Tucked away on a quaint harbor promenade in Calabash lies a hidden gem. Surrounded by picnic tables with grass-thatched umbrellas, a weathered dock flanked by swaying grasses, a shrimp trawler, magnificent marsh views, and the aroma of fresh fried fish, you just might miss it. But signs that say “Fresh. Local. Wild.” point you to a tiny walk-up restaurant and adjoining building called Waterfront Seafood Shack Market and Eatery. Owned by Bob and Serina Taylor, this seafood sweet spot is the real deal.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Sheree K. Nielsen
Fishing has been in Bob Taylor’s blood as far back as he can remember. Bob and his brother, Kent, enjoyed fishing tournaments for years and decided to share their passion for fishing with others. Taylor was influenced by his father-in-law, Joseph Nance, who started in the seafood business some 45 years ago. Nance loved shrimping and being on the water, as evidenced by his daily routine of taking the boat to sea, hauling in the catch, bringing it ashore, and selling fresh shrimp to the public. After 32 years, Joseph sold his boat and retired.
In 2004, Bob and Serina made a leap of faith from their previous careers as a homebuilder and a staffer to christen the Calabash Fishing Fleet. Bob, who’d already formed friendships with residents through homebuilding, hoped their new venture would fare well. Their first for-hire boat, The Navigator, promised anglers a great fishing experience on the water.
The Navigator began to succeed and, due to a customer demand for fresh seafood, in 2009 the Taylors added a shrimp trawler, selling the days’ catch to the public at the newly-formed Waterfront Seafood Shack Market and Eatery. Customers could drop by and select their evening dinner.
With repeated requests from customers for steamed crabs and cooked shrimp, the two hoped to recreate the tradition of old-style restaurants, where people could savor fresh-caught and prepared seafood on picnic tables, boasting waterfront views, boats pulling into dock, and the catch being unloaded and carried to market for cleaning.
“Our business has grown over the years to fill small niches the community has requested. We’re a team of great people. Some employees clean fish all day, some peel shrimp most of the day. The fleet goes out at 5:30-6:00 a.m. and The Navigator takes customers out around 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The market opens at 8:00 a.m. and the restaurant opens at 11:00 a.m. It’s a busy day for all of us,” says Bob.
The Taylors offer half days, ¾ days, open boat fishing and private fishing charters. The boats leave the dock equipped with rod, reel, bait, and tackle for customers. Mates will bait hooks, help pull up catch, clean and ice fish all for $40. Grey snapper, flounder, sea trout, shark, sea bass, triggerfish are some of the varieties caught. Captain Jason and his Mate, Brandon, are attentive, knowledgeable, and determined that all aboard will have an enjoyable time.
At the restaurant, many customers order shrimp to have the ocean to table experience. There is nothing like seeing shrimp come off the boat, employees peel and devein it and the restaurant prepare it and then popping the freshest shrimp you can imagine in your mouth! Other menu favorites are grouper and triggerfish, and the savory and delectable bacon-wrapped scallops.
“Now just imagine dropping a little grain of sugar on a black sea bass; that’s what triggerfish tastes like. And there’s nothing like Carolina shrimp,” Bob says of his food.
Hands down, Serina’s homemade pound cake, grilled on both sides with butter (forming a nice caramelized skin) is a customer hit. The cake, aptly nicknamed by Bob as the Knockout, implies you better have a recliner nearby after you eat it.
The couple makes an effort to talk with every customer that dines with them. Employees want customers to be satisfied and happy. Server Paula Broome will even help shuck a pan of oysters for the customers. “I wouldn’t work anywhere else. Everyone here is family,” Broome says.
The Taylors instill a sense of community by providing complimentary excursions and fishing expeditions for wounded warriors and veterans and a military discount to those who have served. Bob doesn’t think twice about helping a family lift the veteran’s wheelchair if that’s what it takes to get them on board. On their newer 105-foot boat, Atlantic Star, electric reels and a ton of deck space are perfect for the veterans in wheelchairs. Some military that step aboard are blind. Veterans need but touch a button and the electric reel brings in the fish.
A popular cruise for the entire family is the two-hour dolphin excursion on the Atlantic Star or The Navigator, which falls in line behind the shrimp boat with nets dragging. Cormorants, pelicans, and ospreys roost on the rigging, creating quite a magnificent sight. After about 90 minutes, the shrimper hauls back, pulls up nets beside the boat, and dolphins frolic and jump like kids in a candy store, anticipating a free dinner. Average dolphin sightings are around ten to twenty but go upwards to as many as 100. On the ride back those on the boat hear about local history and geography from the staff.
The true salt life is not for everyone and requires sacrifices. The Taylors work 16-18-hour days, but they enjoy every minute of it. They find inspiration in the smiles on people’s faces, the excitement of what they do for a living, and anglers returning from a trip where they’ve caught ‘the biggest fish of their life’. For now, they’re enjoying a little slice of paradise on the water – the view, the boats, the fish, the people.
With the ocean as their passion, time off is spent heading to the Florida Keys with daughters, Josie and Juliana, ages 12 and 14 – boat in tow. Their hope is for their girls to continue the journey when they’re older.
Visit the Waterfront Seafood Shack.
9945 Nance Street, Calabash