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The Crab Shack — Entrepreneur brings live seafood to new East Bremerton market

Christine Hamner selects the largest
Christine Hamner selects the largest 'dungy' from the Crab Shack's Dungeness crab live well for a customer at the seafood shop on Wheaton Way.
— image credit: Greg Skinner/staff photo

Eight months into it, Claude Hamner is sleeping through the night.

His idea to open a “crab shack” on Wheaton Way is looking more and more like a good one.

When the shack opened in January as Hamner’s retirement plan and first venture into a small business, the idea to sell live seafood woke him up at night wondering if an east coast style seafood shack would fly in Bremerton.

“Nobody was doing it,” he said. “It’s not fresh, it’s live.”

While seafood lovers in Bremerton can get afresh seafood at many major grocery stores no one else is selling live crabs and shellfish. Penn Cove mussels, Hood Canal oysters and Oakland Bay steamers are kept in approved seawater from Salsbury Point along with the Dungeness crab from the coastal crab fishery.

Hamner said if he could figure out how to sell live fish for the table he would. Until then, multiple trips to the coast each week to meet with a stable of fishing boats keeps him with fresh whole salmon.

In keeping with an old business adage of “location, location, location,” Hamner said in his case – the  former oil change and auto lube station that houses his seafood shop – it was everything to the plan.

Driving past the former garage he could see the shack in his mind. “It is what gave me the idea,” he said. “I let it swim in my head for a while.”

Christine Hamner, Claude’s wife and partner, said that once a woman came in to the shop that became a shack looking to get a dent fixed in her car.

“I told her we sell live seafood,” she said.

A  former heavy equipment operator, Claude Hemner had a little experience buying wholesale crab before starting the business.  And though business was “real slow” at first, it was better than Hemner expected.

It turns out there is a strong seafood community here, he said. Business at the shack went from “nobody to swamped.”

Word has spread as customers that started dropping by the shack after noticing the promise of live crab in three-foot-tall red and white letters across the front garage bay doors.

Built on relationships with costal fisheries, Hamner said the shack buys from with the local tribes when their fish openings match his stock needs. As the seasons change and open fisheries move Hamner follows with his pickup truck.

Hamner travels three to four times a week to Westport to fetch Dungeness crab and salmon.

He expects to have a load of Albacore tuna on ice with his weekend shipment from the coast as well.

Satisfied beyond his expectations, Hamner said hes grown to enjoy time with customers who repeatedly visit while picking up a a single crab or a couple of hundred pounds of salmon. In the end he credits the support from his wife.

“When I was second guessing and triple questioning, she said it would work,” he said.

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