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Truck converted to Crab Shack

August 06, 2006|by NICK MOHAR-SCHURZ

During the week, Robert "Bud" Kelley makes his living traveling wide and far as a carpenter, but on weekends he is building a business in Washington County selling crabs out of a truck.

While working to help rebuild the Pentagon after 9/11, Kelley got some advice from a friend, Willy Wright, who had been selling seafood part time from a roadside truck in the Washington, D.C., area for more than 20 years. Kelley said Wright showed him how to convert a truck for use as a seafood business.

The idea for Kelley's Rolling Crab Shack took root.

Kelley bought a used truck in Hagerstown's West End and made the improvements necessary to sell crabs. He added sinks, a holding tank, a discharge tank, three cookers, an air-conditioning unit and stainless steel pots.

"At that time, I had just come home from working in the Bahamas," said Kelley, 55, whose job with a carpenters union often sends him far from his Halfway home.

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When he started his seafood sales, Kelley traveled to Cambridge, Md., for crabs. That was no picnic because, he said, he had to try to keep the crabs cool in the back of his family's sport utility vehicle while fighting the rush-hour traffic around Washington, D.C.

Now, he buys from a place in Piney Point, Md., and the crabs are delivered to his roadside business.

He said being "little guys," their business is at the mercy of the delivery truck - it's arrival time and how many crabs it brings.

One shipment arrived at 2:30 p.m., two hours later than the time Kelley usually opens the Crab Shack for business, he said.

The size of deliveries varies from about eight to 12 bushels.

Working from the truck, Kelley cannot preserve crabs as seafood restaurants do and he must sell them the same day they're delivered.

Kelley's Rolling Crab Shack usually sells out, however, so business is first-come, first-served.

Because the size of crab deliveries varies, he suggests calling to reserve larger orders. Walkups are welcome, too, he said.

His wife, Pat Kelley, 57, said customers like knowing exactly what kind of crabs they are buying and where they originated.

The Crab Shack sells only No. 1 mediums, which are a minimum of 5 1/2 inches from point to point, he said. Customers can buy them live or steamed.

Kelley said his business would not survive without his wife, who calls customers, manages the finances and works with the delivery people.

"All I do is cook," he said, noting that his father and Wright taught him everything he knows about preparing crabs.

Kelley's Rolling Crab Shack, which does business in the parking lot of G&P Distributors on Virginia Avenue, is open on weekends from Memorial Day to September. Bud Kelley said he likes to open at 12:30 p.m., and setting up the stand takes him about 45 minutes.

Erik Brunner, his brother, often helps, making tasks such as hooking up the propane tanks easier.

The Crab Shack usually closes at 7 p.m. on Saturdays and at 4 p.m. on Sundays, if it has not already sold out of crabs.

Kelley said he considered selling more than crabs. He temporarily offered shrimp, but said he ended up eating most of the shrimp before customers had a chance to buy them. And, he said, the more fish you sell, the more complicated the health inspections become.

As for the future, Kelley said he is looking for a place with more parking, but worries a move might upset the loyal customers who know where to look for him.

He recently added an awning, which has helped give the truck some personality, he said. He plans to paint a crab or information about the Crab Shack on the side of his truck.

Kelley still works as a carpenter on weekdays and in the off-season. Last year, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay to do carpentry work. He left in January, but said he was back in May, "in time to start my crabs again."

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