Ed's Chicken and Crabs was set ablaze when a speeding driver crashed into it. A security camera captured video of the crash. The owner said he likely won't rebuild. James Fisher/The News Journal
Sympathy, sadness and appreciation have been expressed this week for Ed Riggin, the owner of Ed’s Chicken & Crabs.
On Tuesday morning, Riggin’s Dewey Beach seafood eatery, a landmark for nearly 40 years, was destroyed after a driver, charged with DUI, slammed her car into the business and started a raging fire. No one was injured. Little remains of the rambling shack-like structure at the corner of Del. 1 and Swedes Street.
As Riggin, 83, walked through the rubble Tuesday, he told The News Journal he will probably not rebuild the eatery he has operated since 1978. “That’s it, I think,” he said. “It’s time to get out anyway.” He added: “I didn’t like doing it like this, though.”
Many longtime fans are hoping he reconsiders.
“Hope you’re rebuilding. Your chicken is iconic!” wrote Carmela Curatola Knowles on the Ed’s Facebook page.
Steve “Monty” Montgomery, owner of The Starboard, which sits across the roadway from Ed’s, was so moved by Riggin’s plight and the loss of jobs for about 10 Ed’s employees, he posted heartfelt messages on his Facebook page and on a sign outside of The Starboard.
“Thank you, Ed!” reads the sign that was posted Tuesday at lunchtime. “Ed’s Chicken & Crabs....38 Phenomenal Years.”
And that’s not all. Montgomery said he plans to host a celebration of Riggin and his business, known to locals as “Chicken Ed’s,” on Aug. 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. at The Starboard, 2009 Coastal Highway.
Plans are still in the works, but Montgomery said he is salvaging one of Ed’s famous picnic tables and bringing it to The Starboard so the longtime crabhouse owner can hold court. An admission fee will likely be charged with all proceeds going to help Riggin “clean up the mess” after the fire and to aid Ed’s employees who are now out of work, Montgomery said. The celebration will be open to the public.
Montgomery, who is president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, said Ed’s Chicken & Crabs has played a major role in the Dewey community.
“I’ve known Ed forever. Ed is such a character and a good guy to hang out with and talk with,” said Montgomery, who called the eatery iconic to Dewey Beach.
“It’s an open-air, outside crab shack. It’s one of the first things you see when you come into Dewey. You don’t miss Ed’s. You see the crowds, you see the billowing smoke, and you can smell the chicken everywhere. You pick crabs and bring your own beer to drink at one of the picnic tables. And it’s just Ed himself always being there. You yell through the screen to talk to Ed and he always comes out.”
Only locals and longtime customers knew about the eatery’s secret “VIP door.” Montgomery said they could skip the lines out front by knocking on the shack’s back door and ordering food there.
Said Montgomery: “These were things that made it special; it’s really going to be a missed thing.”
While Riggin might have lost his business, Montgomery said the crab man has not lost his signature sense of humor. Montgomery said he was standing with Riggin at Ed’s after the fire on Tuesday, when a crab delivery truck showed up.
“Ed yells to him, ‘Buddy, I don’t think I’ll need my delivery today!’”
Trying to recover after a destructive fire can take its toll, though some businessess can make a comeback. Irish Eyes Pub and Restaurant in Lewes, which hasn’t exactly had the luck of the Irish, has been rebuilt - twice. Once, after the restaurant was destroyed by an arsonist in March 2007 and then again on New Year’s Eve 2007 when an afternoon fire, caused by a discarded cigarette, destroyed the new building. It's back and running again.
Serpe’s Bakery felled by 2015 Christmas Eve fire is currently rebuilding its Elsmere structure. A reopening could take place this fall. “Not an official day yet, but we are currently looking for sometime in October,” reads a July 27 post from owners on its Facebook page.
Still, not everyone is so lucky. The late, great Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant in Dover ended its run after a devastating February 2014 fire. The eatery had been a part of the community since 1948.
While owner Jim Gray told The News Journal he was hoping to reopen the Dover landmark at 656 N. Dupont Highway in May 2014, unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Gray, who owned the business since 1984, died in May 2015. The building was razed in July 2015.
In a post on my Facebook page about the loss of Ed’s Chicken & Crabs, Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Savoy Grill and Harry’s Seafood Grill, also expressed sadness for Riggin.
“Few people realize how difficult it is to amass the energy and capital to open a successful business,” Teixido wrote. “Rebuilding would take years and years to recoup the additional investment required.”