Shuckin’ Shack taps into latest trends with Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp appetizer
A seafood restaurant chain is garnering publicity after creating a signature dish based on a viral tweet about alleged shrimp tails found in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S.A.-based Shuckin’ Shack, which operates 16 locations in five states, added a fried Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp appetizer to its menu after podcast host Jensen Karp claimed he found two shrimp tails mixed in with his Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
The makers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch said that what Karp thought were shrimp tails were actually large clumps of cinnamon and sugar.
“After further investigation with our team that closely examined the image, it appears to be an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended,” Cinnamon Toast Crunch tweeted, per Time. “We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross-contamination with shrimp.”
By late March, many Americans, including Shuckin’ Shack CEO Jonathan Weathington, had heard about the story.
“My first thought was, ‘What in the world?’ When someone mixes shrimp and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that is not going to go well,” Weathington told SeafoodSource.
Curious to discover for himself what the shrimp and sugary cereal combination would taste like, he purchased a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal at a local Dollar General store and worked with one of Shuckin’ Shack’s chefs to create a batter for the shrimp.
”He and I tried several different ways of getting the batter to stick. Finally, we double-dipped it and it stuck,” Weathington said. The resulting batter is made with buttermilk, flour, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
While Weathington said he didn’t like the flavor combination at first, the crispy, sweet, and savory dish, served with sweet Thai chili sauce, has grown on him.
“I tried it again yesterday and it was great. We serve high-quality shrimp from the Gulf [of Mexico], so we don’t have to do much to it [for it to taste good],” he said.
Shuckin’ Shack has sold more of the “hidden” menu item – available at two of its restaurants – than Weathington expected.
“It could be a candle that burns out, but if there is a rush on [our]Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp, we will happily sell it for as long as our Dollar General keeps the cereal in stock,” he said.
The restaurant brand also offers other fun dishes, such as “Sharkbite Shrimp,” a fried shrimp appetizer served with a sweet and spicy “Sharkbite” dipping sauce.
Shuckin’ Shack has grown quickly – even through the COVID-19 pandemic – after opening its first location in 2007. Its comparable sales have grown significantly every year, according to Weathington.
“It was scary at the beginning of pandemic, but we didn’t ever ask ourselves, ’Is the business going to come back?,’” Weathington said. We knew that, if we were allowed dining-room seats, the business is going to come back. Our customer base is extremely loyal.”
Instead, the pandemic turned into a “learning experience” for Shuckin’ Shack executives, according to Weathington. In order to stay engaged with guests, they utilized creative marketing ideas and leaned more heavily on social media.
“The creative side can dissipate when you are dealing with high-volume restaurants. We had to figure out how we could stay engaged with our guests and our employees,” Weathington said.
Now that dining restrictions are lessening in many states – North Carolina, for example, recently moved to 75 percent capacity – customers are returning to Shuckin’ Shacks’ restaurants in droves, he said.
“Sometimes, we were doing as much business with limited capacity than before the pandemic – we just filled in day parts. People were more cognizant of slower times and spread themselves out,” Weathington said.
Weathington said he believes his customers are loyal because Shuckin’ Shack serves “high-quality” seafood such as wild U.S. shrimp and farmed shellfish from Virginia and Maryland.
“We choose a much higher-quality product and they taste better,” he said, noting that 95 percent of Shuckin’ Shacks’ food is made from scratch and to-order for customers.
White Stone Oysters in Virginia, which supplies oysters to the restaurant company throughout the year, is one of its longstanding seafood suppliers.
Shuckin’ Shack is looking at expanding locations throughout the Southeast U.S., Texas, and the Ohio River Valley according to Weathington. It is opening a location in Ocala, Florida, this year, and has eventual plans to open an additional location in Tampa, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Shuckin’ Shack