The Untold Truth Of Joe's Crab Shack

If you live on the East Coast, then you probably know plenty of places where you can grab delicious crab. However, if you're anywhere else in the country, then you may know that task is harder than it may sound. Perhaps that's why Joe's Crab Shack expanded so widely after it hit the national scene in 1991. The chain's first restaurant was in Houston, Texas, but now, there are Joe's Crab Shacks all across the U.S. In fact, in most spots in the country, you're not more than a few hours away from the nearest Joe's Crab Shack location.

But how much do you really know about this iconic restaurant? Whether you've never set foot in a Joe's Crab Shack or you eat there on the regular, there are probably some less-than-familiar facts that you don't know about the chain. Well, buckle up, because we're about to give you the 411. We've done some research and compiled some of the most interesting facts about Joe's Crab Shack and the history of the company. And just a warning: It's not all good.

Are you ready to learn more about this national seafood chain? This is the untold truth of Joe's Crab Shack.

Joe's Crab Shack has suffered from some major closures

Just a few years ago, there were Joe's Crab Shack locations everywhere. In fact, according to FSR Magazine, there were almost 140 locations operating in 2014. However, that kind of widespread success apparently wasn't sustainable. In 2017, the chain abruptly closed 41 locations all around the country. The brand left Indiana and Michigan, with no locations left in those states at the time.

However, this news didn't come as a total shock at the time to those who knew what was happening. The brand's parent company, Ignite, was already struggling — they ended up filing for bankruptcy before the new owners took over.

With the trend tide turning against large, national sit-down chains, we don't see Joe's Crab Shack making a major comeback anytime soon. Like many restaurants, it too suffered from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple stores closed in places like Cincinnati and Vancouver. We can't say we're totally surprised, but we're sure the people who live there are going to miss their buckets of crab legs.

They came under fire for using racist photos at one of their locations

We told you it wasn't all good ... and this incident was a particularly egregious error on the part of Joe's Crab Shack. According to Eater, in 2016, the company came under fire for using a racist and violent photo as interior decoration at a restaurant location in the Minneapolis area. The photo depicted a lynching of a Black man by a white mob, and the deeply insensitive and crass caption read, "All I said was that I didn't like the gumbo." We don't know who approved a photo like this, but we can't possibly imagine how anyone would think this was a good idea.

Two customers, Tyrone Williams and Chauntyll Allen, noticed the photo and did some research. They discovered that it was an actual photo of a lynching that took place in 1896. When they brought it to the manager's attention, they apologized but did nothing to rectify the situation.

The company did apologize, according to U.S.A. Today, but that really doesn't absolve them of the fact that they allowed this décor to be placed in their restaurants. Many felt like this casual portrayal of racial violence in what was supposed to be a family-friendly restaurant underscored the fact that racism is still a problem that this country has not reckoned with.

They attempted a no-tipping policy

If you've worked in the restaurant industry before, then you know that tipping can be a major problem. At most establishments, servers are paid far below minimum wage. In fact, the minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13. Basically, by the time they're done paying their taxes, they aren't making any money from their pay itself. Instead, tipped workers are essentially paid with tips only. On a good night at a good restaurant, this means that a server can leave with a significant sum of cash. However, more often than not, servers get tables who tip very little or don't tip at all. In some cases, a customer not leaving a tip could even cost a server money.

Therefore, it makes sense why companies would want to get rid of their tipping policy. That's exactly what Joe's Crab Shack attempted to do in 2015, according to CNN. Customers were no longer expected to tip at 18 Joe's Crab Shack locations, but prices on the menu were raised by 12 to 15 percent — less than what you should be tipping, by the way. It was the first major chain to drop tipping, and it didn't go too well.

By 2016, the no-tipping idea had proved to be a bust, according to The New York Times. Patrons didn't spend as much money at the restaurant, and customers felt like they got worse service without using the tip as an incentive. It's too bad it didn't work out.

You can make Joe's Crab Shack's famous Shark Bite drink at home

By far one of the most iconic menu items at Joe's Crab Shack is the Shark Bite. When you order this drink, you're going to get a goblet of artificially blue liquid. In that liquid, there will be a floating shark toy. They then pour a shot of grenadine in the liquid, resulting in the appearance of a "shark bite." Is this the most delicious cocktail you're ever going to try? Definitely not. But it's not really about the taste in this case — it's more about the appearance.

However, you don't have to go all the way to Joe's Crab Shack to get a Shark Bite ... you can just make it at home. It's actually surprisingly easy. There are several Shark Bite copycat recipes out there, so you shouldn't have to search to hard to find a good one. Just grab some grenadine, Blue Curacao, some spiced rum, and a few other extra ingredients, and your drink will come together in no time.

Just keep in mind that if you want it to look like the real deal, you're going to need to grab some plastic sharks. Head to your local craft store to see if you can find them, or just order online.

One Joe's Crab Shack accidentally served alcohol to a toddler

In the U.S., the drinking age is 21. Say what you want about that law, but restaurants must abide by it if they want to stay in business. At some restaurants, servers have to check people's IDs to make sure that college kids who are under 21 aren't trying to order alcohol. But while it may be easy to mistake a 19-year-old for a 21-year-old, it's a bit harder to accidentally serve alcohol to a two-year-old. Alas, that's what happened at a Joe's Crab Shack in Colorado Springs, per Grub Street.

One family took six children ages 2 to 8 to a local Joe's Crab Shack, where they ordered a drink referred to as "Shark Nibbles." It was supposed to be a virgin, fruity drink that came with a shark toy. Instead, they were accidentally served Shark Bites, which are similar versions of the same drink, but they come loaded with booze. The two-year-old had finished their drink by the time the staff realized what had happened. Paramedics were then called.

Everyone makes mistakes, but this one was a major mishap. The employee who served the drinks to the family was fired by the restaurant, according to Business Insider.

Servers at Joe's Crab Shack have to dance

If you've never been to Joe's Crab Shack before, then you may not know what the vibe is all about. Overall, it's a pretty high-energy restaurant — it's not the kind of place you're going to want to go if you're in the mood for a quiet, romantic night out. It's a family restaurant, after all. But even compared to most other family restaurants, Joe's Crab Shack is a little over the top. Every once in a while, a song will come on the speakers and blast through the restaurant. That's when servers take to the aisles and start performing a dance. You can find videos of these dances all over the internet.

For those who love to dance, we can imagine that this job would be a lot of fun. However, we can see how it would get old, too — you're just trying to do your job, and then you have to stop taking care of your tables just to do a dance. And as a customer, it's kind of annoying to watch your server do the Cha-Cha Slide when you're patiently waiting on your drink to come out to the table.

They came under fire for lying about their use of trans fats

There has been a lot of controversy over fat in general and trans fats specifically over the past few decades, but researchers seem to agree now: Trans fat is not good for you, and it's something that you want to avoid whenever possible. That's why restaurants don't exactly want to advertise that they're using trans fats in their dishes. However, Joe's Crab Shack came under fire a few years ago because, despite their claims that they didn't use trans fats in their foods, many of the restaurant's dishes were actually packed with trans fat, according to Today.

In 2014, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported that the chain was using extremely high quantities of trans fats in their foods. Former executive director of the CSPI said of the restaurant's claims, "It's simply dishonest. There is lots of trans fats in some of their products." And not only did these products contain trans fats, but some dishes even had as much as a week's worth of trans fats in one meal.

It's important that restaurants are honest about what kinds of food they're serving their patrons so those customers can make better, informed decisions about their health. This behavior definitely raises eyebrows about what other shady business practices are going on within the company.

One location in San Fransisco got sued for labor violations

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation, conversations about the state of labor in the United States have taken center stage. But labor issues have been on the radar for Joe's Crab Shack for quite some time now. Back in 2013, one Joe's Crab Shack location in San Francisco was sued for alleged labor violations, per Eater. Several employees filed a class-action lawsuit that claimed that the restaurant refused to give back-of-house workers breaks, made them pay for their own uniforms, and didn't provide them with health insurance or health savings accounts. Some of the bosses were also accused of harassment.

With restaurants so desperate for more workers these days, it'll be interesting to see how labor law violations like this one will play out in the future. Those who are considering working for Joe's Crab Shack, though, should be aware of these violations to avoid being unfairly exploited by the company in the future.