« June 2008 Table of Contents
One on One: Vanessa Abramowitz
By Steven Hedlund
June 01, 2008
It's impossible to recite the menu at the Shrimp Market
without sounding like Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue from
"Forrest Gump" - Cadillac Shrimp Cocktail, Shrimp Caesar Salad,
Popcorn Shrimp, Coconut Shrimp, Three Alarm Buffalo Shrimp,
Sweet & Sour Shrimp, New England Shrimp Roll, Cajun Shrimp
Jambalaya, Shrimp Carbonara. In fact, Linguini with Shrimp
& Clams in Red Sauce is the menu's only item featuring a
protein other than shrimp.
At the helm of the Shrimp Market is Vanessa Abramowitz. The
new quick-service concept is the brainchild of her father,
Salomon Finvarb, who founded Cartagena Shrimp Co. of Cartagena,
Colombia, in 1983 and its U.S. wholesale subsidiary, Caribco
Shrimp Corp., of Aventura, Fla., in 2002. It's a family affair.
Her brother, Moris, works at the farm, which yields about
10,000 metric tons of Pacific white shrimp annually.
Three years ago, Finvarb came up with the idea of launching
a concept in the United States menuing only shrimp from the
family's Columbian farm. So he approached his daughter, who
previously edited, directed and acted in independent films,
music videos and TV commercials but was taking a break from
work to raise her three children. "It sounded like an exciting
idea, so I agreed," says the 34-year-old.
With the help of foodservice-consulting firms Tesser of San
Francisco and Synergy Consulting of Portland, Ore., the Shrimp
Market debuted in Aventura Mall in February 2007. The second
restaurant came to Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines, Fla.,
in April. This month, five restaurants are due to open - one in
Miami and four in the Boston area. Another seven units are
scheduled to open by year's end - one in Sunrise, Fla., and six
in the New York area. The company-owned stores generally range
from 600 to 700 square feet and are located in shopping mall
No doubt, Americans are crazy about shrimp. It is the
nation's favorite seafood, in terms of per capita consumption
at 4.4 pounds annually. But Abramowitz admits some consumers
still deem shrimp a luxury and don't realize the crustacean is
accessible and affordable; the average per-person check at the
Shrimp Market, including a beverage, is about $9, and some
items cost less than $5. Though she cites consumer education
the concept's No. 1 challenge, Abramowitz is confident the
Shrimp Market will catch on with Americans.
I caught up with the Columbia native at her Aventura office
HEDLUND: What do you enjoy
most about the foodservice
ABRAMOWITZ: Watching our business grow. It's extremely
exciting to see a restaurant up and running after a year of
developing recipes, the brand, the logo, the décor. All that
took so much thought and so much work that finally seeing a
crowd in front of the restaurant is incredibly exciting.
Is the Shrimp Market
a unique concept?
There's nothing like this out there. One of the great things
about shrimp is it can be cooked so many different ways. So
even if you eat shrimp every day of the week, you don't feel
like you're being repetitive. You can have five completely
different meals and not realize that they're all shrimp.
What obstacles does a
shrimp-centric concept face?
Our No. 1 challenge is educating the consumer that our
shrimp is [a high quality product]. People are not used to
eating shrimp at a food court. They get nervous and ask
themselves, "Am I really going to have cocktail shrimp here?"
We need to educate the consumer that this is as fresh as it's
going to get. We take care of every single detail to make sure
that the quality of the shrimp is excellent, so that they're
Why open restaurants
in food courts?
Since we do only shrimp, if you have a self-standing
restaurant and you have a family of five and one person doesn't
like shrimp, they're not going to go to the restaurant. It's
the veto vote. If you're in a food court, four people can eat
shrimp and the other person can have pizza. We wanted to make
shrimp accessible to everyone. Shrimp prices aren't as high as
they used to be. You can serve a very good shrimp meal for the
same price as a chicken meal.
Why expand in the Northeast?
Strategically, we thought it was important to work in a hub
situation, with four or five restaurants in the same hub and
one regional manager. We wanted to jump to a new hub where
there are enough food courts to justify opening five
restaurants. With the population density in the Northeast, it
makes it very viable. The Northeast [also] has a tendency to
eat more seafood.
Are you receiving a lot of positive consumer feedback?
Yes. Fortunately, if nothing else, everybody loves the food.
Everybody says it's delicious. The quality is the same every
time they go, which is very important. After all, we're a
restaurant. The most important thing is for them to love the
food, and they're loving it.
Are you looking at expanding
the menu beyond shrimp?
Right now, we're sticking with shrimp. If we can make it
work with shrimp, we're going to stick with it. It's what we
know. It's our expertise. Hopefully, there are enough consumers
out there who eat shrimp. If we need to add one or two other
[non-shrimp] items to the menu, we'll look at it. But for now,
we're sticking with shrimp.
Associate Editor Steven Hedlund can be e-mailed at