saying this is how we do it.”
Brooks said that he will be involved in constructing the new franchise locations from start to finish and they will be built to his expectations. Brooks expects to have the downtown Ocean City location open by late June.
Brooks has hired a new kitchen manager, Mike Semsker, who has a “big background” in catering. He has recently purchased a bus, which will be converted into a catering vehicle, and plans to provide its services to different events and weddings.
“I have also just started a new business this summer called Crabcake Factory Condos and I am working on the website for upscale rentals where we are providing meal plans from each of our locations,” Brooks said. “We have four condos now and plan to add more.”
Starting out in 1996, Brooks never expected to be franchising someday. He said that he was never in a rush to franchise and if he were to go through it he would want every location to be as personalized as its original location on 120th Street.
“We have built this place on local business and word of mouth,” Brooks said. “We don’t do a lot of advertising…we try to let the food speak for itself.”
The Crabcake Factory’s shipping business also started out 16 years ago. Brooks reported he recently surpassed one million crab cakes sold online.
“We ship anywhere to the USA overnight,” he said. “Crabcakes, soups, and all the holidays we run something special.”
Brooks’ future plans are within the next five years to open five franchises and to open a central warehouse for its shipping business and the restaurants different locations. He even admitted to wanting to one day open a location in Cancun where Brooks regularly vacations.