King Crab: Meet Angry Crab Shack and Former NFL Legend Ron Lou

Anthony WallaceMarch 2, 2023
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Photo by Rob Ballard
Photo by Rob Ballard

In 2010, when the Buffalo Bills drafted offensive lineman Ed Wang from Virginia Tech, headlines declared him the first player of “direct Chinese descent” selected in the NFL draft. They were wrong.

Longtime Valley resident Ron Lou – who played three NFL seasons at the center position – beat Wang to that achievement by nearly 40 years. The child of Chinese immigrants, Lou said he was paying no attention to the 1973 NFL Draft when he was selected by the Houston Oilers – someone had to track him down and let him know. 

Asked about Wang taking credit, Lou, 71, shrugs it off.  “He might have had a good PR [representative].” 

More comfortable working behind the scenes than basking in the limelight, the founder and CEO of Valley restaurant chain Angry Crab Shack has stayed busy.

Ron Lou’s NFL player card
Ron Lou’s NFL player card

Since he opened the first Angry Crab Shack in Mesa in 2013, the restaurant has expanded to 19 locations in four states and is now preparing to open its first international location in London. For nearly a year, Lou’s team has been occupied with converting recipes to the metric system, registering trademarks in the U.K. and sourcing products.

But while the Arizona-based team offers support, the financial investment and daily operations of the restaurant will be covered by a London organization. Only five Angry Crab locations are corporate-owned – the remaining are franchised, a model that is key to the company’s goal of hitting 100 locations by 2025, a plan Lou credits to Angry Crab president and CFO Andrew Diamond. While Lou loves the challenge of expanding, he prefers construction to paperwork. “I’d rather go work building the restaurant.”

Working in service industries comes naturally to Lou – he’s been doing it since he was 8. Born in Los Angeles in 1951, two years after his parents escaped Maoist upheaval in Canton, China, Lou was rarely not working. “It was survival,” Lou says of immigrant life.

When a teenage Lou moved to Tempe in 1969 after earning a football scholarship to Arizona State University, it was a culture shock. “I remember sitting at Saguaro Hall and learning how to use forks and knives.”

His Sun Devil teams went on to win the first two Fiesta Bowls, and he ultimately played for the Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles. After football, a failed business venture left Lou bankrupt and working at Home Depot.

He saved up and went back to what he knew: Chinese food. He remembered the old days when his teammates would come over and devour his mom’s cooking – minced pork, dumplings, black bean sauce, bok choy. For them, it was a whole new world. At that time, authentic Chinese food was rare in the Valley. Lou saw an opening in the market.

He and his wife Ling Ngo opened C-Fu Gourmet in 1996 in Chandler. It became a fixture, and around it sprung up an Asian district. Lou stepped away from the restaurant when he had a staph infection in 2011 and was hospitalized for months. Stuck in front of the TV during his recovery, he watched food shows and spotted another trend he could capitalize on using his experience with bold seasoning and importing live shrimp and crab: the seafood-in-a-bag eatery.

The seafood boil tradition goes back decades, but in the 2010s, Cajun seafood chains blossomed around the U.S. Lou says Angry Crab Shack was the first restaurant of its kind in the Valley.

Lou formulated the recipes himself and established a fun atmosphere: bibs, no silverware, “sirens, bells, gongs.” The winning combination “took off,” he says. The casual dining experience and simple boil-in-a-bag cooking help control costs. Angry Crabs make their money – and vibes – from high volume.

“We’re loud, we’re noisy and we’re very friendly,” Lou says. “We’re like a little family.”


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