While “Big Al” Poore of Big Al’s Market and his family have moved on, the building, empty as it was, was still a reminder of where some of the best seafood and crab cakes was to be found on the Eastern Shore. That was until the Big Al’s building was formally taken down this week in St. Michaels.
The Spy covered Big Al’s in July of 2012, and we have reprinted below Kathi Ferguson’s short piece on family efforts to keep Big Al’s going and its unique charm.
Big Al’s Market, the family-owned and operated local seafood establishment on North Talbot Street in St. Michaels, has recently undergone what some might call a facelift. Improvements have been made to the outward appearance but the tradition of quality goods and customer service remains unchanged.
In March of this year “Big Al” Poore and his wife, fondly known as “Miss Rea”, officially retired after over thirty years of owning and operating the business. As with many family shops, its future success lies with the next generation. “Mom and Dad were tired”, says Alan, Jr. He and his brother Larry, along with Larry’s wife Sharon are now at the helm. Their goal? Continue to provide fresh, local seafood to many satisfied customers.
It all began as a wholesale business when Big Al steamed shrimp and crab at Kastel’s Marina in the late 60s. “Kastel’s was located where St. Michaels Harbour Inn and Marina is now,” explains Alan. “Before that, Dad did all of the steaming out of our house in Bozman.” In 1978 the Poore’s bought what was then a service station and Big Al hung up his sign. The family has been working it ever since.
Steamed crabs remain the specialty at Big Al’s, many of which are caught that day by Alan himself. A commercial waterman, Alan oversees the day’s streaming to ensure quality control through the entire process. He’s also been known to provide those crab-picking rookies with some helpful pointers! Other favorites are Miss Rea’s award-winning crab cakes, fresh oysters, clams, shrimp and crab meat. Rockfish, scallops, tilapia and flounder also top the list.
“We are so proud to be able to carry on the Poore family tradition,” Sharon says. “The challenge has been to maintain the feel of the place while keeping up with the times, but we needed our own niche. Any changes we’ve made have been not only necessary but positive.” One of the most recognizable is the curb appeal.
Most of the credit for that goes to the Poore’s oldest son, Kyle. “While most of us were concentrating on the inside, Kyle directed our attention to the outside and it has really paid off,” Larry Poore explains. Now there are bright umbrellas shading the patio, new picnic tables, a potted herb garden, and the family’s “newest addition” – the Big Al-sized grill and smoker tended to by Pit Master, Montia Rice. Montia has been cooking up BBQ ribs, burgers, salmon, chicken, brisket and more for customers to enjoy. “The BBQ has been a tremendous hit,” says Alan “We also love the fact that the picnic tables and wooden shelves for our herb pots were all built by students in the St. Michaels High School carpentry class,” Sharon adds. “It’s just another way that Big Al’s keeps it local so-to-speak.”
Upon entering the market, the old screen door slaps shut, leading the customer into a warm, open space, welcomed by a friendly greeting from the staff. Josh Poore, Sharon and Larry’s youngest son, was instrumental in redesigning the interior. “Not much was really altered, but Josh thought it would be a good idea to move some things around to better showcase what we have to offer,” Sharon explains. The Deli has also become a big draw, featuring homemade salads along with fresh burgers, subs, sandwiches and wraps. “When a customer walks in and tells me “we’ve heard about your deli,” I just love that,” says Alan.
Unique to the market is that all of Big Al’s seafood and deli items can be packed for travel or shipped for overnight delivery. They now carry a boutique selection of wine; Maryland brewed craft beers, gourmet cheeses, and prepared foods to go. Friday night dinner specials are very popular, and always first to be snatched up. Oh, and no need to worry – they still carry fishing tackle and bait.
This generation of Poores maintains the belief in what constitutes an old time family operated business – to know their customers and take care of them. “If you do that, they come back,” says Alan. “Our world’s gotten away from that and we need to get back to it. We also have some top notch employees who stick by us.” Alan smiles. “Mom and Dad laid the groundwork. Without them, none of this would be possible. Now, we are walking in their shoes.”
Looking ahead, future plans include expanding the “make it and take it” items, wine tastings, and building up the market’s internet business. In the meantime, Big Al’s is attracting locals and visitors alike while successfully continuing the family legacy.
Big Al’s Market, located at 302 N. Talbot, is open Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They can be reached at 410-745-3151.