Gary's lakefront Miller neighborhood has faced some setbacks, such as the closure of the Walgreens last year and the looming closure of the Wirt-Emerson high school, but it continues to attract new businesses and restaurants.
California Crab Shack is the latest eatery to open along the main street commercial corridor, where the 444 Caribbean Grill & Bar had been located. The restaurant was much anticipated in Miller since the signage had been up for months and months with no apparent activity inside before it finally threw open its doors.
"It's been a long time coming," said chef Jason Johnson, who co-owns the restaurant with his fiancee Clarice Parker. "Me and my fiancee just love to cook, and we decided to open a business and came up with the menu. We started looking for locations and started looking at Miller. We wanted to bring value to the city."
They wanted to offer something unique other than pizza or burgers.
"Seafood's my favorite food," Parker said. "I love seafood."
The 45-seat restaurant, which can accommodate another 35 diners in its patio and courtyard during the summer, employs 10 people and offers nearly every sea creature in an extensive menu that includes lobster pot pie, barbecue bacon shrimp, crab pizza, alligator bites, swai fillet, crab legs, mussels, Alaskan king crab and the old-school Region favorite frog legs. It also serves beer and specialty cocktails.
Top sellers have included lobster mac and cheese, crab pizza and seafood gumbo.
"We have a beach theme," Johnson said. "We love visiting California. We play a lot of West Coast music. The presentation is a little on the upscale side, but it's a casual restaurant."
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In the summer, they plan to open the patio and courtyard, which will be strung with overhead lights at night to give it a sophisticated feel.
"Miller gets a lot of tourism in the summer time, people going to the beach, and we hope to benefit from that," he said. "It's a diverse neighborhood with people from all walks of life coming through. It's a happy, energetic and supportive community."
If anyone wonders why the overhead sign on Lake Street says California Crab Shack was "established in 1982" when it actually opened a few weeks ago, it's because the graphic designer stuck the design element on there and they lived it. Parker was born in 1982.
"It looked good, and it gives us a little age," Johnson joked.
California Crab Shack is open from 1 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday. It's closed on Mondays.
For more information, call 866-433-0691 or find the business on Facebook.