AUBURN, Maine — Every Christmas growing up, Scott and Jon Demers’ grandma made “crabbies,” warm, cheesy crab meat spread over baked English muffins.
As adults they discovered lots of grandmas — and others — make a similar dish, but none had commercialized it.
After a few years of legwork, Scott, 29, a mortgage lender, and his brother Jon, 24, a Lewiston firefighter, opened sales of the frozen appetizer this summer.
Crabbies now are in more than 500 grocery stores.
“We made some tweaks, but it’s really true to what we had growing up at her house,” Scott Demers said. Right down to the name. “Some people will joke about it. Some people say, ‘Oh, that’s catchy.’ I tell you what, no one forgets it.”
Crabbies come in two flavors: original three-cheese and the new spicy chorizo. It’s found in the freezer aisle next to food such as pizza rolls. A bag sells for about $6 for 26 pieces of topped, quartered English muffin.
“It’s cheesy, with a hint of crab, different spices and herbs,” Demers said. Spicy chorizo has “spicy little pieces of Spanish sausage. They’ve got a little kick to them.”
Crabbies are made in Maine with Louisiana crabmeat, though that may change as production threatens to outgrow the current facility, he said.
The appetizer has been picked up by Shaw’s, Market Basket, Big Y, Dave’s Market, Roach Brothers, Giant Eagle and select Hannaford stores. Locally, Crabbies are available in the Lewiston Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets in Lewiston and Auburn.
“When we started this thing, we didn’t know how to make the package, follow the FDA regulations, and then how are you going to make it, how you going to sell it, how are you going to ship it?” Jon Demers said. “You have to know the right people and get a little bit of luck to have success in this world. We’ve definitely had a little bit of both.”
Both graduated from Edward Little High School in Auburn. Their parents owned a restaurant until a few years ago and had a catering company that they worked in growing up. The brothers began their business as Demers Foods and have since changed to Perfect Party Foods.
“We’re really expansion-minded,” Scott Demers said. “We’re still kind of figuring out where we’re going with the brand.”
The goal for 2013: Develop a snack for stores like Sam’s Club and Costco and expand to one or two more retail products to sell next to Crabbies.
Future snacks have to be high-quality and unique, he said. They don’t plan to limit themselves to seafood.
“We’ve reached out to a couple food scientists,” Jon Demers said. “Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into it than making the recipe in your kitchen. For product, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Their grandmother, Myrna Demers of Lewiston, has enjoyed seeing Crabbies come to life.
“She gets a kick out of it,” Scott Demers said. “We said, ‘This year (for Christmas), we’ll make them so you don’t have to bring them.'”