The unlikely success story of Hank’s Low Country She Crab Soup
For most families Saturday is a day of ritual – baseball practice, dance lessons, fishing, picnics on the beach, shopping, golf, a trip to Charleston or Savannah, but for many the ritual is to head to the Port Royal Farmer’s Market at the Navy Heritage Park, open 9 – 12 Saturdays, rain or shine, to get the best food in the Lowcountry.
Tents are set up and loyal customers arrive on schedule to check out the freshest vegetables, eggs, shrimp, oysters in season, wonderful homemade breads, cheeses to die for, fruits, scones, pasta, bagels, plants, coffees, cookies, birds of prey to be admired, and, of course, she crab soup.
Hank and Wanda Yaden, residents of Pigeon Point in Beaufort, produce just about the best she crab soup in the Lowcountry.
A Southern staple, along with fresh grits and sweet tea (unknown in other areas of the country), Hank first started making the soup in 1983 for The Trawler restaurant in Mt. Pleasant. With success, he was lured away to another (to remain anonymous) Mt. Pleasant establishment, where he was asked to produce “their” version. What happened at that location was ultimately the push that Hank and Wanda needed to head out on their own.
Two Charleston women were having lunch, and when finished, asked if they could speak to the chef. Normally, one would think compliments were forthcoming, but the opposite occurred. The conversation went like this:
“Did you make the she crab soup?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, it was the worst she crab soup we have EVER tasted.”
Actually, Hank was not surprised, as the recipe was far different that the one he’d produced at The Trawler. This recipe called for evaporated milk, salty crab and no female roe - an essential component to the soup.
“I agreed with their assessment!”
Ironically, one of the women could tell that Hank was embarrassed with the criticism so she proceeded to give him an old worn recipe of “Charleston She Crab Soup” developed by Mr. Dees, a famous Charleston chef, in 1903. The basic ingredients are still used by Hank today!
It was in 2016 when the Yadens decided to join the entrepreneurial world. Hank was working as a sous chef at SCAD and miserable, when a friend called to say there was kitchen space to rent in Yemassee and this same friend knew the Director of the Port Royal Farmer’s Market located at the Navy’s Heritage Park.
Calls were made, protocol procedures were followed, samples were tested and approved and Hank and Wanda were given the opportunity to sell their soup. They were on their own.
Their first Saturday, not knowing what to anticipate, Hank and Wanda made 14 gallons of their elixir. No one stopped by at 9.
Hank, using a butane lighter and small pan, started heating samples: 3 cups were sold at 9:30, more went out by 10, and by noon, all 14 gallons were gone.
“I think I like this,” Hank remembers saying, with Wanda nodding her approval.
They ran out of soup the 2nd week. The 3rd week 8 – 10oz crab cakes were introduced. Forty were made and all were gone by 10am. Rather than follow Wanda’s advice to make them a little smaller, Hank went the opposite route and made them bigger. Eighty were sold the following week.
At that point in time (2016) they were buying 100 pounds of Carolina Blue Crab from the Outer Banks in NC. They continued to sell out the soup, the crab cakes and their newest item, crab dip. Incidentally, the crab they use is basically fresh claws and back fin, the sweetest portions. There are no artificial ingredients in any of their products. Their heavy cream, so essential for the soup, is purchased from the Southern Swiss Dairy farm.
Today, a long way from their initial “Let’s see how we do with 14 gallons of soup as a start,” Hank buys 800 pounds of crab per week (they drive 4.5 hours to NC twice per week and purchase 400 pounds of fresh crab each trip) and sell on the average 22-25 gallons of soup, 200 pounds of crab cakes and 30 pounds of dip. Wanda is with Hank side by side, step by step as Business Manager as well as cook at the market. Several honors have been awarded the Yadens, including, most recently “Best of Bluffton.”
As success flourishes, Hank and Wanda (like Joanna and Chip Gaines on HGTV) expand their offerings. Now one can also purchase a vegetable quinoa crab soup or a crab and leek fennel soup. All vegetables are picked fresh at the Three Sister’s Farm (also vendors at the market).
The Yadens have also been asked to cater events – they’re doing one at Land’s End – and they have been asked to do “She Crab Soup Parties” where 20 – 30 people will purchase the products and Hank will cook for the group.
Hank and Wanda sell their treats at multiple Farmer’s market locations – Bluffton, Sun City, Sea Pines to name three – but their pride and joy is Port Royal. It’s where they started, made a lot of friends, enjoyed the environment and know even in inclement weather they won’t mind cooking in the rain or stormy season as they know their friends will be there to support their efforts.
A true success story for two very hard working individuals who were started on their own by stern criticism followed by “try this Charleston recipe – you’ll get better results.” And the numbers and satisfied customers who keep coming back attest to this.
The Port Royal Farmer’s Market, Navy Heritage Park is open each Saturday morning, rain or shine from 9am to 12 noon. Dogs are not invited into the cooking area!!