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After 100 years, Handy Seafood is still standing
October 23, 2017

After 100 years, Handy Seafood is still standing

Susan Parker, slparker@delmarvanow.comPublished 5:00 a.m. ET Oct. 23, 2017 

If you enjoyed a soft-shell crab over the years, Terry Conway believes you can trace your happiness back to Crisfield.

"It all started in Crisfield," said the owner and executive chairman of Handy Seafood. "We have kind of taken Crisfield cuisine and spread it throughout the world.

"You can find softcrabs all over Europe and Asia now, crabcakes are probably available in 100 different countries," he said. "And pasteurized crabmeat in 50-60 countries."

Handy Seafood recently celebrated its 100th year of processing soft crabs. It is, according to Conway, the oldest continuously operating seafood processor in America. 

"The company was founded 1894 by John Handy," said Conway.

In 1903, he said, Handy moved his business to Crisfield.

"Oysters and soft crabs were a new thing then," Conway explained.
Conway grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and went away to college and on to a business school graduate program.

"Then I met a pretty girl —  it happens," he said, smiling.

He said he went to work in the public accounting field for Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” international accounting firms, he explained. 

Eventually, he connected with Perdue Farms, Inc., in Salisbury.

"I met (longtime company president and CEO) Frank Perdue and became his chief financial officer in 1970," Conway said. "I was there just over 10 years, during a period of rapid growth for Perdue."

He became aware Handy was for sale in 1981, and decided it was time to fulfill his dream of owning his own business.

"It was an easy transition," he said.
Crisfield, the original location, is one of 14 Handy Seafood locations. 

"We primarily process soft crabs, during summer season, and some oysters in winter season," Conway said. "We also make some crab cakes."

Handy has never processed hard crabs, he said. The meat for crab cakes is purchased fresh, primarily from processors in North Carolina and overseas where most cakes are made, because, he said, it's important to make them from fresh crabmeat.
Conway attributes his company's longevity to consistently high-quality products, and never deviating from that quality level. 

In Crisfield, Handy employs about 90 people, a figure that includes seasonal workers in warmer months, and around 70 year round employees in winter. 

He's seen many changes since purchasing the company.

"The availability of crabs from the Chesapeake Bay has decreased substantially," he said.
When he purchased the company, it used all local crabmeat, he said. 

"When I first bought the company," Conway recalled, "Handy was regional, and only processed soft crabs."

Under Conway's leadership, he said, Handy's markets expanded south and west, and by 1985 was shipping products overseas.

Soft crabs, he explained, only came from one part of world at the time — the Chesapeake Bay. It was a seafood delicacy people enjoyed nowhere but the Crisfield area.

Japan was Handy's first big international market, then Europe. Handy continues to sell its products internationally.

Despite the growth, Handy remains a family-held company. Conway's son Todd is now CEO. 

Patty Laird, who started in 1980, now runs Crisfield plant. Lynn Brown, also of Crisfield started in the plant in 1982, worked in the company warehouse and now does customer service work in the company's Salisbury office.

"We certainly want to remain a family company," Conway said.

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