Wednesday, March 13, 2013

[Suburbia Lost] Captain D's - Sharonville


The people of this nation deserve "freshly prepared seafood at reasonable prices," or so goes the credo on Captain D's website. Unfortunately for those who live near this former seafood eatery on Chester Rd. in Sharonville, they'll have to travel the seven seas a little further these days to get the captain's freshest catch and his corporate branding.

- Looking up at the empty shell of a Captain D's sign.

I'm in no way against fast food, as Greg Graffin once said: "I think it's a good product and a great invention." I certainly eat my fair share of it, probably more often than I should. The price, convenience and value all culminate in one delicious, greasy bag of joy that I assume is akin to parents bringing home their newborn child for the first time. Instead of welcoming a new baby, I introduce the burger and fries to my coffee table in front of the television - their final resting place before they grant me sustenance and another meal passes. For me though, fast food is what it is and nothing else - it's just fast food. I don't pretend it's classy high dining or even feel that the food is worth me 'instagraming' (although I will admit to having been guilty of that on occasion whilst visiting Jack in the Box). I'll hand it to the fast food executives though, they must know what they're doing, because we keep buying it. But what are we buying and biting into? The product, brand or both?

- This particular location is a "ghost ship" in a "sea" of asphalt.

I like to think that if I had a super power, it would be that I can not be swayed by fast food marketing. I find it all highly unbelievable. I think a commercial showcasing elderly Korean War vets sipping morning coffee in a McDonalds dining room would be more truthful than an advertisement showing some cute, young couple sharing Big Mac's and iced coffee on a date. I choose to eat fast food because it's cheap and like the name implies - it's fast. I don't have to cook, I don't have to deal with a waiter, I don't have to tip and I don't have to wait (usually). What I don't get, is the jargon and image these companies try to promote, the way they try to pass of their brand as being something it really isn't. And if they're so persistent on doing it, then someone must be believing it, right?

As we saw in the post about repurposing Wendy's restaurants, nearly all standalone fast food chains have adopted a building recognition. Their locations are emblazoned with the same logos, similar structure and matching color schemes. You can spot a Burger King from almost any highway overpass simply because we've come to know how they look. This abandoned Captain D's is no different. Even in death, you can tell it was once clearly a Captain D's. The nautical themed dining experience once started for some customers as soon as you entered the drive-thru:

- Drive-Thru self portrait.

Passing by in your vehicle, you were able to glance in at the dining room. At night, the path to end your hunger was once illuminated by lights evoking a "seaside" style.

- It's just like the drive-thru that "lonely sailors" use at the "port in a western bay."

After sifting through the options and requesting your value meal through the speaker, you sailed forward with your voyage almost complete.

- Please Place Order Here.

Finally, you 'put in anchor' at the window, a Captain D's team member (please tell me the employees are called "sailors," "crewmen" or even "seamen") hands you your meal and off you go to further sail the seven seas of suburbia.

- Drive-Thru pick up window.

Growing up, my parents never took us to Captain D's. My siblings and I don't eat seafood. Even to this day, I still don't trust consuming anything that comes from the water. There was a Captain D's near our house growing up though, and I remember asking my dad why he never went there to get a fish sandwich during Lent. He said something to the effect of: "it's a dirty restaurant."

- Backside of the Captain D's. Note the former sign on the roof that could once be seen from nearby I-75.

Captain D's was started in northern Tennessee in 1969. According to the chain's website, it expanded in the 70's, but nothing happened in the 80's and 90's except that the "logo and building design evolved." Understandably, they left out the part about their bankruptcy in 2000. A message from their CEO reads that he "built a culture of service excellence that begins in [his] office and extends through every level of [the] company." For the remaining Captain D's in the Cincinnati market however, the online reviews seem to contradict President and CEO Phil Greifeld's claims.

- Come on, really? Image via: Captain D's

Which brings me back to the earlier point: do fast food execs really believe their press releases and carefully chosen marketing slogans? Do they really feel that the level of customer service they fantasize about while driving their BMW is the same attitude exerted by the minimum wage earning knuckle dragger on the front line register? From previous employment experiences, let me tell you: it's not. Most employees don't 'drink the kool-aid' if you will and believe they're actually "team members" as so many companies are fond of dubbing them. It's just reality. That's not to say there aren't people in this world who work hard at their jobs, believe in the company they're employed by and value the opportunity they've been given. There are plenty of people like that, but I guarantee you they do it out of a sense of being a genuinely good human being, not because a corporate training video inspired them.

- "Team Member" entrance.

But more importantly, do consumer's really not see through the staged photo ops and carefully crafted press releases? To put it bluntly: is anyone buying this shit (the advertising that is, clearly we like the food)? I stated why I eat fast food and it's not for the atmosphere or experience, even one that's just implied through the advertising. This quote from the Captain D's website stood out to me:

We've worked to create a coastal ambiance and welcoming atmosphere that transports you to your favorite beachside destination as soon as you walk through our doors.

Now, like I said, I've never been to a Captain D's, except this abandoned one - but I have been to the beach. And while I'm no casual sea food dining experience expert, I'm pretty damn sure that a Captain D's isn't anything like going to the beach. Despite the lack of sand and ocean in the center of America, Captain D did his best to bring his "coastal ambiance" to the often cold, starkly different from the oceanside Midwestern United States.

- You could tie your boat up here.

At this Captain D's, if the drive-thru wasn't for you, you could sail drive on in to port Captain D's and tie up park your boat car before you and your maties friends and/or family chowed down on some freshly prepared recently unfrozen and microwave heated seafood.

- Ahoy.

While this particular Captain D's is no more (and the building is for sale for a modest $120,000) you can still enjoy the seafood offerings of other locations throughout the metro area. You and yours can still indulge in the Captain's seaside dining experience and be the Pirates of the Caribbean.... or Suburbia rather.

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here

Update | Oct. 22, 2017:
  • This building has been renovated and reopened as a local candy shop. I've stopped by a few times and can't recommend Chamoda's Candy Cafe enough.


  1. It is too bad that the old Windjammer Ship restaurant which was attached to the hotel near that Captain D's is no longer there and vacant so you could board and raise the Jolly Roger. I always got a kick out of Captain D's next to that ship......... Good read, as usual.

    1. Thanks! I remember seeing that ship as a kid and a few years ago, it was still there... and abandoned I believe. I wish I would've gone to see it back when I drove by it. An opportunity missed.

  2. Kinda pompous to shit on a restaurant chain when you haven't even been inside the place.

    1. To be fair, I was defecating on their belief that Captain D's creates a "coastal ambiance" that's indicative of my "favorite beachside destination." If a Captain D's apparently does, then please enlighten me.

    2. I prefer TGI Fridays.

  3. Oh yeah, I wish that ship was still there! I remember driving down Chester Rd often when I was a kid and thinking it was a cool and exotic street with the big wooden ship and all the different types of restaurants seemingly from around the world.

  4. The one on dream street in Florence Kentucky still to this day does pretty well. However, it's went down some over the years, nothing like before but every single restaurant on dream street has seen their clientel change in the past two decades.

    There's not many left in the area, that's for sure.

  5. I saw this blog earlier and since I live close I wanted to get some pic. To my surprise the old sign was covered with a banner that wasn't there a week earlier. Looks like someone has decided to pull it out of dry doc. Didn't get the name or the pics but we will this week, I'm curious who occupies it since it has been adrift for 10 years plus.

  6. New owners move in on abandoned Captain D's....Camoda's Candy Cafe

  7. The Camoda's Candy shop has the beast gummy bears in town. You should go check it out.

  8. I've actually been several times. They're simply the best. Excellent candy, and super super super nice folks. I'm planning a story on them soon.