Cracking the market

Since 2013, people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas have been discovering what makes Shell Shack a seafood dining experience like no other, and they are rapidly being joined by consumers across the United States

It was in May 2013, in the heart of the bustling location of Uptown Dallas, Texas, that the first Shell Shack restaurant opened its doors to the public. Specialising in proprietary infused crab, shrimp and other seafood of all shapes and sizes, it offered a one-of-a-kind casual dining experience – based on true Texas Boil cooking – that was quickly embraced by enthusiasts and first-time visitors alike.

“Shell Shack is a seafood restaurant with its own unique flair,” begins its President, CEO and co-founder, Dallas Hale. “The formation of the business came about by recognising a gap in the market for someone that could meet the need of consumers craving this type of food offering. The result is a brand that truly appeals to everyone, from the young to the old, from the man next-door to pro football players and rock stars. There really is no discrimination when it comes to people who love Shell Shack!”

That love for the concept has seen Shell Shack grow considerably in the last six years, to the point where today it has seven corporate stores across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, two franchised outlets – one in Houston and the other in Tyler – and plans to expand further still into cities such as Detroit and Cleveland. The secret to this, as Hale goes on to explain, is how the Shell Shack family strives to better its customer experience through operational excellence. “Each store we have is constantly evolving, growing and improving on a daily basis. To us, operational excellence means never thinking that we know it all and always being willing to identify ways that we can do things better. It is also about achieving consistency across our estate. This means that, wherever we have a restaurant, you can be assured of the same amazing service and food when you walk through our doors.”

Beginning life as a single store concept, it was imperative that Hale and his co-founder Matt Saba got Shell Shack’s food and beverage offering perfect from the start. This was achieved in part by sourcing ingredients from only the finest purveyors. “When you visit a Shell Shack, you can be confident in knowing that our crabs, shrimp and assorted seafood come from the very best sources,” Hale continues. “For example, our crab originates from the best fishery zone – Zone 12 – in Alaska, and we simply will not settle for anything less. Such is our commitment towards the quality of our products.”

Franchising concept
While the business may have grown, Hale, Saba and the rest of the management team retain a very hands-on approach when it comes to ensuring that only the best food reaches their customers’ plates. “Whenever a new type of crab or shrimp becomes available, we will judge that product in the way that we know works best, and that is via a taste test,” Hale reveals. “Together, we gather in a specific location and we personally test the produce ourselves, comparing flavours, textures and taste. This has proven invaluable to us, and we must be doing something right. We now exist in a more crowded market than ever, with more than 20 competitors operating in the same segment. Yet, not only do our customers continue coming back to Shell Shack, but our business continues to thrive!”

Going forward, one key factor in Shell Shack’s further growth will be its ability to franchise the concept, and Hale is understandably passionate in highlighting the opportunities that owning a Shell Shack restaurant presents. “The fundamental reason why the brand lends itself so well to franchising is that it’s a concept that can fit into literally any market in the United States,” he explains. “We have spoken to people from Florida to California who have tried our food, and they all say the same thing — if you love seafood, you will love Shell Shack.”

Brand values
As a franchisee, one can expect to take part in a comprehensive eight-to-12-week training programme at the company’s Training Centre in Dallas. Additionally, it provides an ‘Opening Training Team’, which is composed of at least five trained representatives to provide on-site pre-opening and opening training, supervision and assistance for a minimum of 14 days. Once completed, franchisees receive regular updates to their training, including on-site visits and operation reviews.

Speaking to Hale as we approach the midpoint of 2019, conversation naturally turns to the company’s plans for the second half of the year, and beyond. “For the remainder of 2019, we have plans to open up as many as five new locations, with the possibility of ten more to follow in 2020,” he states. “I feel that 47we are pretty much at capacity here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so these new restaurants will be targeting cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, as well as further afield and across the United States. We have even already received enquiries about taking the brand international, which I think again shows the strength of our offering.”

Even with the future looking so bright for Shell Shack, Hale and company are still working incredibly hard to keep the business as personal and well-grounded as it has been since day one. “Collectively, we want to see the Shell Shack name present across the United States and to establish the brand as a powerhouse in the casual dining market,” he declares. “At the same time, we are incredibly proud to have remained so true to the values that our brand is all about, and that is something that will not change anytime soon.”