Travis Todd’s grandparents started a small crab factory in 1947 to produce some of the finest Blue Crab meet on the eastern shore. Nearly 70 years later, the business has evolved into Ocean Odyssey, a beloved destination restaurant run by third generation family members. Travis Todd grew up around the family business and has been a part of it for most of his life. When I interviewed Travis for our upcoming book, we had this exchange about changes to the business over the years…
As your business has evolved, what are some of the values that have not changed?
“First and foremost, the thing that hasn’t changed is just a feeling of belonging, to a certain extent, and family dedication. When I say family, I’m talking about extended family as well. I think Dorchester County is truly an area where, when you hear people say it takes a village to raise a person, you know that’s very much alive here. One of the things that attracted me into it is just that really strong sense of community and really strong family pride in what we do and what we enjoyed for several years throughout the history of it, and fought for, for several years of our history too. Once you sink your teeth into something you don’t really want to walk away from it, even if the punches are coming pretty hard.
Number two, and this has always been consistent, is our dedication to using 100% domestic blue crab. I made my decision to really jump both feet first into this thing at a time where imported crab meat was hammering away at the market share of domestic crab meat, whether it was Maryland crabmeat, Virginia crabmeat, Carolina crabmeat, Louisiana, what have you. There was a big push in a lot of restaurants to purchase crabmeat sourced from Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere overseas. It was fine. There’s nothing wrong with that product. But the problem for us was the marketing — people were coming to Maryland and sitting in these waterside restaurants and eating these “Maryland style” crab cakes. That was always the key word – “style.” As long as you had that on your menu, you could use whatever you wanted. These guys were buying this crab meat from international providers at significantly less cost. I get it — sometimes in the restaurant business you run on tight margins. You have to do those things with various products. But, for us, we were so connected to Maryland seafood and Maryland crabmeat and having a background in manufacturing before being in the restaurant business that it really created a gigantic amount of respect for the product.”
Did you ever consider using imported crabmeat?
“That’s one of the things where we definitely draw a line on the sand. There’s a lot in this world that requires flexibility and openness, but that’s one thing where we would sooner take crab cakes off the menu. It’s too much a core of what we are, what we came from, and what the history of our family business is. That really comes from Pops. He was there for a couple years when that crab meat was really infiltrating the market. The guys would come by and bring us samples. They wouldn’t last too long in here before he would politely ask them to walk back out the same door they came in. He didn’t even want a can of that product to be seen in this place. I think that we’ve certainly drawn the line there and have never wavered from that. In all our minds we’re pretty proud about that.”
I admire that approach so much. If you do too, you can listen to the entire interview here on our iTunes podcast, or read it when the book releases in March.