An Mathis Springs
HOME TURF: Murrells Inlet
OCCUPATION: "The Crab Cake Lady"
FUN FACT: An created all her famous recipes by herself. "My [adopted] mother took me to restaurants to eat. I came home and said, 'Ma, I can do better than this.' It took me about six months."
Most Grand Stranders know her as “The Crab Cake Lady,” but the compelling story of An Mathis Springs resides in each of her three names.
An was her name growing up in Mekong Delta, which she left when she was 12 years old to work as a nanny in Saigon. During the Vietnam War, she found work ironing clothes, shining shoes, making the beds of a motel. It was hard work for little pay, and the conflict was intensifying around her.
As rockets rained down on Saigon during the Tet Offensive, she moved into a U.S. military compound and met the two Americans who would eventually adopt her, John and Mary Sue Williams Mathis, who were working on base as civilian contractors.
With her adopted parents, An Mathis settled in Murrells Inlet in 1972, where she quickly learned the ways of the local creek—making her own crab traps and coming up with her now-famous deviled crab recipe.
“At that time, I sold them for only $10 per dozen,” she recalls. “I sold to the neighbors. Everybody knew me, but I had no sign, nothing. I just wanted to work in the creek and make a living.”
In her mid-50s she married her longtime Murrells Inlet neighbor, David Springs, whose grandson Denny helped start The Crab Cake Lady company in 2006. Her crab cakes can now be purchased online, in many grocery stores and from her stand in Harrelson’s Seafood market in Murrells Inlet.
At 73, she shows no signs of slowing down and still enjoys running around the inlet in a 14-foot jon boat, working her traps.
“Every day the weather is good, I just take my boat and go,” she says. “I get fish or oysters. I get shrimp and get clams, whatever we need to eat.”