By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
For the past 53 years South Hampton Roads residents who fancy fried crabs, have flocked to Eddie’s Crab House on Campostella Road in Chesapeake.
In 1918 it was proclaimed by the city as the oldest restaurant in the city.
Eddie’s unique brand of seasoning and cooking crabs and other seafood delicacies are enjoyed by many as a family size dinner or quick sandwich for lunch.
One factor contributing to the success of Eddie’s Crab House’s success over a stretch of 35 years was the genius of James “Fry Daddy” Richardson.
Richardson 80, died on June 12, according to Sharon Johnson-Clayton, the current owner of the restaurant. He retired and hung up his fork with years ago.
During his career in the kitchen at Eddie’s, Johnson estimates that Richardson prepared and cooked “well over 2 million crabs.”
Richardson, a native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Clayton said, was a waterman, who made his living catching the crabs and fish he would later gain fame battering and cooking in deep wells of hot oil.
He moved his family to Newport News where he lived with his wife, Mary. The couple had three children and four grandchildren.
Richardson was hired in 1983, by the late Bennie Hudgins, who opened the restaurant in 1966 and named it The Chesapeake Crab House.
Clayton took over restaurant in 1997 and renamed it for her son ,Eddie.
“I learned under Mr. James after we took over,” she said. “I had Mr. James show me everything his way. I watched him daily to learn from the best.”
She continued, “No one could match his skills. He taught me the craft and it was intimidating. He also taught my son, Eddie, when he was seven-years-old. Now Eddie is 21 and we share the job of frying crabs the way Fry Daddy taught us.”
Clayton said Richardson was meticulous. He always arrived at work early, especially on holidays, to “prep” all of the food which was set up to be cooked for the business that day.
She said he “fine-tuned” the ingredients of the secret batter that was used to season the crabs, by using a “crusty” mixture instead of the “doughy” concoction favored by many seafood fry cooks in the area.
“He did not rush. He paid incredible attention to the small details and took his time,” said Clayton.
“He also had a great short order cook mentality and he was exact.”
Clayton recalled the time when the restaurant was the target of a robbery. When the bandits robbed the place, there were 10 employees who witnessed it.
“Nobody except Fry Daddy recalled anything about the robbers,” said Clayton. “Fry Daddy recalled their facial features, clothes, sneakers they wore…everything. And the police managed to arrest them quickly.”
Eddie Clayton, the owner’s son, just recently graduated from Virginia Union University (VUU) with a degree in Entrepreneurship and management and will seek his Master’s later starting this fall.
He said the mentoring and instructions provided by Richardson who he called “Mr. James” was valuable in his effort to master adequate skills in the kitchen and helping to manage the family-owned enterprise.
Eddie Clayton said he applies the cooking and organizational skills he acquired from “Mr. James” every day he came to work.
“Mr. James was a father figure in my life,” said Clayton. “He played an integral part in my life during my early years. He was so organized and always told me to “take your time and cook with love”. I appreciate all he did for me.”