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Shaking Crab in New London will offer Cajun seafood — served by robots

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New London — A location of Shaking Crab, a restaurant chain focused on Cajun seafood boils, is slated to open soon at the former Outback Steakhouse.

And the owners plan on having robots deliver food to customers' tables.

The Shaking Crab New London/Mystic franchise is the work of business partners Gulshan Soni and Deepak Verma. Verma is the principal of New London Hospitality LLC, which owns the restaurant building at 305 N. Frontage Road and the Clarion Inn New London-Mystic next door.

When you walk into the 260-seat restaurant, you're greeted by a rather large crab hanging from the ceiling. Post a selfie with the crab and the hashtag #shakingcrabnewlondonmystic, and you'll get a 5% discount on your order.

In the ocean-themed restaurant, stuffed sharks hang from the ceiling over the 18-seat bar, and nets scattered with lobster, crab and starfish décor separate the bar area from ample booth seating. Soni said he also is working on hanging a 15-foot crab over the sign out front.

He said the plan is to open for friends and family in late September and to the general public in early October, but he's still waiting on the three or four service robots to arrive, and dealing with more typical supply chain issues.

His planned hours are Monday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.

Open in New London since 2003, Outback Steakhouse closed last year. Soni said he wanted to bring something unique to the area, and there aren't any Shaking Crab locations in Connecticut; the closest is in Providence.

He said menu items will include blue crabs, Dungeness crabs, snow crabs, Alaskan king crab legs and lobster tails, with some non-seafood options like chicken, pasta and vegetarian dishes. Steps for ordering include picking the seafood, sauce and spice level, and customers will get bibs, gloves and baskets.

Soni said the restaurant will be high-end, that the average price per person will end up being $70 to $80 — presuming they're getting seafood. A crab shortage has caused prices to skyrocket in recent months, and Soni said crab legs are now running about $55 a pound.

He said the menu items will range from about $9 to $1,000, the most expensive item being a 15- to 20-pound lobster.

"The server will come with a bell," Soni said. "It's like showmanship, you know?"

Soni thinks he will have four robots, two that work with mapping programming and two that work with a magnetic strip, which respectively run about $18,000 to $22,000 and $6,000 to $8,000.

Sitting in one of the booths for an interview Friday, Soni showed a video of one robot saying, "If there is nothing else, touch my hand so I can get back to work."

He said the presence of the robots is both to deal with staffing shortages seen across the restaurant industry and to draw in customers with something unique.

But he said there still will be servers, who will come to explain the menu and take customers' orders, but the robots will deliver the food.

Soni is originally from India and started his career as a chef trainer at five-star properties, and then worked managing destination weddings. He worked in Ethiopia and then moved to the United States in 2012. His wife, Priya Kohli, is a statistics professor at Connecticut College, and they live in Mystic.

Soni said he worked at the Hilton in Groton, and as regional general manager for Phoenix Hospitality and New London Hospitality.

e.moser@theday.com

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