It’s a sheli-bration!
Rain can’t keep crowd from crab shack’s celebration
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Having his own business was all Eric McKinnon could think about after several years of working as a cook for some of Tallahassee’s restaurants.
He simply wanted to satisfy his passion. He just didn’t see the work that goes into running his own joint which he named Leola’s Crab Shack.
Looking back 11 years later, McKinnon said he’s still as passionate despite the labor of keeping his restaurant opened.
“It has really been a difference now I’m the corporate person,” he said. “I have to roll out all of the marketing ideas, all of the new menu items, be in-charge of labor, food cost and all the stuff like that.
“I do this because I love it; not because it turns a dollar.”
This past Saturday, thousands braved a downpour that was followed by overcast skies to help McKinnon celebrate another anniversary. It was the second time he’s staged what amount to a block party in the parking lot outside of his restaurant, located on Orange Avenue.
Even when there was a slight drizzle, the crowd partied on.
“People wanted to celebrate a Black business making it this long,” McKinnon said. “They really wanted to come out. We are having a fun, joyous time.”
Previously he’d simply offer an all-you-can-eat feast to his customers to mark each year in business. It has now become an event that featured comedian Sweet Baby Kita, a live band, vendors and bounce houses for children.
A disc jockey kept the crowed entertained before the live acts started.
Kita, who earlier this year won an amateur competition at Live at the Apollo, has played bigger events, but said performing in community events like Leola’s celebration is more gratifying.
McKinnon’s willingness to give back to the community was her inspiration for coming, she said.
“It’s always good to give back because you’ve got to know where you came from,” she said. “Once you make it, they expect something from you. It is in the Bible: ‘To whom much is given, much is required and this is required.’ Now they get a chance to see a Black business owner doing something good for his community.”
Obviously, there was plenty of food. Blue crabs were the main course and McKinnon had plenty. He started the day with a medium sized refrigerator truck packed, he said.
Kenneth Webster heaped praise on McKinnon for putting on the event for the second year and enduring as a business owner.
“We in the Black community have to patronize each other,” he said. “We have to understand that our businesses are just as viable. We need each other so when he gives back to the community in a way that you see out here today, it’s an opportunity for him to remember the people that support him.”
County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who assisted with promotion of the event, said it should go a long way to the restaurant’s longevity.
Not only that, he said.
“It not only brands the business, but it brands the business as caring,” Proctor said. “It gives a platform for young people and old people to come out. They feel loved and a part of something significant and relevant.”
McKinnon, who said his first experience in a kitchen was when his mother put him on a milk crate to reach the stove top, is already planning for an even bigger event next year and beyond.
“If you had to rate it as to who one of the top five (in the state),” he said, “we want Leola’s Crab Shack anniversary festival to be in that top five.”