Jessica Chen's dream has always been to own a restaurant, and now, her creation Crabby's Cajun is making new waves in the Columbia area. This minority-owned Cajun-style seafood restaurant offers a variety of seafood boils. The first restaurant in the chain opened in Greenville in September 2019.
Chen immigrated from Fuzhou, the capital of the coastal Fujian province in China, with her family. She said her brother was the one to first discover Cajun spices and flavors and incorporate them into the seafood she had grown up eating. She said her family history is full of fishermen, so seafood is something very important to her, especially growing up working in restaurants her whole life.
Located in the Vista, Crabby's Cajun is now serving after a soft opening for local patrons. Serene Boorom, Crabby's Cajun's marketing manager, said the restaurant wants to have a big grand opening when patrons are more comfortable sitting down inside instead of ordering delivery or to-go.
When talking about plans to expand, Chen said she loves the possibility of expanding into more stores beyond the Greenville and Columbia locations. However, she said opening a restaurant has been especially challenging for her, due to the language barrier she faces.
Crabby's Cajun currently offers student and military discounts. John Grady, a professor in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, said this was a good plan for the restaurant.
"Giving a student discount during a soft opening seems to be a smart idea to get people interested at, perhaps, a lower price, if they are the neighbors around that business," Grady said.
Boorom said the restaurant is excited to be in a college town, especially near the University of South Carolina. It boasts pick up and numerous delivery services for locals.
"[We're] currently looking into implementing the CarolinaCard, as well," Boorom said. "We do understand, because Columbia is a college city, a lot of the people here are here because of USC or any of the other colleges. I believe that's a huge part of our market as well."
Owning a restaurant might seem daunting during a pandemic, but Crabby's Cajun isn't worried.
"We have implemented a bunch of different procedures. We're in the process of registering for the Palmetto Priority program, that ensures that all our staff are trained to do sanitization for all COVID-related matters in food service," Boorom said. "And, of course, our staff are always masked, always gloved and we encourage customers to be in masks when they come in, as well."
Located in the old Takosushi building, Crabby's Cajun is the "only seafood boil place in the Vista," according to Boorom. Takosushi closed in fall 2019 due to the severely deteriorating conditions of the building.
Before Crabby's Cajun opened its doors, it took Takosushi's claims seriously. Inspectors came in to check the building and anything that could've posed a danger to customers.
"Any issues we might've encountered, we did take the time to fix. We were actually on the renovations for quite a few months before we even opened," Chen said.
Fans of seafood or not, students and Columbia locals can check out Crabby's Cajun to try some authentic Cajun boil.