Gourmet Shrimp Dishes As Mall Food


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
April 10, 2008

Shrimp carbonara, coconut shrimp, shrimp cocktail and Cajun jambalaya shrimp hardly sound like the fare typically found in a mall food court.

But Shrimp Market is trying to show consumers that shrimp can be affordable enough to enjoy on a regular basis. It may be the first quick-service restaurant specializing in shrimp.

The Aventura company opened its first store a year ago in Aventura Mall and is ready to roll out the concept with 14 more stores over the next year in South Florida and the Northeast. The first is today's opening at Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines. Locations are also planned for Dadeland Mall in Miami and Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise.

"Shrimp was always a treat. You could only eat it on special occasions," said Vanessa Abramowitz, president of Shrimp Market. "We want shrimp to be accessible to everyone."

The menu at Shrimp Market is designed with enough variety to encourage repeat visits, offering shrimp prepared in every way from fried and grilled to Italian and Asian dishes. There's also shrimp sold by the pound to take home.

Most of the menu items cost around $7 per entree. The most expensive: an 18-ounce container of chilled cocktail shrimp for $14.99 that can easily serve three or more people.

"You have to go to a specialty restaurant to get something like this," said Babita Roop of San Francisco, who was sharing cocktail shrimp and grilled garlic-shrimp skewers for lunch one day this week at Aventura Mall with her friend Monique Davis. "It's amazing. I wish we had one of these at home."

Shrimp Market controls costs because the restaurant chain is the subsidiary of Cartagena Shrimp Co. of Colombia. The vertically-integrated company raises shrimp from larvae, processes them and sells the frozen shrimp wholesale to restaurants, supermarkets and distributors.


Abramowitz's father Salomon Finvarb founded the shrimp company in 1983. Today, it produces 10,000 tons of shrimp a year, which generates annual revenues of about $100 million. The company opened a U.S. wholesale subsidiary Caribco in 2002, and sales have grown to $12 million last year.

The restaurant chain is an idea that Finvarb has contemplated for years.

"Because we control the whole supply chain, there's no fat in our chain and no middle man," said Finvarb, president of Cartagena Shrimp Co.. "We can get the product to the public at very reasonable prices."

Shrimp Market takes advantage of the parent company's expertise by having all its products processed at the Colombia plant. Fried shrimp are butterflied and breaded. Shrimp for the rice and pasta dishes are blanched, peeled, deveined and portioned into plastic bags. The frozen shrimp are then shipped to Miami, along with the shipments for Caribco.

"I get it exactly how I need it," Abramowitz said. "This way, I can keep more control because I know I'm going to get the same quality at every restaurant."

Aventura Mall took a chance on Shrimp Market because of a desire to bring more diversity and upscale tenants to its food court. "Typically we shy away from untried things, but this was so unique," said Ted Siegal, senior leasing director for Turnberry Associates.

Aventura Mall has been pleased with Shrimp Market's performance, which rang up $650,000 in sales last year. The company's goal is to get average restaurant volume up to $800,000.

The expansion plans include some of the top shopping malls. "The developers love it because there hasn't been anything new under the sun in food courts," said Arthur Weiner, whose Coral Gables firm AWE Talisman has handled the leasing.


Industry experts say the concept makes sense in a food court because if one person in a party doesn't like shrimp they have other choices.

"They have a nice niche if they can execute," said Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of WD Partners, a restaurant consulting firm. "When you specialize in this kind of aspirational, high-end protein there is little margin for error. While that's not so hard to do when there's three stores, it is much harder with 30 and even more difficult with 130 stores."

As Shrimp Market continues to grow, the company is focusing on adjusting the menu mix with items that can be prepared quickly and at affordable prices. Shrimp spring rolls were taken off the menu because each took 10 minutes to prepare.

Shrimp green curry is gone because it had the highest food costs of any item on the menu and wasn't a top seller.

At the new Pembroke location, Shrimp Market is testing a slightly scaled-down menu with about a half dozen fewer choices. The new restaurants also have a more open kitchen so customers can watch their food being prepared.

"There's a perception that if you have shrimp in a food court it's not going to be very good," said Danny Bendas, managing partner of Synergy, a restaurant-consulting firm working for Shrimp Market. "We're doing a lot of marketing to let people know that we do cook to order and everything is fresh."


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