In the 1930’s before there was “The Crab Shack”, these 4 acres of high ground meandering along the banks of Chimney Creek was outfitted as place for locals to put their boats in the water, buy bait, pick up a few “necessaries” - of which cold beer was one. Over the years, the owners (at the time) allowed a few small camper trailer owners to rent space on the grounds. The name Chimney Creek Fishing Camp became synonymous with good fishing trips, camping trips, or just sitting around the pot-bellied stove in the concrete block building called the “marina” and telling lies about fish caught…or not. Some locals docked their boats, some used the hoist, but they all stopped in now and again to have a cold beer and tell a tall tale.
Jack and Belinda Flanigan were living in Atlanta, Georgia in 1983 when they read a “fish camp for sale” ad in the newspaper. Having left Savannah and Hinesville, respectively, for Atlanta, they both knew the area well and longed for a kinder, gentler lifestyle. So, they made an offer, bought the place, and moved to Tybee. They worked hard running the fishing camp and marina while studying for their Captain’s licenses. After getting the official “Captain” titles, they added Charter fishing services to the operation with Jack running offshore Charters in The Creek 1, (which is still docked in the number one position at the marina to this day), and Belinda running inshore fishing trips in a smaller boat (which is still on the property, too.) The fishing was great. There were plenty of delectably fat blue crabs to be had by just throwing a trap in the creek, and a shrimp net tossed off the back of either charter boat brought enough tasty crustaceans for a good low country boil. Everyone wanted a place to gather and cook these gifts from the sea. Tybeenians love to gather around food – particularly seafood.
The location was great, the sunsets were beautiful, the weather was right, and no one knows at which of these “gatherings” the Crab Shack was born. But it happened. A table here, a table there. More people – locals at first, then friends of locals, then friends of friends, then strangers and then a business license. Still just a few tables with Jack cooking &, Belinda waiting tables. Just a few hours a day a few days a week – still running the marina and fishing camp and charters. Then, folks wanted a libation with their seafood. Jack and Belinda and some friendly locals came together. Just like the old fashioned “barn raising”, a “bar raising” was accomplished on the day the first liquor license was granted to The Crab Shack. That first “bar” for the Crab Shack now serves as the hostess station….be sure to check it out on the web site. Hard to believe this all started there. The first menu was drawn on a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood and hung on a wall where it could be seen from all 6 tables. That same menu is proudly hung over the front door of the main dining room today, but has been replaced for customers with placement sized renditions and many, delicious additions. The outdoor restroom building is the same building that was constructed as restrooms for the fishing village on the property during the 50’s. The Gift Shack and aviary is the same building that housed the marina and bait shop since the 30’s. When you think about it, with all the relics of it’s “old days” still being in use or displayed today, it could be called The “Crab - sonian Institution”.
The Crab Shack wasn’t a plan. It was a serendipitous happening. But, it has been carefully managed as it morphs and grows so that the ambiance of it’s creek bank location, the lushness of the hundred year old live oaks dotting the property, the freedom of dining al fresco while watching dolphin play in the creek, and the taste of seafood so fresh you want to slap it, will never be lost. It has grown. Oh, has it grown. Since that first license as a restaurant in 1987 till now, it has outstripped anything ever imagined by anyone involved in the process. But it is still a little slice of paradise, located just off Highway 80 east on Tybee Island.