COURTNEY KENNEWEG’S RETURN TO HILTON HEAD ISLAND
Restaurants on Hilton Head come and go, but a handful remain year-in and year-out. Among this minority of mainstays are the island’s two Crazy Crabs. What is it about the Crazy Crabs?
“High-quality fresh food, good service and a fun atmosphere,” Courtney Kenneweg said in a heartbeat.
Courtney’s father, Peter Kenneweg, opened the original Crazy Crab at Jarvis Creek with Tom Reilley and fellow investors in 1984. They expanded to Harbour Town two years later.
While growing up, Courtney worked in various roles at the Crazy Crabs, from a bus boy to food runner and server. The experience taught him tough but valuable lessons.
“It made me appreciate what the job means. And it’s easier to help employees when you’ve already done the job,” he said.
Kenneweg’s father, a German immigrant and entrepreneur, broadened his world perspective. Courtney became interested in international relations in high school and competed in Model United Nations debates. He attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and studied abroad in Argentina and Ecuador. After graduation, Kenneweg moved to New York and worked for Merrill Lynch in Lower Manhattan.
On the morning of 9/11, Kenneweg stepped off the subway on his commute to work beneath the World Trade Center just after the first jetliner crashed into the South Tower.
“We went out the emergency exits. We didn’t know what happened. We just saw smoke coming from the building,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, the second plane hit. We felt the explosion and ran for cover.”
IT MADE ME APPRECIATE WHAT THE JOB MEANS. AND IT’S EASIER TO HELP EMPLOYEES WHEN YOU’VE ALREADY DONE THE JOB
The experience profoundly changed Courtney. After fulfilling his contract with Merrill Lynch, he joined the Army. He studied Arabic and Serbo-Croatian at the Defense Language Institute and trained as an interrogator, a collector of human intelligence.
“Part of my job involved speaking to locals, gathering information and building trust,” Kenneweg said of his tour in Iraq. “The goal was to get enough information together to find out who’s causing trouble.”
After serving five years in the military, Kenneweg earned an MBA at Duke University and worked for Bank of America in London. He loved his job, his group of friends, and traveling. But even so, in the back of his mind, he always knew he would return to Hilton Head.
The opportunity to come home materialized soon after he returned to the United States. His father announced that he was retiring. He asked Courtney to take over the Crazy Crab operations.
“Today I handle the financial aspects of both restaurants,” Courtney said. “It’s a natural fit for me.”
Like other local businesses, Kenneweg acknowledged that finding good, steady employees can be challenging.
“Affordable workforce housing is definitely a problem. Transportation is, too. Most of our workforce lives in Bluffton or Jasper County. The traffic in the morning on the bridge is a big problem. Other towns offer areas where you can park and take a shuttle over the bridge into town.”
A more immediate challenge will be re-opening the Crazy Crab at Jarvis Creek this month. The restaurant almost burned to the ground last March after a grease fire exploded in the kitchen. The new restaurant will offer an entirely new experience, with its completely renovated interior, an expanded outdoor bar, patio that will feature live music and a firepit with fireside smores. It will also have a refurbished playground. But it’ll feature the same menu, the same Lowcountry look and feel.
Courtney and his wife, Brody, have an 8-year-old daughter, Saylor. His eyes light up when he mentions their names.
“I love it here, I loved growing up here. Hilton Head offers so much in terms of raising a family, the outdoor activities that you can do, being on the water, and living in the South. It’s a slower pace, but I love the friendliness, the openness — it’s a little different than New York,” Kenneweg said, flashing his JFK-like smile.