One of the most fun elements of our hobby has been researching long-lost southeastern restaurant chains. It’s comparatively easy to get a little backstory about a single business, but the story can become much more convoluted and fascinating when we’re digging into the past for little traces of what’s left when something distinctive and fun is trying to vanish. We’ve enjoyed learning about the story of Zesto in Atlanta and Columbia, and really loved tracking down what we found about Kay’s, Kay’s Kastles, and Ice Castle.
Digging into the history of Shrimp Boats – that’s Boats with an S – and its predecessor – slash – survivor The Shrimp Boat – that’s Boat without an S – has been terrific fun. I’ve learned a lot about this old southeastern chain, and what I’ve learned has been occasionally contradictory. The slight difference in names had me confused for a while, but I think that poor oversight led to many locations using both signs and names, in wild contrast to present-day marketing brand standards.
The original chain was called The Shrimp Boat and it was founded in Macon in the mid-1950s. I’m much less interested in these buildings, but there are a handful of survivors. Today, you can visit the oldest of these remaining locations in Rome, Georgia. It opened in 1958 and was, then, a corporate store. These buildings were constructed as trailers and towed to new locations. There was also one in Marietta, on Roswell Road down the street from what’s now the Big Chicken, in the East Marietta Shopping Center, in the early 1960s. The Marietta store was apparently the launching point for the chain’s expansion in the Atlanta market a decade later.
The only other survivors from this period of the company seem to be four stores along the I-77 corridor between Columbia and Charlotte. There’s one in Springdale, near Rock Hill, that has a later logo, reading “Shrimp Boat” without the S, as is also seen at the Milledgeville store, about which more in a moment. Another in Gastonia, North Carolina, also uses that logo and is in a simply huge brick building. Two others in Rock Hill are called The Shrimp Boat, and use their own variants of the original 1950s logo, as does the one in Rome.
In late 1968, things changed somewhat and we entered the period that I’m interested in. The central business in Macon, at 555 Mulberry Street, rebranded itself Shrimp Boats Inc. (the trademark for the new logo, with the “S,” was filed on January 27 1969) and its distant corporate stores, such as the one in Rome, became franchises. They picked up a slogan, “The treasure of eating pleasure,” which is a pretty terrible slogan, honestly. Earlier in that month, the corporation held a franchise seminar in Macon. The cost to own your own Shrimp Boats in ’69? $27,000, or $174,626 in today’s currency. Officers included A. Emmett Barnes III, president, Joseph P. Smcha V, president-secretary, and J.B. Jolky Jr., treasurer.
As for the corporate stores, like the one in Rome, according to The Rome News-Tribune in 2003, “a local entrepreneur franchised it. That’s when Mack Bolton and his wife, Louise, took the helm in 1969.” Bolton’s son-in-law, John Walley, bought Rome’s The Shrimp Boat upon Bolton’s retirement in 1978. During the next thirteen years, Walley modified and improved the building, losing the original trailer underneath new dining rooms and flooring. Cylina and Kenneth Payne bought it from him in 1991. Rumors began later that decade that it would soon be destroyed for a major road and bridge overhaul. I’m not sure what happened, but somehow the Rome Shrimp Boat survived and is still thriving, very much a local landmark worth visiting the next time we’re out that way.
Now let’s move on to the stores that I’m most interested in. In 1969, along with the rebranding to Shrimp Boats, they began constructing distinctive little framed buildings that sort of resembled the older-styled IHOPs. As you look at the photos below, you’ll see that two additional features help in identifying these buildings after they’ve been reconstructed somewhat. First of these are two artificial yards, horizontal spars at the top and the bottom of the roof’s frame jutting out as four short strips of metal with punctuated ends. On the original buildings, these were meant to evoke the horizontal spars along a mast pole from which the rigging and sails would be set. Almost all of these buildings still retain the metal yards. Less common today are wooden pier posts driven into the sidewalk at the front corners of each building.
Only two of these buildings remain the homes of businesses that use the name Shrimp Boats. They have each been independently owned far longer than they were ever part of a chain. For the sake of clarity, and even though this is a minor point, these are what I call Shrimp Boats buildings. By far the best known is one in Durham, North Carolina. Reader Erin Parr was kind enough to send the photo below of this building. I have seen a photo of it from 2005 that shows the building with a brown and orange paint job, and the name of the restaurant prominently below the semicircle logo. This new paint scheme, and the removal of part of the sign, came sometime in the last eight years.
This store (here’s its website) was opened in 1969 by John Workman, who kept it going after the chain disintegrated, and then sold it in 1997 to two employees who met on the job and married: Nancy and Mohammed Norwood-Yousef. It’s a much-beloved lunch destination in the city, but not open on the weekends except for catering.
Surviving store number two is in middle Georgia, in Milledgeville at 911 S Elbert Street. I finally visited this location in October. John Leslie has owned this location since 1969. You’ll notice in the photos here that there is a little brand confusion on the signs between Shrimp BOAT and BOATS. The fish is pretty good, but the slaw is downright amazing. If ever I’m in Milledgeville again, I’m stopping for a really big bucket of this slaw.
One of the hobbies that I picked up since starting the blog has been identifying old Shrimp Boats buildings. Regular readers might recognize the first two of the following eight photos, which are in the order that I found them. These are the only existing buildings that I have been able to track down and personally visit. Most of them were bulldozed long ago.
This location at 1200 Collier Road in Atlanta has been Patrick’s Sub Shop for forty years. This is one of the most intact Shrimp Boats buildings, since the owners of Patrick’s have kept the place up with its basic orange paint job and minimal reconstruction. The yards and pier posts are exactly as they would have been when Shrimp Boats was in this facility.
This building at 715 Sandtown Road in Marietta has been El Pollo Dorado for the last several years. Prior to that, it had been a video arcade, a package store, and at least two restaurants: Eddie’s Steaks and Super Burrito.
At Roadfood.com, a reader called “Southern Fried” identified this building at 1307 Watson Blvd in Warner Robins Georgia for me and I photographed it in July. Note that one of the owners of this property had the yards removed from the roof.
This one is on South Cobb Drive in Smyrna, Georgia, across from the long-vacant Champs BBQ building. In the mid-1990s, it was briefly the home of Down East BBQ. For the last eight or nine years, it has been a clothing store called Dupsie’s. Drove past this thing five hundred times before I literally double-taked and realized it was a Shrimp Boats building. I wish somebody had been in the car with me to see that; I bet it was really funny. (Bear this in mind as you get to the bottom of this section.)
The South Cobb store was owned by Ken and Andrea Felker, and, in 1968, it was located around the corner at 1004 Cherokee Road (now Windy Hill), presumably as one of the original trailer buildings. In 1969, the new building was constructed on South Cobb. The location closed in 1974.
Also in the Atlanta area, here’s another one which would’ve bit me had I not been looking for it. It’s on Peachtree in Chamblee, just north of Old Brick Pit and Rose of India.
In East Point, this former store at 1018 Cleveland Avenue has been a coin laundry for the last several years.
This old Shrimp Boats at 3535 Pio Nono Avenue in Macon, also spotted by “Southern Fried,” was recently a lottery store – the sign read “dba KENO CAFE” – but has closed. This was store # 3 in the corporate numbering.
Now here’s a double-take. I did not find any reference anywhere to a Shrimp Boats ever being on Buford Highway, and probably drove past this building – 5406 Buford, home to Monterrey since, I believe, 1974 – at least thirty times since beginning research for this project, never mind all the other hundreds of times that I’ve seen it. Literally the day after I finished the first draft of this article, the next time that I left the house, in fact, we drove past and I suddenly noticed one of the yards on the upper corner of the roof. Since the owners camouflaged the building so well with the expansion and patio – a close look will show the difference in bricks on the sides of the building – it has been hiding in plain sight like a purloined letter. The property even seems to have an original metal sign with a nautical-styled lantern, into which a “Monterrey” sign was installed, and another pair of pier posts on the sidewalk right by the highway.
One of our readers, Angela McFall Patterson, let us know that we missed a couple in the Atlanta area! Here is one that sits at 2139 Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur presently. This street number has actually changed recently, which doesn’t account for the omission, but there you go. It is currently home to an InstaLoan, and, up until 2012, had been Dekalb Watch and Jewelry Store and Repair. Many thanks to Angela for taking this photo for us.
This one, however, is something of a sore point. When I first looked up this location, at 2804 Lavista Road in Decatur, I did not notice the roof of this building, kept scanning on street view, and erroneously concluded that the vacant lot next door had been the Shrimp Boats. Lavista Animal Hospital, of course, has buried the original building under expansions, but it’s still unmistakeable. Thanks again to Angela for the correction and the photograph!
This must surely be the last standing in the Atlanta area! This store was at 2059 Candler Road until about 1977. I found it in February 2014, and asked the owner’s husband whether any other business had used the building before Emergency Tire opened almost forty years ago. He said “No. Well, there was a whorehouse, for about a month.” In the late 1980s, they did a mammoth expansion with a new roof coming down to form covered service bays ahead of the original front windows and doors. One of the original four “yards” still exists; he explained that the steel that runs through the structure, punctuated on the outside as yards, is a load-bearing ceiling beam. They kept the one just to point it out to anybody who remembers Shrimp Boats. “That’s all that’s left.”
Here are some still-standing buildings that I was not personally able to visit, but got good tips from online sources to see:
Econo Auto Sales, at 1634 Capital Blvd in Raleigh, North Carolina, has occupied this building for several years. This image was taken from the dealer’s Google Plus page. Found by “Roadside Quest.” When this was a Shrimp Boats, they had a liquor license! You find the darnedest things searching public records.
Here is Shealy Dental Clinic, at 461 West Palmetto Street in Florence, South Carolina. Image from Google Maps’ street view feature. Found by “Roadside Quest.”
Here is Ming’s Chinese Restaurant, at 508 North Patterson Street in Valdosta, Georgia. This is likely the only location to have the sidewalk pier posts replaced by foo dogs. Image from Google Maps’ street view feature.
Here is Anita’s New Mexico Style Mexican Restaurant at 10880 Lee Hwy Fairfax, Virginia. A reader, John, let us know about this location in July 2014. It is the second store in a small chain of seven restaurants around Fairfax and Washington, and our first confirmation of a store that far north. The owner, Anita Tellez, passed away in September 2009. While not visible in this image, a check of Google Maps’ street view showed that, in late 2012, the original two-post street sign from Shrimp Boats was still in use by the restaurant.
The majority of Shrimp Boats buildings have long fallen to bulldozers, however. Here are some of the ones that are no longer standing.
Athens, GA: The most legendary location, for me, had been the Shrimp Boats in Athens, at 600 Baxter Street. It survived as Shrimp Boats into the mid-1990s under the ownership of Helen Gilbert Hayes and her husband Jack before being bought by a large Chinese restaurant corporation. They sold Golden-This-Happy-That Chinese-American glop for a year or so before they installed a new sign, remodeled the building, and traded as China Boats for the next ten years. The building sat vacant from about 2006 to 2008 before the local Jimmy John’s franchisee consolidated his area businesses here. The old building was finally demolished to give the Jimmy John’s people a more modern facility. The photo above was taken by Dagmar Nelson on January 1 2008 and is used with permission. Please visit Milkaway Photography for more of Dagmar’s terrific work.
Atlanta, GA: In 1973, there was a store at 2900 Campbellton Road. The building was demolished long ago. A gas station, Big H, is on the site now.
Atlanta, GA: In 1973, there was a store at 2258 Cascade Road. The building was demolished long ago. A computer store, Greene Creations, is on the site now.
Atlanta, GA: In 1973, Store Number 16 was located at 1461 Simpson Road, and it remained open, and, in the wake of the chain’s failure, independent, at least through 1979. The building was demolished long ago. The street was renamed Joseph E. Boone in March 2008, and any trace of the building is long gone; apartment buildings are there today.
Atlanta, GA: In 1973, Store Number 20 was located at 3640 Gordon Road. Gordon was one of several streets that were merged together and renamed for Martin Luther King. I’m not certain where along the present street numbering this would have been, but I don’t see any trace of it.
Augusta GA: One of the original trailer-style buildings had been at 15th Street and Walton Way (US-1). Around 1970, this was replaced by a 1969-style building a couple of blocks west, at 1631 Walton Way. I am guessing, but I believe that the original site had been lost under development for the VA hospital, and the later building survived a little longer, but it was bulldozed in the 1990s. A Checkers drive-through burger joint is at this address today.
Dublin, GA: One of the original trailer Shrimp Boat restaurants was located at 1513 Rice Avenue. I don’t know whether it was ever replaced by a 1969-style building. A car wash sits on this site today.
Forest Park, GA: In 1972, there was a store at 4325 Jonesboro Road. It was demolished long ago. The site is now home to a small strip mall.
Fort Valley, GA: There was a store at 406 Carver Drive, which is now the home of a daycare called First Step Learning Center. While part of the chain, this was never converted to one of the 1969-styled buildings. This location survived as an independent business from 1974 until perhaps 2005 before closing. If you look up First Step on Google Street View, you may be amused by the “home cooked meals” sign above the day care’s name.
Gainesville, GA: There was a 1969-style building at 706 Broad Street. William J. Poe was the manager. The building seems to have been demolished in 1999 or 2000 when medical offices for The Longstreet Clinic were built in a big new facility there.
Mableton, GA: There was a Shrimp Boats at 1420 Bankhead Highway between 1970-1974.
Macon, GA: “Southern Fried” also noted three stores that were active in Macon in the early 1970s. These were at 778 Riverside Drive (store # 1), 2830 Riverside Drive, and 2978 Vineville Avenue. All are gone, and I’m unsure whether these were the framed buildings or not.
Moultrie, GA: Tommy Bailey is listed as the manager of a location at 1st Street in 1972. Moultrie is among those towns that have a NW/SW split on either side of Main Street, and I’m not sure which it was. There is nothing on 1st Street NW today that looks like it could have been a restaurant. 306 1st Street SW is a vacant lot between residential homes.
Newnan, GA: Jefferson B. Head was listed as the manager of a location at 129 Temple Avenue in 1973. No evidence of a building there is visible today.
Perry, GA: There was a Shrimp Boat, in the boat/trailer building, on US-41 in the 1960s. It closed and a new seafood/chicken restaurant, Skipper John’s, moved into it in the early 1970s. Skipper John’s is still in business, these days operating from a strip mall, and according to an employee, was never affiliated with Shrimp Boats, only used their former building.
Thomasville, GA: There had been a store at 401 N. Madison Street in the early 1970s. This corner property is now home to a Pure gas station, L&G Food Mart, with no trace of the Shrimp Boats building.
Vidalia, GA: This store was one of the longest-lasting independent locations. Rick Allmond was the manager and owner and he kept it afloat long after the chain failed. I believe that it started in a 1969-style building at 618 West 1st Street in 1970. He kept this location going for twenty years before moving to a new site around the corner. I believe that this next location, listed at 705 NW Main Street, lasted until 1995. This location has been home to a Christian ministry called The Sanctuary since 2009. The original store, in the building that we love, could have been home to any number of businesses after 1990, but it was demolished around 2007-08.
Jacksonville, FL: I understand that there was one near the Naval Air Base, possibly on Roosevelt, but have not been able to confirm that.
Tarpon Springs, FL: “Roadside Quest” identified a business called Best Choice Auto Sales on US-19 in this suburb of Tampa as occupying this old building in 2011. As was seen in Athens, it seems that this Shrimp Boats building was then demolished and a new home constructed for the company.
Titusville, FL: Reader Dale Young pointed us toward a store that had been located at 551 N Washington Ave (US-1). After the Shrimp Boats failed, the property was taken over by the successful Alligator Plumbing in 1979. As that business has grown, the original building was lost within several expansions, leaving nothing of the original visible.
Charlotte, NC: In 1962, before the adoption of the steeped-roof buildings, there was a location at 3711 Central Avenue. I don’t know whether a ’69-era building was ever constructed here, but whatever building it was, it was bulldozed some time ago for a parking lot and a more modern building for a check cashing place.
Greensboro, NC: The store in Greensboro opened in August 1969 and closed in April 1971. It was next the home of Tomlinson Lincoln-Mercury. In the early 1980s, this business was sold to Leith of Greensboro. It appears that, now based in Raleigh, Leith Lincoln is one of the largest and most respected Lincoln-Mercury dealers on the east coast.
Rocky Mount, NC: There was a location on Fairview Road which later became the home of Tubby’s Take Out.
Gaffney, SC: Another Shrimp Boats was in Gaffney, South Carolina for several years at 313 Hetty Hill Street.
Greenville, SC: There was a location on Springdale Road at SC-291 between 1969 and September 1972, when Graham Photo Supply moved into the building. Springdale mostly vanished when North Pleasantburg was expanded into a four-lane, and the businesses along it were demolished.
North Augusta, SC: A Shrimp Boats stayed afloat here until sometime between November 2009, when it received a 93 on a food safety inspection, and June 2012, by which time the business had failed and the Google Street Maps truck showed a vacant lot.
Chattanooga, TN: There had been only one Shrimp Boats in Chattanooga, from 1969-1974, at 5508 Brainerd Road. The building was demolished the following year. These details were taken from an article in The Chattanoogan earlier this year, which is illustrated with a period “compliments of” yearbook photo of the building. This might have been the only store in Tennessee. I can’t yet find evidence of any other.
Knoxville, TN: Reader Tim Burns identified two stores here in the 1960s. Neither were in the building-style that got me curious. These were at 3419 Chapman Hwy and at 4940 Kingston Pike.
At its peak, Shrimp Boats is said to have had 95 locations. This blog’s a long way from finding them all. That’s only 52 of them! I hope that we can photograph one or two more of the buildings before they are also bulldozed.
Other businesses over the years have also called themselves Shrimp Boat. There was one by that name on Westgate Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina, from 1980-87, for example, that had no connection to the corporation or any of the former franchises. Another, much larger restaurant, by that name has been thriving in Panama City, Florida since 1950. In Darien, Georgia, there had been a business called Archie’s Shrimp Boat that later became Archie’s Restaurant by 1975 and closed in 2006. In Brandon, Florida, there’s a new business using this name.
Finally, I’d like to wave hello to the owner of the totally unrelated Shrimp Boat in Midland City, Alabama, not far from Dothan. He’s only been in business about ten years and was unaware that an old chain had the same name as his place, a walk-up window where you can get fresh shrimp and scallops. He couldn’t help me much with my quest, but a nicer fellow you couldn’t hope to ask for. Best wishes to him!
If you have any additional information – addresses would be awesome – about Shrimp Boats and would like to share, please do so. Your comments and corrections are very welcome.
If you’re only reading these chapters, then you are missing part of the story! We have a fantastic Facebook page, where you’ll be able to follow along with much more than just links to chapters here, but additional information about our favorite places, including PR announcements, links when our friends-in-blogging visit them, and other follow-up news about the places we’ve been when we can find it. Give us a like and tell your friends to come see us!