Lettuce Life: Shaw’s Crab House, Where Sarah Johnson Probably Knows Your Name
Shaw’s Crab House is like the Cheers of Chicago, a place where everyone knows your name, your order and your favorite table. Chances are, if you’ve had lunch in the Oyster Bar at Shaw’s Chicago, you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Johnson.
Sarah is a Manager and Seafood Buyer at Shaw’s Crab House, one of the busiest restaurants in the country. She’s been with Lettuce Entertain You for 20 years and she’s known to make every Shaw’s guest feel like family.
Sarah learned from Shaw’s partners Steve LaHaie, Yves Roubaud, Bill Nevruz and the late Sara Rowe, that the ability to cultivate relationships with your guests, staff and vendors is very important.
“Sarah is someone who lives her life by connecting with people. She knows the name of every vendor who answers the phone,” says Bill Nevruz, Executive Partner, Shaw’s Crab House. “She makes each guest feel welcome, it’s almost like she has invited them all into her home to eat.”
Sarah started her career at Shaw’s as a hostess in the Oyster Bar. Kevin Brown (CEO of LEYE) noticed her knack for hospitality and told her she had a job waiting for her after graduation. She started full time at Shaw’s Schaumburg the day she finished college.
She took on the responsibility of Fish Buyer, managing Shaw’s relationships with more than 50 purveyors and sourcing everything from oysters and crab to lobster and halibut.
“Shaw’s has been in the business of serving the freshest seafood for 35 years so you’re dealing with the person who is literally bringing the product out of the water,” says Sarah. “On my morning calls to purveyors, I start the convo with “hello sunshine!” and I can hear a smile in their response. Because of these relationships they bring us new products first.”
“Sarah embraces vendor relationships as partnerships. It’s this type of open and honest flow of information that is in everyone’s best interest and lends itself to sourcing the best product in the appropriate quantities,” says Jeff Daniels, Marinelli Shellfish in Seattle, Washington.
Converting a guest to a regular has a lot of benefits to a restaurant’s overall business: aside from coming often, they may bring in friends or even throw a party with you.
Shaw’s regulars keep coming back because they are confident they will have a table, get great service and be taken care of.
“I feel like I am hosting a party everyday. You want to get to know your guests. Make them feel comfortable, because honestly, who doesn’t want someone to know you by name?” explains Sarah.
Sarah knows each regulars’ special table, she refers to it as their office. She knows their families and makes sure to take care of them too, and she has even introduced the Shaw’s regulars to one another.
“Shaw’s is “my cafeteria” and I have been eating there since it opened in 1984,” said Shaw’s regular Mr. Walsh. “I nicknamed Sarah “The Warden” because she helps me with my strict diet and creates something delicious for me to eat every day.”
This hardworking woman truly does it all and always with a smile on her face. When she’s not touching tables, she’s working on her farm in Mount Carroll, IL where she and her boyfriend have 200 head of cattle. Every Monday, she heads out the door at 3:30 AM and drives 120 miles so she can get to Shaw’s by 6:00 AM and every Friday, she heads back to spend the weekend working on the farm.
Recently, Sarah celebrated her birthday. The Shaw’s employees put together a surprise birthday lunch for her and invited all of the regulars. More than 100 people filled the Oyster Bar that day to celebrate her.
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