An Ocean City-based brewpub is expanding into Harford County with the establishment of a tap house and restaurant in the building previously occupied by a Joe's Crab Shack restaurant in Abingdon.
"We wanted to expand, and the opportunity came about that there was a property in Harford County, and we jumped on it," Josh Shores Sr., owner of the Ocean City Brewing Co., said.
The company will lease the former Joe's Crab Shack building in the Boulevard at Box Hill center. Joe's closed Wednesday.
Joe's Crab Shack, which has 135 restaurants in 33 states – including four in Maryland, according to its website – opened its 8,500-square-foot restaurant in Abingdon in 2012.
Shores, who was born in Salisbury and grew up between Baltimore and Ocean City, splits his time between Bel Air and Ocean City.
"I just love Bel Air," he said. "It's just a great area, and it has a little bit of everything that we need."
Shores said he has lived in Bel Air for about eight years, and his children attend school and play youth sports in Harford County.
The company was looking at several locations for expansion, and the Abingdon spot opened with the departure of Joe's Crab Shack.
"We had some other locations picked out, but hopefully this one works out perfectly for us," Shores said.
He expects the Abingdon restaurant will be open in late October or early November, as few changes are needed to the building.
The family-run Ocean City Brewing Co. opened in June 2014 on Coastal Highway in Ocean City as a craft brewery and has expanded to become a "large-scale" brewery, bar and restaurant, according to the company's Facebook page.
Shores noted that "95 percent of our customer base is from the west side of the [Chesapeake] Bay, so why not bring Ocean City to them?"
The company brews more than 30 types of craft beers, and it operates a distillery where its Beach Vodka brand is created.
"We have a vineyard in Argentina," Shores added. "Over the next year, we'll have wine."
He said the company's beer and vodka is distributed to stores throughout Maryland and surrounding states.
The Abingdon location will include a tap house for beer service, a pub section for craft beer, a family-style restaurant, playground and space for live music on weekends, according to a news release from MacKenzie Retail, which represents Ward Properties Inc., the owner of Boulevard at Box Hill, home to Harford's only Wegmans market.
Shores said the company plans to expand throughout Maryland.
"We want to see how it works [in Harford County], and then we will expand as the opportunities come forth, but we do have plans in the future to expand our restaurant chain," Shores said.
He remarked that many Baltimore-based restaurants and bars have opened satellite establishments in Ocean City, but he wants to expand his company in the opposite direction.
"We want to change that and actually expand our Ocean City name elsewhere to our customers," he said.
Shores' won't be the first Ocean City eating establishment to plant a flag in Harford.
Bull on the Beach, which has three locations in the resort town, has been open for several years in the Campus Hills area east of Bel Air, near Harford Community College. Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille, founded in Ocean City in 1976, has restaurants in Aberdeen and Bel Air, the latter which opened this year, among the many Greene Turtles in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Joe's Crab Shack did not return a call or email seeking comment Thursday, but Thomas Fidler, executive vice present and principal of MacKenzie Retail, noted it can be difficult for a chain such as Joe's to compete in a market, such as the Baltimore area, which is filled with other seafood establishments.
"We as local consumers tend to gravitate more toward the local businesses, the smaller boutique-style seafood operators," Fidler said.
Joe's has been "extremely successful" in other markets where its brand is "more well known and more competitive," Fidler said.
He said Shores will bring a different menu and more diverse offerings to the Box Hill center, and the business will be helped by the live music entertainment.
Fidler noted Shores has captured "the incredible growth of the craft beer industry."
He said many Baltimore-area residents have a connection to Ocean City going back to the family trips to the beach of their childhoods, and Shores has "bottled the brand of Ocean City and created something unique."
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"I think there's an underlying brand loyalty to that name," Fidler said.