VALDOSTA -- The dining room at Crystal River Seafood has been packed since its opening on May 10. People recognize the name and associate it with quality.

Crystal River features an extensive menu with traditional and unusual items. Seafood lovers can choose from a variety of fish, lobster, scallops, clam, oysters, crab and shrimp dishes; others can enjoy fried, grilled or chicken breasts or strips, New York strip steak or hamburgers.

Customers interested in a "rare catch" can give 'gator tail or frog legs a try.

The bite-sized kids menu features smaller versions of shrimp, fish and chicken plates. Kids can also choose mac 'n' cheese, grilled cheese or a corn dog.

In addition to entrees, Crystal River is known for delicious appetizers and sides like cheese grits, crab claws, lobster bites, cole slaw, and the Crystal Onion.

Every meal is cooked to order and guaranteed fresh with generous portions. Owners Sam and Mike Bajalia sample daily to ensure the food is the best quality possible.

The atmosphere at Crystal River draws in families who can dine casually and comfortably in a Christian setting. In fact, it is local families that the Bajalia brothers want to attract; they want customers to feel like they are walking into someone's home.

Repeat customers will find themselves seeing the same servers each visit. The retention rate at Crystal River is high because employees are supported 100 percent by the Bajalias who make it a great place to work. When customers get to know the staff, Crystal River seems to feel even more like home.

This is why the staff of 65 employees make service the heart of their business. Sam and Mike Bajalia believe they have hired good people to interact with customers. The staff responds to customer questions and suggestions with concern.

Personal attention and friendly service that customers receive keep the Crystal River dining room filled.

The Bajalia brothers began the business in 1988 and own five other Crystal River Seafood restaurants. They chose Valdosta for the newest location because there was already a market here.

"Valdosta really won by popular demand. People were already driving down to Tallahassee to eat (at Crystal River), now they don't have to any more," Sam Bajalia said.

They have definitely put in the time. From testing the cuisine to personally handcrafting the 13 light fixtures in the dining room, the Bajalia brothers have given every detail of the restaurant close attention.

Although the parking lot and dining room stay filled, don't expect to wait for hours just to be seated. There is a constant flow of people going in and out.

Crystal River Seafood is located next to Goody's at 958 N. St. Augustine Road. The dining room is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday with lunch everyday from open until 4 p.m.

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