After many years of working in high-end Philadelphia area restaurants, briefly running his own catering company, and working other odd jobs, Cherry Hill native Daniel Esola chased his dream of creating his own food brand Daniel Rabbit so he could be his own boss. He decided to focus solely on crab cakes as they were always a favorite with his catering customers, and more importantly, his wife.
He chose the name “Daniel Rabbit” because it had become a nickname of his while working at a popular French Bistro in Rittenhouse Square. The Executive Chef had too many Daniels working on the line to efficiently address them, so because he started on the Sauté Station and primarily worked with vegetables, the moniker “Daniel Rabbit” was suitable.
After “perfecting” his crab cake recipe, he went about the process of creating a sound business plan in order to bring the crab cakes to market. First, he had to get a nutritional analysis on them, then the packaging design, and finally, he had to find a commercial kitchen where he could make the crab cakes by hand. Not to mention, he created the branding and website himself. However, because he can’t do it all, he brought Grzy Media Group on board to help with marketing, advertising, and PR.
“All of DanielRabbit.com Crab Cakes are made by hand daily,” Daniel Esola told Philly Grub. “They are par-fried at 300 degrees in premium corn oil and are to be finished by the customer. Covid-19 caused my business to be a little bit “nomadic” for a while, until finding our current home, a kitchen share in Bridesburg. I’m currently hand making thousands of Crab Cakes per week to keep up with demand, but will be hiring a small team very soon.”
He’s also delivering all of the crab cake orders himself to areas of Southeastern PA, South Jersey, and Northern Delaware, but expects to start shipping via UPS soon. He recently completed the process of developing the proper shipping material and testing with the adequate amount of dry ice that will survive in UPS’s package system for up to 32 hours.
“I plan to start delivering to MD and NY soon, too. We have a few connections in these new states which we will use to conduct final shipping tests. If these tests are successful, we will immediately begin advertising to these areas as a whole, adapt to any problems that come up, and add new states every couple of months until we are nationwide,” noted Esola.
He also plans to add gluten-free crab cakes to his offering in the future as they have been requested many times.
“We want nothing more than to offer gluten-free crab cakes. The challenge has been our physical space,” explained Esola. “We’ve moved so many times within the last year, and have not had enough of safe areas within our kitchens to assure there is no cross-contamination among our products. If we bring a gluten-free product to market, we want to make sure we can absolutely promise that our products are 100% gluten-free. This will require separate areas so that gluten-free products never come in contact with the non-gluten-free ones.”
With that said, he is looking into investing in his own space soon which will help him expand the business. Non-crab cake products are not in the cards, though.
Esola explains, “Being in the Crab Cakes business, I have a few local competitors. Their businesses are super successful, and two of them hold the title of “King of Crab Cakes” in their areas. The first thing they did was shy away from what they knew best and added a ton of new products to their menu. I do not feel the necessity to do this. I will stick to the Crab Cakes and offer multiple variations of them. I have considered creating a line of complementary sauces that work perfectly with my Crab Cakes and work well with an array of other foods as well.”
When asked about his future aspirations, Esola professed, “Our main goal is to keep a majority of our business direct to customers. I truly feel the future of the food business will go in this direction. One of my biggest inspirations is Omaha Steaks. They went from a local butcher in Nebraska to a 450 million dollar per year business, for steaks shipped in the mail. We will have variations of our products which will be pitched to retail. One of the first products we’ve developed for retail is our 1 oz Crab Cake bites (appetizers). Since we buy top-quality ingredients for our crab cakes, miniaturizing them creates a margin that makes sense for many markets. This is just the “tip of the iceberg”!”
Daniel was kind enough to provide two crab cakes for us to evaluate. They were a snap to prepare. I put them in a 375-degree oven for 25 minutes. They were crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. They are packed with crabmeat and no fillers. These would make a great sandwich or with whatever sides you like. I served them over a bed of creamy polenta and stewed vegetables. Next time, I would love to do a Crab Cake Benedict or Po’boy sandwich.
I appreciate him taking the time to deliver these crab cakes and tell me more about his Philly-based startup crab cake business. I am impressed with this ambitious and hard-working young man who makes delicious food produced locally. It pleases me to tell you about new food product startups right here in our area and trying them so you know they have my stamp of approval.
I recommend that you try them out for yourself. Daniel is offering readers of Philly Grub 10% off their order.