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[caption id="attachment_169391" align="alignright" width="300"] When Jason and Lindsay Hall bought Washington Crab three years ago, they vowed to keep all of the menu favorites that have lured seafood lovers to

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_169391" align="alignright" width="300"] When Jason and Lindsay Hall bought Washington Crab three years ago, they vowed to keep all of the menu favorites that have lured seafood lovers to

Crabby Chic at Washington Crab

When Jason and Lindsay Hall bought Washington Crab three years ago, they vowed to keep all of the menu favorites that have lured seafood lovers to the restaurant and processing business for decades. photograph by Chris Rogers

Ask the locals in Washington to recommend a seafood restaurant, and they’re likely to point to an unassuming spot about a mile inland. With crab pots perched on the roof and oyster shells for mulch, Washington Crab looks like it was practically plucked from the surf. Its cinder-block frame is draped with fishing nets and buoys, with pier pilings and a weathered wooden pelican out front. While there’s no water in sight, this rustic restaurant brings something different to the table — seafood that is 100 percent locally harvested and handled, filleted and cleaned at Washington Crab’s processing facility about two blocks from the Pamlico River.

“You get that North Carolina connection,” says Jason Hall, owner of both the restaurant and its processing operation. “The food’s coming out of the local waters. It’s being touched by folks here in the state. This is how they make their living. This is how we make our living.”

Established in 1972, Washington Crab serves eastern North Carolina restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets in addition to operating a catering service and a retail seafood market on North Pierce Street. Jason and his wife, Lindsay, who fell in love with North Carolina while he was stationed at Fort Bragg, took over in February 2020. They’re the fourth family to own the company, which has been an anchor in the state’s coastal seafood community for more than 50 years. “Seafood’s a big part of North Carolina, especially eastern North Carolina,” Jason says. “To be a part of that — to have the name of the town in our company’s name — means a lot to us.”

At Washington Crab’s retail market and processing location, senior fishmongers Manuela Hernandez and Cristhian Perez can tell customers everything they need to know about cleaning and dressing the fish and crabs on tap. photograph by Chris Rogers

Washington Crab, formerly Ted Day’s Fish Market, has been selling seafood since before the Halls were born. The second owners opened a retail store and expanded into the crab operation. In 2002, another couple, Tony and Amy Tripp, took over and ran Washington Crab for nearly two decades. When they retired and sold the business, Tony’s sister, Teresa Andrews, remained with the company.

Andrews has spent a lifetime in and around the seafood community. During her childhood in Harlowe, a fisherman would steer his boat straight to the dock to sell her father his catch from the Neuse River. Back then, folks who came in for crabbing season slept in a bunkhouse like cowboys and sold to the fish houses that dotted the landscape. But in recent years, the number of seafood processors along the coast has declined, making Washington Crab an even more vital link in the chain. “There used to be lots of places that shucked oysters and picked crabs, but there are not many left,” Andrews says. “We’ve been here so long. That’s what this place is known for. It’s a way of life here.”

In 2014, the Tripps added the restaurant, calling it Washington Crab & Seafood Shack. But the wholesale and processing company used a different name, Washington Crab & Oyster Company, and customers sometimes failed to see the connection. Many were unaware that less than two miles from where they were buying the iced-down catch of the day, this cinder-block restaurant was serving the very same seafood hot off the grill.

When the Halls arrived, they unveiled a new logo and shortened the name of both the retail operation and the restaurant to Washington Crab, but they’ve kept all of the favorite features of the seafood shack intact. Appearing on the menu alongside standard side dishes like fries, slaw, and hush puppies are eastern North Carolina crowd-pleasers like sweet potato casserole, corn on the cob, and potato salad.

It’s not just locals who are sold on Washington Crab. Anne McDonald of Raleigh was excited when friends introduced her to the little seafood joint last year. “I’m a dive kind of person,” she says, “because nine times out of 10, to me, they usually have the really good food.” Campers at Goose Creek State Park, farther east on the Pamlico River, often make the 15-minute drive up to Washington Crab, bypassing places with waterfront views to stand in line at the take-out window or wait for a seat in one of the restaurant’s two covered patios.

Did the Halls ever consider moving the restaurant to a larger, more upscale location? Not for a minute. Lindsay believes that the restaurant’s laid-back atmosphere is part of its charm. “If people were to come and we weren’t in this location or we had completely overhauled it,” she says, “I think they might feel a little let down.” Jason agrees. “There’s an attachment to this location,” he says. “It’s not something we could replicate.”

Washington Crab
1212 John Small Avenue
Washington, NC 27889
(252) 974-2722

321 North Pierce Street
Washington, NC 27889
(252) 946-5796

This story was published on May 29, 2023

Kim Grizzard

Kim Grizzard is an O. Henry Award-winning features reporter at The Daily Reflector in Greenville.