April 18, 2018
It happens several times a day. You’re scrolling through social media and see a photo of someone’s plate, their meal artfully displayed for the world to see. We witness the daily wave of mouth-drooling food photography on Instagram and, if you live in Charlotte, perhaps you’ve noticed a certain trend in social media food photos. The orange of crab legs, the deep red of lobster shell contrasting against the pinkish-white flesh, all couched in a glaze of deep yellow butter accented with studs of green parsley.
Jamie Walker realized he wanted to start his own business about three years ago. He was a music promoter in Orlando but had spent time in Savannah working in the kitchen of his cousin’s market. There he grew to love seafood and cooking. Experimenting with fresh ingredients, Walker taught himself everything he knows about cooking and the restaurant business. His promoter background may have influenced his idea to take to social media with images of his sauced-up seafood, gaining attention and fans throughout the Southeast.
Before arriving in Charlotte, Walker built up anticipation using his Seafood Connection Charlotte Facebook group to share photos of his food. Now with over 38,600 members who post their own photos of sauce-laden seafood, the group is a testament to the popularity of Walker’s dishes. Initially a food truck, then serving out of the back of a church, Seafood Connection has slowly grown its presence over the last two years. Walker opened the location on Albemarle as carry-out only but as demand grew he realized a dine-in establishment does as much business as carry-out.
After her fateful introduction to Seafood Connection, patron and PR Consultant Melissa Rustemov was hooked. She talked Walker into catering the Best of Charlotte party, then convinced him to add her to the team. She’s passionate about the food but, like Jamie, it’s more about the people.
Chatting with Walker you can tell the staff feels like family. A server, Kimberly, talked about the customers she sees on a regular basis: “They know me by name, I know them by name.” Bringing the team of about 20 staff together are Jamie’s trusted partners Joe Aponte and Yashica Russell (when she’s not managing her own clothing line, Kabi926, that is).
Many customers have followed Walker since he started the Facebook group. From online to in line for takeout, Seafood Connection has built up a loyal following. Reverend Curtis Harris, or just “Rev” as he’s known around the restaurant, first discovered Seafood Connection when Walker was operating the truck off of Sunset Road. Harris, his wife and his mother would go for the fresh seafood plates and the “crack sauce.” Rev and his wife even drove to Dublin, GA for the grand opening of Walker’s first brick and mortar restaurant. Nothing is too far, says Harris: “If he go to the moon I’mma find me a moon ship!”
Steamed, grilled or fried, the seafood comes in fresh from Savannah. The sauce, the magic ingredient, is a mix of butter, parsley and Walker’s creativity. His personal favorite is the Seafood Salad ($10) and Melissa’s go-to is the Crab Leg Plate ($30). Donald, 12, whose parents own the Chinese restaurant next door, comes in nearly every day and insists the Lock Jaw (shrimp and lobster, $25) is tops.
It’s an unassuming place, formerly an Indian restaurant, that feels more like a community center than a restaurant. The huge menu hangs above a front counter, where you place your order and pay. Once you’re seated you’ll have time to second guess your order as each new, tantalizing platter is delivered to your neighbors. From Devin Funchess and the Carolina Panthers to businessmen, to Donald, Jamie’s regulars come from all walks. “The support is real here,” Walker said.
The full menu can look overwhelming but the best way to start is the C-Port Platter ($38), a combination of shrimp, crab legs, lobster, pork sausage, corn and potatoes. Brought to the table in a silver tray or packed into a to-go box for carry out, the enormity of the dishes can really only be appreciated in person. And people do appreciate them, especially now that Seafood Connection has a dine-in option. At 3:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, when most restaurants are ghost towns, nearly half of the tables are full and there’s a line winding around the bar for carry out. Seafood Connection offers a catering menu as well, but most customers picking up meals leave with several individual platters instead of catering trays. “They don’t want to share,” laughed Walker.
Sampling the C-Port Platter, you’ll be awakened by the sheer size of the dish. If you’re familiar with low-country shrimp boils, imagine that but with crab and lobster, and bathed in an aromatic sauce. Crab legs are huge and meaty and the lobster tail is decadently seasoned. The shrimp are large and the sausage is delicately spiced. Add to this a bed of corn-on-the-cob and red skin potatoes and you’ve got enough to easily feed two. Getting your money’s worth is guaranteed, whether you share with a friend or take home what’s left. This is a hands-on, elbows-deep maybe-invest-in-a-reusable-bib dining experience. You’ll definitely need to wash your hands, but you’ll probably prefer to lick them clean.
The idea that “the secret ingredient is love” may be cliche, but it’s clear that there’s more to Seafood Connection’s appeal than the sauce. Walker’s love of cooking or, more to the point, feeding people, comes through in both his food and in his persona. From spending time in the Seafood Connection kitchens to spending holidays feeding the homeless, Walker is all about the people.
Walker hopes to have the food truck up and running again, maybe as soon as this summer. Right now he’s gunning to open a new spot in Raleigh. Walker’s commitment to the Queen City, however, remains. Unlike the scores of restaurateurs who come and go through Charlotte as cuisines and neighborhoods enjoy trendsetter status, Walker is now firmly a part of this community. “I love it!” he said of Charlotte. “I really see myself growing here.”
Seafood Connection Charlotte is located at 630 University Center Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28262. Check out the full menu and be sure to follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and stay connected through the FB group page.
Hours of operation:
Thursday: 12 – 9 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Monday – Wednesday: Closed