MenuMasters 2014: Joe's Crab Shack

MenuMasters 2014: Joe's Crab Shack

Nation's Restaurant News salutes culinary creativity with its annual MenuMasters Awards. Honorees will be celebrated at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on May 17. Read in-depth profiles of all 2014 winners >>

When it came time to revamp the Joe’s Crab Shack menu, the brand’s Culinary Innovation team did not have to look very far to decide its course of action. Crab, after all, is in the concept’s name.

Crab-stuffed lobster, buckets of crab, steampots filled with chunks of Pacific Dungeness crab and sweet snow crab were incorporated into the menu, along with other seafood items, such as shrimp.

“We were putting crab back in the name and identifying as a great seafood brand — and one that stands for shellfish,” said Jim Doak, vice president of innovation for Ignite Restaurant Group, parent to the 130-plus-unit seafood chain based in Houston. “We returned to our Gulf Coast roots, whether it was the hand-breaded shrimp or the steampot. Our brand is about all the seafood you find at the shore, but delivered with authentic and great flavors.”

The revamp process began toward the end of 2012 with internal discussions about the brand, its identity and its positioning. The innovation team also gathered input from the marketing and advertising agency that represents Joe’s Crab Shack. Then came about six months of menu testing at the chain’s Houston restaurants, led by culinary director Barry Lofton and culinary manager Erik Terluin.

The team relied on customer and employee feedback to tweak and fine tune menu changes, and, in some cases, discontinue items. For some dishes it was simply a matter of finding the correct seasoning to accentuate rather than mask the flavor of the seafood, Doak said.

Since the revamp, repeat visits by customers are up, which has led to some sales increases, he said. He declined to elaborate.

“Since we put the menu in place, we see guests in more often,” Doak said. “[It] laid a really good foundation for us to continue to grow and build on.”

What makes Joe’s Crab Shack’s menu revamp a winner:

1. Lobster and Shrimp Pot Pie: This limited-time offer performed well during colder months. It originally featured only lobster meat, but customers responded positively to the addition of shrimp.

2. Crab Steampots: New versions of this signature item offer customers more variety and more seafood. Steampots are served with an ear of corn and potatoes. New options include the Samuel Adams Steampot, which features snow crab, clams, lobster claws and smoked sausage boiled in beer, and the KJ Steampot, with snow crab, scallops and mussels cooked in a light white-wine sauce.

3. Lobster Spaghetti: This pasta item replaced the Shrimp Alfredo with fettuccine found on prior menus, as spaghetti is more familiar and approachable, the chain said. The dish has chunks of lobster claw and arm meat.

4. Crab Stuffed Lobster: A simple presentation of a whole lobster hand-stuffed with crabmeat, the dish is served in a pan with a customer’s choice of two side dishes.