MELFA – Blue Crab Bay Co. founder Pamela Barefoot announced the sale of her business and its assets last week to Maryland Eastern Shore native Elizabeth Lankford.
The new ownership marks the near-end of Barefoot’s involvement with the specialty food company, where she spent nearly 32 years building a successful business from her brainchild.
Barefoot, 66, said she has been thinking of an “exit strategy” in recent years that would allow her to gradually retire and give the next owner the opportunity to continue building the brand from its current location in Melfa, Va.
“I’ve had offers over the years from people who wanted to buy the brand, but they didn’t want the building or the employees,” she said. “I just hated that. So I’ve been waiting and waiting for somebody to come along, and a couple of years ago Elizabeth came along and it’s a dream come true for me.”
Lankford, 32, grew up along the Pocomoke River and said she was anxious to return to the Eastern Shore after spending 10 years as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve been wanting to find a way to move back home,” Lankford said. “But I didn’t think I could correlate my lobbying skills to a job down here.”
The daughter and granddaughter of food distribution owners and operators, Lankford said she was excited to hear of Blue Crab Bay’s opportunity from her father, Tom. Shortly thereafter, Lankford sent Barefoot an email inquiry.
With a dedication to keep the company’s operations on the Eastern Shore, Lankford is now working alongside her predecessor to learn the ins and outs of sales, trademarks, food shows and the like.
“She has got a lot to learn, and I have got a lot to teach her,” Barefoot said. “When she is ready for me to walk away, I’ll be ready to walk away.”
Since approaching Barefoot in 2015, Lankford said the founder has imparted the company’s history, operations and daily decisions and has guided her through every step of the business process.
“I look at it as a life commitment,” Lankford said. “You can’t just say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to make this move right now.’”
The gradual passing of the baton was a learning process for Lankford, but she said her skills in lobbying have helped.
“Lobbying is really just sales,” she said. “You are selling an idea and you are selling what you need to have for your company or your members.”
Lankford said she will not eliminate any of Blue Crab Bay’s signature products, but added that she has plans to expand the brand to its corporate clientele.
“My goal is to grow sales and nationally expand, but we are going to keep the same products,” she said. “I would like to grow with more products and keep them in the same tradition.”
Blue Crab Bay Co. sells peanut snacks, Bloody Mary mixers, seasonings, stoneware and the like nationwide to wholesalers and consumers from their 24,000-square-foot building and retail shop in the Accomack Airport Industrial Park.
The company got its start in 1985, when Barefoot began selling locally sourced gift baskets from her home.
Since that time, the company has hired 18 employees, all women, and has won numerous national awards.
Barefoot said she will remain with the company for two years, playing a backseat role as the business transitions into new leadership.
After that time, she said she and her husband will spend their retirement traveling and tending to travelers staying in their Airbnb cottage.
She added that she will continue to assist Lankford at trade shows and to represent the history of the company.
“I’m really excited,” Barefoot said. “I love Elizabeth and we get along super. We are the same height, and I can look her right in the eye.”
“It’s the little things,” Lankford joked.