About Beck's Seafood Restaurant and the Birth of Calabash-Style Seafood
A midst the inlets and marshes of our beautiful town, lies a history that would be impossible to dream up in any modern day novel. From the original settlers from New England and Charleston, SC to the bright lights of today's modern technologies, Calabash is a story best told by its people. Many of the residents today are indeed descendants of those who carved the name of Calabash themselves.
In the late 1800's, present-day Calabash was known as Pea Landing, representing the growing and shipping of peanuts off grand plantations to the ports of Wilmington, NC. Around 1883, the villagers requested a post office and due to a requirement on the application for name, Calabash was selected. An Indian name meaning "gourd," many say Calabash was chosen because of the gourd-like shape of the Calabash River.
The true definition of Calabash seafood was born around the 1930's when fishermen of the then quaint fishing village would set out before dawn from the docks off the river. Upon their arrival back to the docks, many locals would meet them there to see what they had caught and to purchase finds for their own families. Before long, under the massive, meandering oaks, fresh seafood was lightly battered and deep fried in big tubs of hot grease to serve the fishermen and their families. "Calabash-Style Seafood" was born. The irresistible aromas from these outdoor picnics brought many of the residents out to purchase the cooked seafood. These "fish camps" became popular among the residents and before long, among visitors as well. These "fish camps" also included outdoor oyster roasts.
There's a long standing argument over which family first started the "fish camps," which later became the first two restaurants in Calabash. The Beck and Coleman families have their own version over which was the first, but make no mistake...it's a family thing. The women of these families, Ruth Beck and Lucy Coleman, were sisters and there's no argument that this family began the tradition of the Calabash Seafood Restaurant. In fact, their brother, Lawrence High and his wife, Ella, indisputably opened the third restaurant in Calabash in 1950, Ella's of Calabash. There's no question about the siblings' talent and knack for cooking fresh seafood. All three of these establishments have grown and have descendants of the original family successfully operating them. The secret of their success is not one that can be taught. It's a family tradition.
Today, the docks are still a vital part of the town. You may see many of the elder gentlemen, past their fisherman years, hanging near the docks, catching up on the local gossip. You may see the shrimp boats coming in after a long, hard day at sea and have the pleasure of watching them unload their bounties. However, you won't see the gathering of the oldest families in town, cooking their catch up for their fishermen or their own families any more. We're now inside, cooking it up fresh for you and your family. While our roads may now be paved and our floors no longer of dirt, know that your Calabash meal is being prepared the same way our ancestors before us have done it. After all...it's a family tradition! Enjoy!