It is commonplace for visitors to walk into the Crab Crib in Baltimore County, order takeout and find there's no place to stand at the busy eatery. It's not normal for visitors to sporadically show up, photograph the business and drive off into oblivion. But store owner Jackie Foltz said this is what started happening outside The Crab Crib.
At first, she couldn't explain why.
"We saw them taking pictures outside, invited them in and asked them what they were doing, thought that maybe they were on vacation and had never seen shrimp before," says Foltz.
Foltz would soon come to learn that the phenomenon was due in great part to the popular podcast "Serial," which revisits a murder case of a Woodlawn High School student from 1999. Host Sarah Koenig and producer Dana Chivvis visit key case locations in episode five, titled "Route Talk." During their drive around the Woodlawn area, Chivvis points out, "There's a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib." The otherwise unrelated local shout-out is just eight words long and spans a mere three seconds of airtime.
Those three seconds caught the ear of listeners and become a nationwide catchphrase for fans of "Serial," the weekly download that has been downloaded over five million times and is considered to be the most successful podcast to date. It was these fanatics who first spoke to Foltz of her store's inadvertent worldwide advertising. And they have spread their fervor via blogs, discussion boards and merchandise.
"I did have a couple of phone calls asking if I had heard about 'Serial,' and I thought they were just trying to sell me something," Foltz said. "I had a lady from Arizona email me and ask for magnets and things like that."
A search for "The Crab Crib" on Google brings up just three reviews. All of them reference the hit show.
Mark Miazga is an English teacher at Baltimore's City College high school who covers education, social issues, sports, culture and other topics in his blog, "Epiphany in Baltimore." A fan of "Serial," Miazga decided to visit all of the show's key locations for his blog over winter break, including a stop for lunch at the Crab Crib. Although the restaurant had nothing to do with the plot of the story, Miazga said it was a moment in the show that stuck out to him.
"I remember I was at the gym doing my ab-workout and they mentioned the Crab Crib in passing and I thought, 'Oh, that's weird.' I think it really humanized the Dana character, the other producer, and gave listeners a break from the tension of the crime story."
On his blog, he wrote that he sated his curiosity about whether there's still a shrimp sale ("[Y]es, there is, as it's a yearlong sale," he wrote). His verdict: "The Crab Crib was a cool and friendly lunch counter place to grab a bite to eat, and the food was good."
The pop-culture site Buzzfeed features the trivial line in a poll titled, "The Definitive Serial Obsessive Poll." The restaurant is also referenced in a group discussion forum on the popular women's interests site Jezebel, in which the author suggests that the Shrimp Sale at the Crab Crib is one of the solitary elements of the show that listeners can accept as a fact. And on Reddit, more than 44,000 people subscribe to the Serial Podcast subreddit, where case theories are entertained and Crab Crib references run rampant.
Funny or Die has produced a series of satire videos of the hit show, including one parodying the Final Episode. Michaela Watkins plays a flustered Sara Koenig who doesn't know who the killer is, but exclaims, "By the way, Crab Crib is having a big sale on shrimp."
The narrow seafood shop's name is now plastered on T-shirts and available for sale on websites like Zazzle and TeeSpring. Chris Gwynn, an artist with Massachusetts-based Citizen Cheek, designed a magnet with the now-famous phrase on it, which is currently on sale at Amazon.
"We usually make things that are related to pop culture, and we were fans of the show here in Boston," says Gwynn.
Although widespread podcast popularity is relatively new to this world, the shrimp sale at the Crab Crib is not. Foltz says the podcast hasn't helped business, but the shrimp sale sign has been up out front ever since she bought the Crab Crib 14 years ago.