Angry Crab Shack will start 2023 accomplishing something it has never done before—going international.
The first unit, set to open late Q1, will be only miles away from Buckingham Palace in London. It’s the chain’s inaugural unit outside of the U.S., but not the first time there’s been interest. The seafood chain was once approached about coming to China roughly two to three years after it was founded. That interaction never followed through; the opposite happened leading up to the U.K. transaction.
President Andy Diamond remembers the sales team receiving a call from Bruce Li, director and shareholder of Mason and M Ltd, who came across the 19-unit Angry Crab Shack on Instagram and became interested in bringing seafood boil to more parts of the U.K. Afterward, the company’s operations director Lucy Liang and general manager Sonia Sheng traveled to Arizona over Easter weekend, unbeknownst to the chain. They dined at about five locations around Phoenix, and found the food and atmosphere to be consistent and high quality, Diamond explains. Thus began a serious dialogue about bringing Angry Crab Shack to the U.K.
Like any other franchise prospect, the group flew in for Discovery Day, spent time at corporate headquarters in Mesa, Arizona, and toured restaurants. In addition to the first location scheduled to open next year, Mason and M agreed to debut a second and third store in London and Cambridge. Depending on how those restaurants fare, the operator will have the option to become a master franchisee for the entire country.
Angry Crab Shack is equipped to handle the leap overseas, Diamond says. As the chain has grown over the past five years, it’s developed a sophisticated corporate team that trains management candidates and franchise owners. It’s a type of infrastructure fit to handle inquiries from anywhere in the world. And from Mason and M’s end, Diamond saw a sense of urgency from the time conversations began. That’s why the two sides signed a head of terms agreement so all the principal franchise matters could be outlined and then later amended to follow U.K. law.
Everything Mason and M has done shows Diamond it has the infrastructure, drive, and work ethic to be successful in the country.
“Seeing the research and the time that this group has put in and the money they’ve spent, I mean, to fly two people over here to eat at multiple restaurants, it’s a little bit different than even someone coming from California and eating. It’s quite a shorter flight and a lot less money,” Diamond says.
For more than six months, Angry Crab Shack and the international franchisee have talked over Zoom, phone, and email about mockups and drawings for the upcoming restaurant. There will be key differences from the U.S. version. Firstly, domestic stores are typically 5,500 square feet. The one in London, based in an urban, downtown environment, will be only 2,000 square feet. It will have the same branding, color, and energy as U.S. restaurants, including a hint of Arizona culture, but there will be British vibes to make it feel more local. Also, the U.K. uses electric appliances while Angry Crab Shack uses gas equipment in America.
In terms of procurement, the chain gets its lobsters from the East Coast, its Dungeness crab from the Pacific Northwest, its king crab from the Bering Strait (between Russia and Alaska), its snow crab from Canada, and crawfish from the Gulf of Mexico. For the U.K., it will be somewhat different. For example, Diamond says the group will likely use a brown or spider crab instead of Dungeness and obtain snow crab from Norway. Angry Crab Shack uses Sysco for distribution, and so will Mason and M.
“Since they know what our seafood is like it’s just finding a comparable quality, comparable taste, and hopefully at a comparable price of products,” Diamond says. “Everything will be locally sourced as it is, the spices will be locally sourced, paper goods, everything like that, will mirror what we do here in the U.S.”
More international growth could be on the radar. Angry Crab Shack has a franchise store in Yuma, Arizona, that’s about two-and-a-half hours away from Mexicali, Mexico, and the owner of that restaurant has interest in partnering with others south of the border. South America could be a possible destination as well. In Europe, the brand has trademarks throughout the U.K. and Ireland, and Diamond is banking on the new U.K. stores building interest internationally.
“I would imagine that we will get some more interest from other countries, and when we do, we’ll look at it exactly the way we do with every franchise partner,” Diamond says. “We look at the candidate, the market they are interested in opening to determine if it is a good fit for both parties.”
The brand oversees 14 franchises and five corporate stores in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas. Prior to COVID, Angry Crab Shack set a goal to reach 100 locations by 2025, and Diamond says the chain is sticking with it despite some slowdowns over the past couple of years. Operators are now starting to return to growth. One franchise company in Atlanta is preparing to sign a lease for an agreement signed in 2019, and that’s because one of the owners is a traveling emergency nurse who’s been occupied.
This year, Angry Crab Shack entered Texas and opened three units in Arizona. A deal was signed to bring another two locations to Arizona, but Diamond says most growth going forward will be in the Midwest, Texas, and Southeast. In 2023, the chain will open two units in Atlanta and make its debut in Washington State. Additionally, the company is in talks with a “very large” franchising group to bring the concept to California.
Diamond, who is an accountant by nature, is wary of economic conditions heading into 2023. He recommends that franchise partners not make decisions based on what’s in the bank account. That means continuing to advertise, market, and putting money into training, salaries, and quality food.
He believes operators must do what’s best for the business. And he’s confident in the U.K. franchisee following all of those guidelines.
“The group from the U.K. doesn’t seem overly concerned about the economics,” Diamond says. “The market is heavily populated with a lot of pedestrian traffic near the location.”