“It’s hard to believe,” said Joe Parsons, taking a moment on the front porch of his shop to reflect during the hectic summer season. “I didn’t have any of this gray hair back then.”
Steamers Crabs & Seafood Market opened their doors 10 years ago this summer, and the distinct red building on Route 26 in Millville continues to put out fresh seafood, tasty treats and, yes, steamed crabs.
“That’s still the majority of our business,” said Parsons. “As a business model, that’s not the best thing to have — since the majority of your business is so weather-dependent and supply- dependent.
“People don’t realize that if it’s blowing a gale on Wednesday, I probably won’t have as many crabs on Thursday. Most people just think the crabs are always there. But if these guys can’t get on their boats to catch them, I’m not going to have them.”
Obviously, as the name would imply, crabs are the stars at Steamers. For many people here on vacation — or who live here year-round — crabs are just part of summer, like baseball or chasing fireflies. And as any true-blue crab-aficionado can tell you, “eating crabs” is as much an event as it is an activity.
“We see crab-eating as sitting around with your friends and family for two or three hours, and enjoying the social aspect of it,” said Blair Parsons, Joe’s wife and now a steady presence at the store.
To aid in that experience, Steamers is also now selling more “take-and-bake” meals, according to Joe, such as squid, shrimp and lobster salads, crab-and-Sriracha deviled eggs and smoked-salmon paté. The idea, said the Parsonses, is to make everything as easy as possible for their customers to enjoy a great meal at home.
“The best part of entertaining is spending time with people you enjoy,” said Blair. “That’s why you go on vacation — to spend time with your loved ones.”
Blair also added that one change they have seen over the last 10 years is the infatuation with large crabs. She said the majority of crabs at Steamers are from Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay, and those aren’t always the biggest crabs, but that Joe personally inspects each crab before selling it, to make sure the crabs are full and heavy.
“It really doesn’t matter what size the crab is,” said Joe. “We have so many people who only want a really big crab, but big crabs aren’t always good, and good crabs aren’t always big. Your average crab coming out of the bay is 5-3/4 inches. They’re not huge crabs, but they’re really good crabs. Nice and heavy is what we try to do, and that’s what we sell. I stand in the walk-in and literally handle every crab.”
Another request the people at Steamers regularly receive is to add dine-in eating. That’s probably not on the horizon.
“I love what we do here,” said Joe. “I get that people want that, and it’s nice that they enjoy us so much they request it. But I really like what we do here. It’s good to have a plan. I like that we do carry-out. I like that we have a young staff — we hire a lot of high school- and college-aged kids. We want to be a place where a kid that age can learn some responsibility.”
“We both grew up in this area and had summer jobs,” added Blair. “That did a lot to make us the people we are today. You learn time-management, people-skills...”
“Social skills,” added Joe, as if on cue.
“Yes, and responsibility, for sure,” said Blair. “We like thinking that we can have an impact on young people the way people did on us when we were kids.”
Blair mentioned Amber Adkins, who has worked for Steamers for nearly eight years.
“She’s like family to us,” said Blair.
The Parsonses have seen the sheer volume of business go up over the last 10 years, as well as more and more traffic, though Joe said he believes the road-widening project on Route 26 helped with some of the congestion.
Part of the increased business has been from the area’s growth, while some is the fact that Steamers has become part of “the tradition” for some families living or vacationing in the area, and they have begun to see the same names and orders come in to the store. And, of course, some of their growth can be accredited to “good old-fashioned hard work.”
“I want people to realize how much he’s put in this to build the business,” said Blair, discussing Joe’s commitment. “He literally stands in the walk-in and feels every single crab that comes in here. And he’s built every part of this from the ground up. To me, as his wife, I’m proud and amazed by what he’s done over the last 10 years, and I’m proud I just get to be part of it. I’m excited to see where the next 10 years goes with us.”
Steamers is located at 35531 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. They can be reached at (302) 539-6700, or online at steamerscrabs.com.
By Darin J. McCann