Phillips Closing OC Crab House

OCEAN CITY — Amid Ocean City’s endlessly changing landscape, perhaps no greater sudden disappearance will be missed more than the iconic Phillips Crab House.

Phillips Crab House has been a fixture in Ocean City for nearly seven decades. Generations of locals and visitors have passed through the doors of the historic crab house, which encompasses a whole city block at 21st Street. Thousands of employees have made Phillips Crab House their summer home away from home and were embraced by the family as one of their own in the early days.

Opened in 1956 as a small carryout crab and seafood market by founders Brice and Shirley Phillips, the iconic crab “shack” evolved over the decades to a vast complex, featuring five kitchens, each roughly the size of a typical Ocean City restaurant’s single kitchen. In it’s current arrangement, the restaurant can seat 1,400 guests.

This week, however, it was learned the Phillips family was selling the flagship of what has become a seafood empire, the last vestige of the family’s commercial holdings in Ocean City.

“The Phillips family has made the difficult decision to sell our Phillips Crab House property in Ocean City and the location has now permanently closed,” the family said in a statement this week. “Over our 66 seasons in business, we’ve served millions of families, vacationers and Ocean City locals, and our family feels so fortunate to have earned the loyalty of our guests, who came back year after year to build their vacation memories with us. Thank you being such a wonderful part of our story.”

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Brice and Shirley Phillips grew up working in the family seafood packing plant on Hooper’s Island on the Chesapeake Bay. One year, with an abundance of famed Maryland blue crabs, the family decided to open a small, one-room carryout crab shack in Ocean City at 21st Street as an outlet for their excess crabs.

That original location evolved over the years to become a fixture on the resort landscape. The family opened the Phillips Seafood House at 141st Street and the Phillips Beach Plaza Hotel on the Boardwalk at 13th Street in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the company grew again with locations in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

In the 1990s, uncertain about the blue crab supply in Maryland, Steve Phillips opened crab processing plants in southeast Asia and began producing pasteurized crabmeat and other seafood products. In the 2000s, Phillips moved into franchising with sites at airports and casinos. Throughout the growth, the 21st Street location remained the cornerstone of the growing empire.

“Not many restaurants live to see their 50th season, let alone celebrate over 65 years, and our family credits the amazing Crab House team for giving the business such longevity,” the statement reads. “From the crab department to the prep room, through the upstairs and downstairs kitchen staff, to the servers, bussers and bartenders, our employees returned season after season and became part of the extended Phillips family. Led by a strong management team, our staff worked together to deliver delicious dishes, all served up with a warm smile and welcoming Eastern Shore hospitality. None of our success over the years would have been possible without their hard work and dedication, and we are so grateful for their loyalty.”

The statement continues, “While it is extremely difficult for our family to say goodbye to the Crab House, we will take with us all the memories from the days and nights with our coworkers and guests, the lessons we have all learned from working together as a strong team, and the friendships we have grown over the years. As we move forward, we will continue to build on the strong foundation that our original Crab House location gave us. We remain firmly planted in Maryland and will dedicate our resources in support of our Baltimore restaurant location, Baltimore culinary center and the growth of our retail, club, foodservice, and international business.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.