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With long-awaited expansion, Frederick restaurateurs grow despite COVID-19

Eric Weller, left, and Wade Newman, owners of Shuckin' Shack Oyster Bar in Frederick, are expanding their restaurant. That expansion includes the construction of a new bar for oyster shucking.

Eric Weller, left, and Wade Newman, owners of Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar in Frederick, are expanding their restaurant. That expansion includes the construction of a new bar for oyster shucking.

When the majority of restaurants made the pivot to delivery and takeout due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, a casual seafood spot that opened in Frederick in 2016, had some difficulty attracting customers.

Why? The answer is right there in the restaurant’s name — few patrons were interested in ordering raw oysters and other seafood to go. So, at the beginning of the pandemic, Eric Weller and Wade Newman, owners of the Frederick franchise of the North Carolina-based restaurant and raw bar, worked the restaurant alone, with Weller working the bar and Newman working the kitchen. 

“For three months … that was our income,” Newman recalled. “It was very minimal, but we were at least able to keep the doors open and generate at least something to help offset some of the bills.” 

The pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for the pair, for whom 2019 was their best year since opening three years prior. Though they had opened to much success in 2016 — with the Frederick News-Post lauding the company for “(carving) out a niche” in Frederick’s “already-saturated dining market” — Weller said 2019 was when Shuckin’ Shack had finally figured out what the Frederick market was looking for. The restaurant began hosting a lineup of live music and entertainment that kept business booming through the night, and more customers began coming for the restaurant’s food, instead of just drinks. 

“Our business had taken off,” Newman said. “And then, boom, the pandemic hit and all heck broke loose.” 

Despite some challenges, Shuckin’ Shack has been doing better than ever since reopening. The past three months have been the restaurant’s best yet, and the owners are even beginning to work toward a long-awaited expansion into a space next door to the restaurant. 

Located behind a tattoo parlor, the space was the longtime home of a beloved former Frederick restaurant, Griff’s Landing. For years Weller and Newman had been eying the spot, which is owned by the owner of the tattoo parlor, as it would nearly double the seating available at Shuckin’ Shack; currently, the restaurant can fit 62 patrons. The space next door also comes with a covered patio, more appealing for COVID-cautious patrons still hoping to dine outdoors.  

But the last time the space was up for rent, it wasn’t a good fit, as the owner was hesitant to tear down the walls between the two buildings, Weller recalled. But earlier this year, after the previous tenant (another restaurant) left, the owner offered the space to Weller and Newman, who jumped at the offer. 

“(He realized,) ‘hey, I see you guys are here for the long haul. I don’t want to keep on leasing this every two or three years,’ ” Weller said. “So, he really envisioned us being there for a long time.” 

The new space will include the patio, which can seat about 25 patrons, and a new bar, where oysters will be shucked in front of the customers (currently, they’re shucked in the kitchen).  

Of course, Weller and Newman will likely have to double their staff to accommodate the increase in customers, something that may be challenging during the ongoing worker shortage. However, the restaurant has retained many of its workers throughout COVID-19, and its owners are confident they will be able to fill out the staff in the coming months, thanks to the popularity of the restaurant. 

The owners aren’t worried that the current uptick in COVID-19 cases, with cases in Maryland the highest they have been since April due to the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, will impact business as they work towards the expansion. While Weller said that the possibility of capacity limits being reinstated is “a little concerning,” he noted that having a larger space would actually make it easier to adapt to those limits. 

He also doesn’t feel that the current surge is impacting customers’ eagerness to dine out, either. 

“We still see people walking in with masks and taking it off when they sit down or wearing it to the bathroom … but our customer base seems to be over that,” he said. “We don’t see much hesitation on our customers’ part.” 

Shuckin’ Shack’s expansion is expected to finish construction by late October.