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Loss of ‘Captain’ Doesn’t Sink Crab House

William D. Pell started Crab House in Fairfax.

"Capt.” William D. Pell was a well-known and well-loved restaurant owner in Fairfax. His sudden death from a heart attack on Sept. 11 surprised not only his family but also the customers who ate at his restaurant and thought of themselves as part of his extended family.

Pell founded Capt. Pell’s Crab House in Fairfax in the late 1970s, a popular place for fresh seafood and family atmosphere.

“So many people came up to tell me stories about my dad,” said William Pell Jr. “I worked with him five days a week, and these were stories I didn’t know about. He helped so many people.”

Pell was something of a local legend, his son said.

“I have a letter from a soldier from Loudoun County who’s in Iraq that sent us his condolences,” said Rick Pell, William Pell’s brother and manager of the restaurant. “He said he always felt like family when he came here for dinner.”

“My father was a real giving man. He did lots of deeds but wasn’t the type to brag about it,” said William Pell Jr. “He could’ve been a very wealthy man, but he gave money away to help others."

The "captain" devoted much of his time to his restaurant, but his family always came first.

“His family was everything to him,” said friend and co-worker Sam Wayson. “They always came first and the restaurant second, but it was all very successful for him.”

Evidence of the community’s respect and admiration for Pell was abundant at the funeral services that took place last week at St. John’s Catholic Church in Clinton, Md., where Pell lived with his wife of 39 years, Madeline.

“The priest that gave the service said in the eulogy that he could tell this was a man who did a lot of good things with his life. He said it was one of the biggest crowds he’d ever seen,” Wayson said. “There were so many flowers there you wouldn’t believe it.”

MANY FAMILY members from Florida had to make the dangerous trip up out of the hurricane last week any way they could.

“It was really rough for them getting flights out of Florida,” Wayson said. “Some of them had to fly to West Virginia and rent cars to get here for the services.”

Joe Dintino was a friend of Pell, as well as being his brother-in-law.

“When I was at my lowest, he was close to me then,” Dintino said. “We were on the phone all the time. He would help anyone any way he could.”

Dintino helped Pell build the first restaurant in 1977 on Lee Highway near Merrifield.

“We did everything by hand,” he said. “He got started in the seafood business by wholesaling crabs. In the winter, we’d drive down to Florida or South Carolina and pick them up. This is one of the only places where you know you’re getting all fresh crab.”

Pell’s passion for providing quality food paid off even when the restaurant was moved to its new location on Arlington Boulevard in the City of Fairfax. “This place seats 250 people, and sometimes we’ll still have a line to get in the door,” Dintino said. “We’ve got something unique here.”

Dintino added that talk has already started about establishing a memorial golf tournament in the spring.

“We were supposed to be playing in three tournaments in October,” he said. “He loved to play golf.”

“The sadness we’re feeling is not of him leaving us,” Dintino said. “I know he’s gone to a better place, I’m sure of it. The sadness is selfish. We all lost a great friend.”

BARTENDER Justin Perroots has worked at the Crab House for five years and said, “There’s people that come in here and act like they’ve known me my whole life. It’s the atmosphere here."

Perroots said Pell would work alongside him in the back room, preparing crabs.

“We’re all in our own little world back there,” he said. “He loved to be back there. We had fun when we had a chance, but whatever needed to be done got done first.”

“This was his love,” said worker and friend Dick Serone. “He didn’t have to work side by side with everyone, but he was just another worker. I’ll always remember his goodness to everybody.”

“If you love crabs, this is the place to go,” said longtime customer Marsdan “Mars” Harmon, sitting down for dinner with his wife, Peggy. “We’ve been coming here since the first place opened up.”

“Whenever we have out-of-town guests visiting us, we bring them here,” Peggy Harmon said. “We celebrated our son’s 40th birthday here earlier this year.”

“We feel like members of the family,” Mars Harmon said. “Had we known what happened, we would’ve gone to the services. We’re shocked.”

“He’ll be sadly missed,” Peggy Harmon said.

William Pell Jr. said that the family hopes to keep the restaurant going, the way his father would have wanted.

“There were four parts of his life: his family, his friends in south Washington, the racetrack and this restaurant,” he said. “We’re hoping to keep going, but the dust still hasn’t settled yet."