Faces of the Bay: Nick & Kristen Crook of The Best Crabs Seafood Co.

A look behind the scenes of Nick and Kristen Crook, owners of The Best Crabs Seafood Co. in Ocean City, Md.

The husband-and-wife team of Nick and Kristen Crook have been working together for more than 30 years selling crabs to the residents of Ocean City, Maryland. But the way they accomplish this is through a monumental effort that stretches from Annapolis to the Atlantic coast.

The Crooks own Ocean City’s The Best Crabs Seafood Co., along Coastal Highway just south of Fenwick Island. All their crabs are locally caught fresh daily by Nick on his boat, Diamondback, way over on the Bay’s western shore. He puts out pots from the Bay Bridge clear down to the mouth of the West River.

Every morning, Nick unloads the boat in Whitehall Bay, packs up the crabs and he or one of his crew drives them to Ocean City—about 96 miles one way. During the crabbing season, Nick lives on Kent Island while Kristen stays in Ocean City near the crab market. It’s a tough arrangement for a married couple, but Nick says, “We try to spend at least one or two nights together a week.”

Nick Crook has always worked on the water. “It was inevitable that I would be a waterman,” he says. Crook got his start as a crabber helping his father, Billy, on his commercial crab boat. “With my father working the water, I had a bit of a path paved for me,” he says. “When I graduated from high school and had to decide what I wanted to do, crabbing felt like a simple choice. I had been doing it for years and I just enjoyed it.”

Crook graduated from high school and immediately bought his first workboat. The Gina Marie was a 42-foot fiberglass deadrise and he worked the water with her for years, eventually upgrading to his current boat, Diamondback, a custom-built deadrise from Tilghman Island boatbuilders Terry and Hunter Daisey.

“I always wanted a boat that was built to my specifications,” Crook says. “Hunter and I have been good buddies since high school, so when the opportunity arose for me to have one built, I took it.”

Diamondback is a beautiful boat: with high sides and a big bow, there aren’t many water conditions off limits for Nick and his crew, which makes daily crabbing easy business. 

According to Crook, crabs are not necessarily a lucrative market. Even though a bushel of large crabs can sell for $250 on any given weekend in July, crabbers only see a small portion of that. “You’re never going to be rich being a crabber,” he says. “We have to pay for bait, gas, crew, and gear. There are so many costs that go into a day of crabbing. But if done right, you can live comfortably.”

The crabbing industry is a business where market prices aren’t keeping up with inflation, and Crook said it’s the same deal with the oyster industry. “I used to oyster,” he says, “but it’s just not worth it for me. It’s a ton of hard work to make little money.” 

In 2020 Nick and Kristen took over The Best Crabs Seafood Co. When they got engaged, it made sense to keep Kristen’s family business alive and continue the seafood store. With Kristen managing the business and Nick catching the crabs, the two have struck an entrepreneurial balance. “It can be a lot to manage,” Crook says. In addition to the typical struggles of being a crabber and small business owner, he says, “I don’t get to see my wife a ton during the peak season. I have to take a day off every once in a while to spend time with her.” Crook’s goal is to work hard enough in the summer so they can take the winter off and spend it together.

The Best Crabs Co. was Kristen Crook’s family business before she and Nick took it over. Photo: Jay Fleming

“We have around 100 days to make 90% of our income,” he says. “It seems like a daunting task, but if you put your head down and stay focused, you can do it.” 

Despite the struggles, Nick says, “I love what I do. I’ve been crabbing for over 25 years, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.” 

You can find Nick’s catch and chat with Kristen at The Best Crabs Seafood Co. located at 142nd Street Bayside, Ocean City.