The Magwoods keep the heads on and the freshness intact

Wild Shrimp

To get to C. A. Magwood, Jr. & Sons, you cross Shem Creek on Coleman Boulevard, turn right onto Live Oak Drive, and make your way into Mt. Pleasant’s Old Village. Take a quick little jog under the old oaks onto Magwood Lane and then a left onto Haddrell Street, and all the way down at the end of the road you’ll see a modest sign with red stripes and blue stars pointing to an old white cinderblock building at the end of a gravel drive. If you see “Live & Love Longer, Eat Seafood” emblazoned on the wall in hand-painted red and blue letters, you know you’re in the right spot.

It’s a little off the beaten path, but Magwood’s is one of the last remaining retail stands where you can get ocean shrimp fresh off the boat, and it has a loyal local following. From the beginning of the season in early summer straight through January, customers call ahead to ask when a boat is arriving and wait with empty coolers while the shrimp is unloaded.

C. A. Magwood, Jr. & Sons — named for Clarence Magwood and his two sons, Wayne and Scotty — has been in business since 1972, long enough to witness the local shrimp industry’s boom as well as its slow decline.

At the peak in the 1980s, almost a hundred trawlers operated out of Shem Creek, supplying shellfish to wholesalers and grocery stores from New York to Florida. Then, in a vicious squeeze-play, foreign shrimp started driving down prices, while at the same time rising fuel bills and waterfront property values drove up costs. The imported stuff — much of it pond-raised, flash-frozen, and shipped thousands of miles — now accounts for more than 90 percent of the American market. The number of trawlers working out of Shem Creek is now down to around 10.

Wayne Magwood has been active in trying to reverse this trend. As president of the South Carolina Shrimpers Association, he has become something of a local PR rep for the industry. His shrimp boat, the Winds of Fortune, has been featured on the Discovery Channel and the Weather Channel, and it still makes daily runs during the shrimp season, heading out at 4 a.m. and arriving back in the late afternoon.

The economics are daunting, but local shrimpers have one trump card remaining in their hand: the quality of their product. All the shrimp sold at Magwood’s comes from trawlers working local waters. It’s always fresh — caught and sold the same day — with no chemicals or preservatives. And while they’ll gladly sell you shrimp with the heads removed, Magwood’s is one of the only places around where you can buy shrimp with the heads still on.

And that matters. Just ask chef Josh Keeler of Two Boroughs Larder, a local-centric restaurant and market in downtown’s Elliotborough neighborhood.

Though Magwoods and other suppliers can deliver fresh shrimp to Two Boroughs’ back door, Keeler says he prefers to head over to Shem Creek and pick it up himself. It’s both a nice break from the kitchen and a way to get a little more connected to the source of the food. He gets there early in the morning before the previous day’s catch is gone or, when he can, in the late afternoon as the trawlers are chugging in from their day on the water and unloading shrimp that were swimming in the ocean just a few hours before.

Keeler always buys heads-on. For some dishes, like the roasted garlic shrimp appetizer, serving whole shrimp complete with heads makes for a more dramatic presentation. For others, Keeler and his crew remove the heads but use them to make shrimp stock, since the heads impart a rich, vibrant flavor that you can’t get any other way.

The biggest reason, though, is freshness. “When you buy it heads-on, you get shrimp that has stayed in the water longer,” Keeler says, “It’s had fewer hands touch it.”

It makes a huge difference. Not too long ago, I dined at Two Boroughs Larder with a landlubber friend from Atlanta, and he couldn’t stop raving about that roasted garlic shrimp. They are layered head-to-tail in a circular stack and topped with a colorful pile of green pea shoots, thin-shaved squash and radishes, roasted garlic, and bright-red lipstick peppers. But it wasn’t the presentation that wowed him (and me as well), it was the flavor. “This is absolutely the best shrimp I’ve ever had,” my friend said. “You can actually taste the sea water.”

Keeler agrees, “The clean brininess you get from really fresh shrimp is the best part.”

Support the Charleston City Paper

We’ve been covering Charleston since 1997 and plan to be here with the latest and Best of Charleston for many years to come. In a time where local journalism is struggling, the City Paper is investing in the future of Charleston as a place where diverse, engaging views can flourish. We can't do it without our readers. If you'd like to support local, independent journalism:



Dish Dining Guide

When it comes to predicting trends, Dish is usually pretty good. Our food writers ponder the big picture, stroke their chins, and make their observations. This time around, we decided to do something a little bit different. Instead of looking at the food scene from the eater’s perspective, we thought we’d go inside and look at it from a chef’s point of view. To that end, we turned to James Beard Award-winning chef Mike Lata of FIG to serve as the guest editor of this issue.


Halloween 2020: Masks on masks and social-distanced spooks

Halloween 2020 is sure to be like no other we’ve experienced, but that does not mean it’s canceled. With masked masquerades, socially distanced costume contests, drive-in theaters, and more, we’re bringing your Halloween plans back from the dead. LET THE FRIGHTS COME TO YOU (DRIVE INS AND REMOTE EVENTS) For the West Ashley folks; the […]

The Agenda: SC can’t disqualify ballots over signatures; King Street sample ban considered

Federal judge rules S.C. election boards cannot reject absentee ballots due to mismatched signatures. A federal judge ruled that local election boards can’t reject mail in ballots because of mismatched signatures. There is nothing in the state laws, rules, or regulations that says the signatures have to match. Source: AP City Council considers banning free […]

Jaime Harrison and 6 other ways the 2020 election has been different

More than $100 will likely be spent to secure each of the 2 million-plus votes to be cast in South Carolina’s 2020 U.S. Senate election. The historic spending spree by incumbent U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison and other groups has turned up the pressure in an already-busy political season with the presidential […]

Blotter: Stickin’ around

The Blotter is taken from reports filed with Charleston Police Department between Oct. 14 and Oct. 19. No one described in this section has been found guilty, just unlucky. Blotter o’ the week: A woman reported her car stolen after she parked it on East Bay Street while having dinner and was unable to find […]