The closure of specialty seafood seller Anderson’s Carriage Food House last month probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’d been in the store over the past several years. It didn’t take an engineer to see the building was in a state of severe disrepair.
But there were things you wanted to love about the place. It was run by locals—Ted Anderson’s family has been slinging seafood and signature prepared foods in C’ville for nearly 40 years. It was reasonably priced—higher-end items like shrimp, crab legs and oysters were consistently less expensive than at the nearby grocery stores. And Anderson’s had stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else—the store’s prepared foods like the shrimp and crab cheese ball and she-crab soup were cult-favorites, and it was the most reliable local mudbug supplier during crawfish season.
Ted Anderson thinks he still has something for people to love. And he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to maintain the business his parents built on the side of the highway in the 1970s.
Starting last week, Anderson, along with his wife Susan*, has gone back to the store’s roadside roots to help prop up his catering business, which has become his primary source of income. The loss of the store has financially devastated the family, Anderson said, so he’s set up shop on the corner of Seminole Trail and Greenbrier Drive to sell fresh seafood out of coolers. Like his parents before him, Anderson is looking to give his loyal regulars a place to pick up the items they can’t get anywhere else while at the same time keeping his family name in front of potential catering customers.
It’s a humble setup out on Route 29: Two white vans bracket the overhang in front of an old transmission building that Anderson himself said “looks like it’s been there for years.” Beneath the worn white structure, four or five coolers sit end to end.
Anderson is cautiously hopeful about the roadside stand’s prospects for continuing past the holidays, a time of year he said he does three or four times the amount of business he does the rest of the year. “We have signature items at Anderson’s. If I go to the grocery store or my kid’s soccer game, people come up to me,” Anderson said. “I get bombarded: ‘What am I going to do for the holiday without your shrimp and crab cheese ball?’”
Stacked on ice alongside the cheese balls are homemade cocktail and champagne mustard dill sauces. In the next cooler over are spiced North Carolina shrimp and crab cakes. Then comes the fresh fish—the flounder and wild salmon. Finally, there’s the shellfish—crab legs, oysters and raw shrimp.
“Our business has always been made by people that grew up on the water and knew the difference between the grocery store and what we carry,” Anderson said.
So what’s changed over the years that dislodged Anderson and his family from their brick and mortar touch-point on the corner of Emmet Street and Barracks Road? Anderson said in addition to being stuck in a building that was falling apart, the culprit has been competition. Anderson’s parents built up a loyal following before the era of the national specialty grocery stores, and moved into the location in the Meadowbrook Heights Shopping Center. Even when their store was encroached on by a Whole Foods a couple of miles north on Seminole Trail, Anderson’s drew customers.
When Whole Foods moved south along 29 to Hydraulic, Anderson thought his Barracks spot would still be able to keep those loyal customers before they hit the organic Goliath’s seafood section. That hope did not hold.
“They just knocked us right out,” Anderson said. “That was the last straw.”
Anderson will look to emulate his parents’ stick-to-itiveness to reverse the trend. He said his folks “never missed a weekend, I don’t care if it was snowing, sleeting or over 100 degrees,” and he’s prepared to do the same as long as the stand bears fruit of the sea.
“If the support is there, we’ll keep on going until it stops,” he said. “I’d come every weekend even in January if I knew people would support me.”
For now, he’ll be sure to be out on the side of the road from December 19 to 24 and on New Year’s Eve. He’s already had to weather a pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, so it’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be backing out.