Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crab Cakes Claw Their Way Back onto QVC

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water … the crab cakes have returned to QVC.

The Chesapeake Bay Gourmet Crab Cakes were once considered the gold standard in crab cakes—even recognized by Oprah herself on her prestigious “O” List and by Baltimore Magazine as "the best mail order crab cake."

M&I Seafood (aka Chesapeake Bay) started as a family business back in the eighties. Husband and wife team Ron and Margie Kauffman got their small business off the ground by marketing their crab cakes to local supermarkets and slowly built up the business until they were grossing five million dollars a year a mere decade later.

But that’s when everything changed. They lost a major account in 1994 and revenue plummeted.

Enter QVC.

In 1995, QVC was running their 50/50 Tour—fifty states in fifty weeks with the twenty best products from each state getting their big shot to market themselves on the Q.

"There were rows and rows of folding tables," says Ron, recalling the event. "We brought the crab cakes and a portable frying pan, but I forgot the extension cord and had to run out and get one. Someone came by and tasted our crab cakes and said they might get back to us."

On October 22, 1995, Ron and Margie made their first QVC presentation, selling 24,000 crab cakes in ten minutes. By 2003, they had sold more than 14 million crab cakes on QVC and could produce up to 35,000 crab cakes a day in their facility.

But then the Kauffman’s sold the company to Astral in 2005. And that’s when the crab hit the fan.

Quantity took precedence over quality as cheap fillers replaced quality ingredients. And even tough they continued to tout that the crab cakes were “Made in the USA,” more and more low-quality crab was imported from Asia to use in the crab cakes. Customers complained that the "crap cakes" tasted horrible, smelled of ammonia, and barely had any crab in them. To make matters worse, fake “5 Star” reviews were discovered on the Chesapeake Bay products on the QVC website.

And then, not surprisingly,  Chesapeake Bay disappeared from QVC.

In September 2009, the now bankrupt Astral Foods sold Chesapeake Bay Gourmet to Baltimore Crab Cake Company for $325,000.

Doug Beeman from Baltimore Crab Cake Co. said that the brand “lost some of its luster following its sale to Astral in 2005” and that he is “hoping to rebuild the brand and restore its dominance among the crab cake-eating public.”

And now, after all the complaints and controversy, those infamous crab cakes are back on QVC.

According to the new Chesapeake Bay Gourmet's new website:
Having been around for 25 successful years, we celebrate another transition — in name, from Chesapeake Bay Gourmet under Astral Foods to Chesapeake Bay Gourmet under the new Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Company. 
We marveled at the phenomenal growth experienced throughout the years. From humble beginnings in search of the perfect crab cake and supplying local seafood retailers to being chosen to represent Maryland during QVC’s 1995 “Quest For America’s Best” tour, to growing a mail-order business – and now solidifying our quality and integrity with new ownership dedicated to making the best crab cake commercially available. 
While we became the most successful food purveyor on QVC, and continue to sell millions of our crab cakes through QVC, through our own website, in private restaurants and with our retail brand (Chesapeake Bay Brands), we are focusing on what made us successful: striving to provide every customer with the finest handmade seafood delicacies available. The glorious Chesapeake waters, the Bay area, and our relationships drive the quality and commitment we have in our cakes. 
Now, as we got out from under a parent umbrella with our new ownership, Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Company invites you to savor the taste and the tradition that has made us one of Baltimore’s Best! Oprah chose our recipe and hundreds of thousands of QVC customers agreed - but we welcome your opinion now!
So--except for the famous name--these new crab cakes really have nothing to do with the original, high-quality crab cakes or the bastardized cheap ones that followed. Whether this new incarnation will be good, bad, or ugly still remains to be seen.

However, if you are hankering for the original Chesapeake Bay Crap Cakes, the closet you're ever going to get is probably from a new company started by Ron and Margie’s sons, JD and Ron Jr., in June of 2009. Originally they were going to use the name Kauffman's Original Crab Cakes, but have since switched to Kent Island Crab Cakes.

The Kauffman brothers verified in a recent press release that the quality of their parents original crab cakes crumbled under the new owners:
Ron Kauffman, Jr.and his brother J.D. grew up within the Chesapeake Bay watershed in a crab cake making family that had begun three generations before, harvesting, picking, and forming the traditional Maryland style crab cakes. They understood, before they even knew they understood, the subtle interplay of flavors between the sweet briny Chesapeake Bay blue crab plucked live from the bay and the unique spicing from traditional Bay style seasonings. 
The closely held Kauffman family recipe was a mixture of salt, cayenne, celery seed, sweet Hungarian paprika, dry mustard, black pepper, bay leaf, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon. The family did not favor crab cakes that were adulterated with cheap fillers.  
"The genuine Maryland style Crab Cake is often imitated, but never improved upon," says Ron Kauffman, Jr. 
Success came to the Kauffman family from hard work and treating people right. Recently, the parents, Ron and Margie, decided to retire. They sold the business and began to enjoy their grandchildren. 
As Ron Kauffman, Jr, tells it, "When our parents sold Chesapeake Bay Gourmet, the new owners chose to alter our old family recipe. These were not Maryland natives and they did not understand that crab cake aficionados know the difference." 
"Soon, none of us in the family could even recognize these crab cakes. They substituted Asian blue swimming crab, because it was cheaper. They further diluted the recipe by using cheap ingredients thinking our customers wouldn't know the difference." 
"But we know," continues J.D, "you can never fool a customer. At least not more than once. We grew up in this business. We know our customers and we have always considered them our partners." 
"Our parents have taken a much needed rest but since we kept getting calls from our loyal customers, J.D., my wife Rachel, and I have formed a new company on the old principles of honest work, honest products, and reliable service."

I have to end this with this one rather important caveat: I hate crab! I don't eat fish or seafood and--as you can plainly read in my FAQ--I certainly don't like crab cakes. My Krabby Patty expertise on the matter stems from a different source:


  1. Having been the host who first presented the crab cakes live from Baltimore, I have more than a casual interest in this topic. I often touted their virtues on the air. I sincerely meant what I said on the air at the time, until the quality changed and so did my presentation.

    I was a regular purchaser of the crab cakes but when an order arrived smelling (and tasting) like industrial cleaning solvent (in my opinion), I was finished. A little research showed the change to Asian crab (the same waters that spawned Godzilla). Joking aside, my last several presentations on-air were less than enthusiastic. I let the Kauffman’s do most of the talking. Hey, I was only following orders. History has proven that defense always works.

    I wish the Kauffman's well in their new venture. I hope they use the more expensive Maryland crab. Like most people, I would rather pay a little more than eat something that tastes like Mr. Clean.

  2. CupCaked (Gimmee a hot dog instead)June 4, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    I will NOT be buying them, I simply will not. I tried them once and there was literally NO CRAB MEAT. I will not be fooled by a company (the Kauffmans) that charged me too much money for what was, essentially, bread crumbs. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    1. it is very sad to meet at a huge corporation like astral can ruin a family recipe and drag their name down. They're building from the bottom up and ron junior & JD have this original crab cake recipe back! I'm afraid in this instance this will be your loss because those crab cakes are back to original excellence!! Mm? Mmmm

  3. All this talk of cake is making me hungry... : )

  4. Steve welcome back ! I can assure you I no longer trust QVC when it comes to selling crabcakes so I wont buy them from this reincarnated company or any other company on TV. In my opinion the hosts were also to blame. No one mentioned the crab was coming from Asia on the air. The worst was Bowersox who claimed it did not matter where the crab came from, only where it was processed. This is a prime example of corporate greed in my mind. I hope they learned their lesson when sales dwindled.

  5. Great to see Steve Bryant out there again -
    Steve taught me how to cook!!

  6. Being from Maryland, I tried them several times
    and the last time you could clearly tell they were
    not Maryland crab meat...

  7. With so many good and safe options at whole foods, sprouts, Kroger,Safeway.....and no exposure (shipping and handling) to the elements, why would you buy crab cakes.....or any other perishable food...from a shopping network!?!? Open your door, go outside, there is a world out there. Including crab cakes. Sheesh.

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