By Jen Merrill; Photography by Ali Waxman
“What we are selling today is what we caught yesterday,” says Curt Engle, owner of Harbor House Crabs.
He prides his business on its fresh, quality crabs and other seafood.
Engle works with numerous crabbing boats located in the Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of North Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico, meaning fresh seafood is shipped in – and right back out again – daily.
“Crabs are our specialty. One thing about our crabs is that we steam to order,” says Engle. “If you order crabs to be picked up today at 4 p.m., those crabs are still moving at 3:30 p.m. That’s our claim to fame.”
A bushel of crabs conjures up a very distinct image of sticky summer nights spent hammering away in hopes of digging chunks of culinary gold out from beneath those shells.
Summer holidays – especially Father’s Day – keep Harbor House Crabs extremely busy, so make sure to place your order in advance during those times of the year.
“We try to keep up our inventory, but Mother Nature kind of dictates that sometimes,” says Engle. “We are buying direct. We aren’t sitting on inventory that has a long shelf life.”
Harbor House Crabs has a lot to offer beyond the hard-shell and soft-shell crabs that have made it famous. Clams, oysters, gulf shrimp, crab soups and crab cakes are all available for purchase both online and in-store.
Besides shipping his own products nationwide, Engle struck a deal with Obrycki’s Crab House to ship their famed crabs as well.
Engle and company use a homemade red seasoning – similar to Old Bay – while Obrycki’s uses a pepper-based seasoning. These two possibilities offer customers a range of flavorful options.
Mergers like that have helped Harbor House Crabs continue to experience growth and expansion since its humble beginnings in 2001. When Engle first opened the doors at his 700-square-foot, steam-to-order retail location on Eisenhower Boulevard, his goal was to provide crabs to local individuals and to offer a wholesale opportunity to local restaurants.
“We think that freshness is key to our success. We don’t want to sell an inferior product. That’s what we built the business on and that’s what we still strive to do.” ~ Curt Engle
Harbor House Crabs soon started shipping both live and steamed crabs in 2002, a rare service considering the very short shelf life of their product. Soon they were shipping out over 100 boxes a day from that single location.
“It was supposed to just be a side project,” says Engle with a chuckle. “My mom was going to operate it from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. until I got off work. I used to work for Amp and Tyco. Less than six months later, I left Amp and went full-time.”
Now Harbor House Crabs includes a second retail location (on the Carlisle Pike), an online business and wholesale accounts with numerous restaurants throughout the midstate and beyond.
“About six years ago, I did a study, and we were shipping to every state within two weeks,” explains Engle. “We have like 10 states that we hit almost daily, but we pretty much cover the country in two weeks.”
No matter what kind of growth his business experiences, Engle is determined to keep some elements of Harbor House Crabs very much the same.
“We think that freshness is key to our success,” says Engle. “We don’t want to sell an inferior product. That’s what we built the business on and that’s what we still strive to do.
Visit ilovecrabs.com or call (888) ILUVCRABS to place an order or find out more information.
The Harrisburg store is located at 1170 Eisenhower Boulevard, Harrisburg, PA 17111 and can be reached at (717) 939-2008, while the Mechanicsburg shop is at 5523 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050 and can be reached at (717) 697-2722.
Harbor House Crabs accepts walk-ins as well as orders placed in advance.