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In a little corner restaurant in a strip mall on the ocean side of Kitty Hawk—a small town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks made famous by the Wright Brothers’ first flight—a third-generation crabber turns decades of hard work into a popular Outer Banks seafood spot. Step through the doors of I Got Your Crabs (IGYC) for high-quality, fresh, local seafood.
Farm-to-table is sound-to-table at IGYC: Third-generation crabber Hunter Stuart’s seafood restaurant serves Currituck Blue Crabs fresh off the boat and right to diners’ tables. Just about every day in the summertime you can glimpse Hunter hauling bushels of crabs from his pots in Currituck Sound through the restaurant’s back door, filling up the glass display coolers at the front of the restaurant where locals and tourists take their pick among the different sizes of impressive local crabs. Steam billows from the kitchen as dozens of crimson crabs are packed into tall brown to-go bags or arranged on plastic trays, spiced with special seafood seasoning to diners’ mouth-tingling delight.
Servers roll out long sheets of brown paper on the tables, so you can get down to business on your crabs, just as if you were at a picnic table in your own backyard. Friendly staff members place crab-eating necessities like wooden mallets, claw crackers, and cups of warm drawn butter, vinegar, or hot sauce atop each brown paper “tablecloth.” Frills are not the main concern at I Got Your Crabs: The Stuarts let the food speak for itself. As one of the East Coast’s most popular beach vacation destinations, the Outer Banks boasts hundreds of seafood restaurants, but night after night during the busy season, IGYC’s booths and bar stools are packed with patrons from all over the U.S.A. who return year after year, some claiming it’s always their first stop upon arrival. Many visitors love it so much they dine at IGYC every night of their vacation!
The local crabs, which usually run from late March to late October, aren’t the only things on the menu that lure fans. The Stuarts present the freshest oysters around, shucked by servers and presented raw or steamed, by the dozen or the peck. IGYC is well-known for its fried oyster tacos, hushpuppies with special homemade brown sugar dipping sauce, and what many eaters call the best crab bisque on the beach.
The restaurant’s walls are lined with photos of family and friends, as well as Stuart family heirlooms such as a quilt made by Hunter’s late sister, April, that hangs above two booths at the back of the restaurant.
The restaurant is the epitome of a family affair. Managed and run by Hunter’s mom Kathy and sister, Amber, family friends also make up the kitchen and wait staff. IGYC is a labor of love.
“The restaurant may be one more task to handle at the end of the day, after a long day on the boat, but at least I get to see my mama or my sister when delivering crabs,” says Hunter. “I talk to my sister and my mama all day every day! That’s something I would have never done without the restaurant.”
How It Began
Hunter began crabbing with his dad and grandpa at five years old. While other children were learning how to ride bikes, Hunter was given a small boat, a 16-foot River Ox with a two-horsepower Johnson motor. When his father allowed, he would set out in the sound just across the street from the house to set his three allotted crab pots. It sparked his entrepreneurial spirit: He’d put his catch into his Radio Flyer wagon and go door-to-door along his street until all the crabs he’d caught were all sold.
Later in school, by the time the school bell rang at 8:15 a.m., Hunter was heading in from his first lesson of the day, which had begun at 5 a.m. on the Currituck Sound. He may have sometimes gone to class smelling of his fresh catch, but he’d simply explain it was the smell of money, and of his future. How right he had been.
Passing Down the Tradition
As Hunter inherited the hard-working ideals of his family and local outdoorsman at a young age, he and his wife Olivia work to instill the same principles in their own children.
The food as well as the family’s spirit heart keeps people coming back to I Got Your Crabs again and again. “What they see is how our work feeds us, most importantly,” says Olivia Stuart. “They also realize that people truly love it, that it puts an endless smile on peoples’ faces as they dig into those crabs and they just love being at the restaurant.”
“Until the restaurant, it may have been the end to the commercial fishing industry in our family,” says Hunter. “But because of the restaurant, I have now involved cousins, sisters, mamas, father-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters. I brought my village in, and that’s how you keep traditions alive.”
*During the coronavirus pandemic, guests and employees must wear masks when not eating, sit 6-feet apart from other guests who are not in their party, and wait outside for a table or pick up to-go orders.