Crawfish Shack managing shortage of “Mud Bugs”

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

The phone was ringing off the wall at Crawfish Shack in Crosby on Sunday and the conversation for each was the same: “We’re not selling bags, only boiled crawfish through the drive through,” owner Dan Meaux replied.

He could hardly leave the building to take his mobile point-of-sale system tablet with him out to the line of cars to help take orders without stopping for another call. The sales and calls were a welcome relief to Meaux and other restaurant owners who are riding a two month delay because of the much smaller-sized mudbugs, a direct result of the summer drought last year.

“It’s unreal how bad it is,” Meaux said. “The supply is down about 80 to 90 percent.”

They opened on Friday and sold out in a few hours. The same was true for Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re getting multiple trucks each day. It’s just that they have so few bags on them,” he lamented.

Wholesalers are not making any money either, he said.

“They still have all the same overhead but with fewer bags to sell. Everybody’s losing—farmers, restaurants, wholesalers,” he said.

Meaux is still optimistic that the season can be salvaged.

“March looks like it’s going to be much better.”

Marshel Tobey works on the crew at the purging table and has been working at the restaurant for two years. It’s the worst he’s ever seen.

“We’re sorting through the bags we get here on the table taking out the dead and the small crawfish. We’re also removing grass, leeches, and other stuff and trashing it,” he said. “We’ll take the best quality crawfish and rebag them to cook up for our customers here at the Shack.”

Tobey said the first bags of the crustaceans they received a few weeks back were horrible, but have since gone through several molts, have grown, and are looking much better.

Right now, they are getting approximately three deliveries per day and only 35 to 45 sacks.

“That’s not normal for us whatsoever,” he said. “We typically average in the hundreds of sacks daily.”

Meaux said he needs at least 150 sacks per day before he can open dine-In.

“We really need closer to 200-250 sacks on the weekends,” he said. They’re not selling any bags for customers to boil themselves.

Meaux said the shortage can be blamed on the drought last summer when there was no rain at all in Louisiana where the ponds are during August, September, and October.

“A lot of the crawfish just burned up. The y would bury themselves deeper and deeper and then just died because it was so dry and hot. Now, when the crawfish did come up this year, they came up two months later than they normally do at the beginning of October when the females release their eggs into the water,” he explained.

They didn’t come up until December which has put the season two months behind.

“We’re having to cull out so much with each bag because there’s so much small and dead that it’s cutting out all our profit,” Meaux said.

They’re not alone. Every part of the industry is suffering while trying to keep prices low for customers. High demand with low yield will elevate the price…Economics 101.

“We’re hoping to make it up by going deeper into the season this year. Normally we close at the beginning of June. We’re going to try and go all the way through June. I think the quality will withstand later in the year,” he said.

The ponds also froze earlier in the year causing some damage then too, but the drought was a major interruption in the industry.

“If you talk to any of these farmers, they’ll tell you this is the worst crawfish season ever,” he said.

Meaux explained there’s 250,000 acres of farmland that are fished for crawfish in Louisiana that are farm raised and 80,000 of those acres were lost to the drought.

“Anything on the south near the coast is all wiped out,” Meaux said.

Meaux opened Crawfish Shack for two weekends in January and sold everything else on his menu except for crawfish, but they just weren’t busy enough to remain open.

In 21 years of business, most of them at their present location, Meaux has never had a losing season in business except during COVID and this year.

“We started here in 2007 at this location and we were the only crawfish business in town. We had 10 tables and now we have 58 picnic tables and seat about 350 in our dining room,” he said. On a good day, he’ll sell close to 100 sacks of live crawfish and boil another 160-plus sacks for the restaurant and drive-thru.

“We have an incredible to-go business. On a good Saturday, we’re boiling 6000 lbs, which is more than any place in Louisiana or Texas for one location,” he said. He now has four competitors in Crosby and said about 400-plus businesses now sell the mudbugs across the Houston/Harris County area.

It’s a family affair with his co-owner wife Jennifer, daughters and in-laws, and a few others that make up the 97 employees when the season is in full swing.

“When we open dine-in, we’ll need busboys, hostesses, servers, and much more support staff to add to the 35 to 40 who are working right now,” he said.

Crawfish Shack is one of the largest employers in the area and donates back to the community in numerous fundraisers and serving on boards.

Current pricing is $12.95 per pound, or 10 pounds or more is $11.95 per pound, but Meaux wants that price to go down as quick as possible.