Following a green light from the Baltimore County Council, Pappas Seafood Co. will soon open a 7,500-square-foot crabcake distribution hub in Perry Hall.
The council voted Monday night to approve a zoning change allowing the facility to open at 8801 Belair Road. Pappas staffers could move into the space within a few months, said managing partner and CFO Karen Zimmerer.
Every year, Pappas ships some 3.5 million orders of its crabcakes, a noted favorite of Oprah Winfrey, Zimmerer said. The company, which got started in the 1970s as a Parkville restaurant, is also a local favorite. For Pappas, the first year of the pandemic brought a boom in shipping orders.
“2020 was insane,” Zimmerer said. “Absolutely blew us away. And then just as quick — in 2021 — what we gained, we lost.”
TODAY'S TOP VIDEOS
In 2021, as diners returned to restaurants, orders dropped off, she said. Now, the volume is just a bit higher than pre-pandemic levels. But the idea of opening a large distribution space came before the coronavirus rocked the restaurant world, she said. It was just a matter of finding the right space.
The new space will include offices and meeting space, along with plenty of refrigeration and freezer units for crab meat, soups and ice packs. There will also be a gourmet kitchen, which will create crabcakes to ship and for the Pappas restaurants, located in Cockeysville, Glen Burnie, Parkville and at the National Harbor, Zimmerer said. Not to mention a separate packing area for the roughly 2,000 orders that come in each month (a number that balloons during the winter holidays).
It’s a far cry from how the shipping operation began 14 years ago, Zimmerer said.
“We were working out of the back of a Dodge Durango to pack up boxes, so we’ve come a long way,” she said.
Back then, Zimmerer would take orders by phone, often from diners who’d tried the crabcakes in the restaurant, and ship them herself — one package at a time.
“Within the first six months that got to be crazy, so we started a little GoDaddy website,” she said.
From the “crab room” in the carryout seafood shop (across the street from the Pappas Parkville restaurant), the operation expanded into the attached building. Then, they added a trailer in the alley, and planted a few shipping containers along Taylor Avenue, Zimmerer said.
“We were very resourceful, but we’re out of room now,” she said.
Pappas will probably retain its seafood market space in Parkville, said managing partner Steve Pappas, “just without those ugly containers that are all over that corner, because we’ll have the new warehouse where we can put our boxes and equipment.”
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
“So, it will pretty Parkville as well,” Pappas said during a county council meeting last week.
Now, rising crab prices have forced a bit more creativity, Zimmerer said. Recently, Pappas debuted a new budget crabcake, dubbed the Baltimore Backfin, inspired by 1970s-style crabcakes — the kind you might get at a carnival, she said. Four-once cakes are currently priced at $10.95, and the 8-ounce variety is $18.95, she said.
The traditional Pappas Famous 8-ounce crabcakes have stuck just below $30, in spite of rising costs.
“We’re just hanging in there,” Zimmerer said. “But we hate to go that high for our customers.”
The prices don’t seem to have quelled the taste for crabcakes — at least not within the county council.
Last week, during a discussion about the zoning measure proposed by Councilman David Marks, Council Chairman Julian Jones volunteered a “friendly amendment”:
“One that would require the county council to sample these crabcakes before they’re distributed throughout the country, because after all, it’s a reflection of us here in Baltimore County,” he said with a smile.