Pinchers Crab Shack opened its first restaurant in a 1,500 square-foot space nestled inside a strip mall in Bonita Springs.
The year was 1997 and owner Tony Phelan was determined to give Southwest Florida something it lacked — the freshest seafood served in a fun, down-to-earth atmosphere.
The concept of the six table, 12 employee restaurant was simple: Make it look like an old seafood shack you’d find resting along the Gulf coast, yet place it miles from water. In essence, bring the Gulf of Mexico to where the bulk of the population lived.
While Tony’s son Grant went looking for the fresh seafood, Tony spent his time looking for kitschy do-dads to decorate the inside of his restaurant. For Tony Phelan, junk would become useful again. He would cut metal barrels in half and use them for his bar, discarded wood pallets would be turned into tables while sinks and other restaurant necessities would come from junkyards and restaurant liquidation sales.
Grant’s task, on the other hand, proved more difficult. The first crabbers he came across were unreliable, but eventually, he cracked the shell on nearby Pine Island. It wasn’t a far drive and its close proximity meant that the days catch would arrive on Pinchers’ tables a mere couple hours after being plucked from the Gulf.
As the family business grew and more restaurants opened, the need for a steady supply of seafood also grew — especially since Pinchers became known as the premier place to find Florida’s newest delicacy, the stone crab.
With Pine Island being just a stone’s throw away (pun intended) from all of Pinchers’ locations, Island Crab Company became Pinchers key to the sea. Before long, Pinchers would buy a 50 percent stake in the company, thereby controlling their most precious product from the water to your table and ensuring that Phelan’s restaurants — whether at Historic Tin City in Naples, Sarasota’s Lakewood Ranch or the ever popular Duval Street in Key West — would always have the freshest seafood anywhere.
Today, the Phelans own eight Pinchers locations and plan to open several more
The family owned and operated business for over 16 years is now one of Southwest Florida’s largest employers with more than 400 employees.