Eric McKinnon, owner of Leola’s Crab Shack, plans to leave a legacy for his children.
A former Californian, McKinnon moved to Florida as a child. He was adopted by Leola McKinnon. The name of the restaurant is in her honor and memory.
McKinnon began his journey as an entrepreneur, when he opened Southern Fixings, serving soul food. Shortly after, inspired by a restaurant he visited with his family, he took on a new venture, Leola’s Crab Shack, a seafood restaurant.
Victoria McKinnon, McKinnon’s daughter and a manager at Leola’s, is proud of her father’s accomplishments.
“This is a legacy that my dad continues to build,” she said. “It is fulfilling to know that my dad established this family business to pass down to all 12 of his children.”
When McKinnon started Leola’s, it was under a tent with only a fryer and broiler. Now, it is a full-service restaurant with two mobile trucks that travel across the Big Bend area and neighboring states.
McKinnon’s daughter recalls while growing up everything was not always easy for her father. But, after returning home from a prison sentence, Eric McKinnon was on a different path in life.
“My dad came from the struggle, didn’t graduate high school, had his time in the streets and did time,” she said. “His children and family have been his motivation to change. He didn’t want to leave us again.”
Despite being a convicted felon more than two decades ago, it is evident McKinnon has changed his life for the better. He is respected for his work ethic and perseverance through his restaurant and community service.
Leola’s Crab Shack is a family establishment that has longtime, loyal employees. It is also voted one of the best in town and is supported by local politicians and the community.
Celebrities such as Danny Glover, “Lil Boosie,” and JT Money, dined in and enjoyed the sensational taste of the crab rice, blue crabs, po boys, shrimp, snow crabs, marinated with a special garlic sauce. The signature garlic sauce was created by Eric McKinnon.
It is very popular during FAMU home football games. Leola’s has served as a vendor on FAMU campus for many years. According to Jeffery Mordica, co-owner, they’ve had a well-connected relationship with FAMU since the opening of the restaurant.
“To say the least our relationship with FAMU is special, we love FAMU,” Mordica said. “We recently had the opportunity to serve the students crabs and more at the first Set Friday. Anything dealing with FAMU we are here for it, from student specials at the beginning of the semester, to student employees. We just hired one on the spot when she told us she attends FAMU,” Mordica said.
It is evident from the long lines at both vendor locations at the football games that FAMU students and supporters enjoy the food. Jerzi Thomas, a freshman at FAMU, shared feedback as she waited in the lobby at Leola’s for her meal.
“When I started FAMU in the summer, which is my dream school by the way, I heard about Leola’s from other students,” Thomas said. “It is very, very good and so affordable.
I really enjoyed the crabs at the first Set Friday, the lines were so long but I waited cause it’s worth it,” Thomas said.
Leola’s Crab Shack is a legacy in the making. Eric McKinnon wanted a change, made the change, and became the change. He hopes his remarkable journey from chains to change will inspire others.