Shell Shack

Shell Shack

Ready to Boil

Shell Shack has the plan and processes in place to rapidly expand

its casual specialty seafood concept in the coming years.

By Tim O’Connor, Knighthouse Media

Dallas Hale and Matt Saba were experienced sports bar and nightclub owners but hadn’t yet come up with a food-focused concept. In 2011, the duo stumbled across a casual-dining seafood restaurant while traveling and were inspired by the idea. When they returned home to Texas, they decided to introduce a crab night on at one of their sports bars for the typically slow Thursday night crowd. Within two months, Thursday had become the one of the busiest nights of the week.

Hale and Saba were onto something and in 2013 opened Shell Shack, a fast-casual seafood restaurant. The pair developed their own wet marinade seasoning blends and perfected their cooking methods, turning Shell Shack into a popular destination for crab-, shrimp- and crawfish-loving Texans. “While the foundation of the Shell Shack concept has remained the same, we have certainly evolved and refined the brand,” Hale says. “Over the years we have worked hard on improving our processes and procedures.”Shell Shack info box

Unlike other seafood restaurants, Shell Shack designed a smaller, more focused menu that allowed it to emphasize quality. “We’re not really trying to be everything to everyone, but what we do, we do well,” Hales says. “Our menu is mainly crab and shrimp boils, seasoned to your personal liking and the level of heat that makes you want to come back for more. We have created a fun atmosphere that is family friendly and table-share style – that is, if you’re willing to share, of course.”

By the end of 2016, the brand had four restaurants and it was ready to start getting serious about its future growth. The company slowed its corporate pace in 2017 to develop a clear expansion strategy, launch its franchise program and this year it began executing on it. 

Shell Shack is preparing to double its restaurant count in 2018, including bringing on two new locations this summer and two more later this year. Further, it is working with a franchisee to open its first restaurant outside of Texas, which will be located in Oklahoma City, and it is also targeting Phoenix, Denver and Atlanta for the next wave of expansion.

“These are some of the top Southern opportunity markets and would allow us to have key training locations in both the Southwest and Southeast, which will allow us to expand more rapidly by 2020,” Hale says.

Finding Franchisees

The expansion may be rapid, but it will not be careless. Shell Shack is being selective about the kinds of franchisees it wants to work with to ensure that every new location is positioned for long-term success. The company is looking for experienced and involved owners who are willing to open multiple locations – a key commitment since Shell Shack will only sell to one franchise group in each market.

“We feel our concept is in an under-servedspecialty seafood market with a unique dining segement,” Director of Franchise Development Jon Glaser says. “Our brand economics are strong with a high revenue per square foot and we operate well in multicultural demographics. We are specifically targeting two groups: multi-unit restaurant groups looking to expand their portfolio in their current demographic areas, and also real estate developers that are well-seeded in areas of interest that can partner with well-qualified multi-unit operators.

“Anybody who has the infrastructure to support and oversee operations is pretty much our target potential franchisee,” he continues. “Within the first couple of calls, I can usually tell if that’s the kind of brand partner we’re looking for.”

Although Shell Shack will work with restaurant groups that operate brands all over the country, it prefers franchisees who live in their markets. “We believe, and it has shown with our success, that you must get involved with your local community and have a presence in the locations to achieve the type of customer experience that we are delivering every day in our corporate locations,” Glaser adds. 

Local ownership creates opportunities to Shell Shack to interact with its customers outside of the kitchen. “We have a few chosen charities in Dallas-Fort Worth which we support by fundraisers and giving of our time back to the community,” Glaser continues. “We encourage the same from our franchisees and, of course, they have been in full agreement and eager to get involved.”

Setting Standards

The total cost of opening a new Shell Shack restaurant is roughly $750,000. However, that price comes with an extensive support structure. Shell Shack is involved in every step of the process, from selecting real estate to conducting training programs and providing marketing support. “We want to support our franchise groups as much as needed,” Glaser says. “After all, they are our partners for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Training is perhaps the most important part of the startup phase. Owners and employees who don’t learn the best practices for operating their locations risk damaging the brand by providing substandard service. To ensure those standards are followed, Shell Shack provides six to eight weeks of a combination of classroom, online platform and, for the most part, hands-on training at its Dallas-Forth Worth restaurants prior to opening. Those sessions can include everyone from the operator, managers, back-of-house and front-of-house leads. “Shell Shack has spared no expense to make sure our employees and franchisees are prepared for success,” Glaser says.

Training efforts continue even after the location has opened. Shell Shack recently invested in an online training platform, called The Boiler, which is used for ongoing training, testing and tracking employee development. Training through The Boiler begins when an employee is hired and reoccurs every two to three months as they continue their career at the company, helping them to build new skills and reinforce old ones to prepare them to advance up Shell Shack’s ranks.

The Boiler is not the only way Shell Shack is investing in technology. On the customer side, the company recently implemented a point-of-sale system that allows restaurants to offer mobile table-side POS ordering and pick up. “This has been a game-changer for us,” Hale says. “It has not only allowed our customer orders to hit the kitchen faster, thus improving ticket times, but also allows our staff to remain more attentive to their areas on the floor, helping improve our customer experience and checkout turnaround times.”

With new technology systems, a robust training process and a clear plan for expansion, Shell Shack is ready to explode its footprint in the coming years. “All of us have worked so hard developing a strong brand with all the proper elements for replications and success,” Hale says. “This hasn’t happened overnight and there hasn’t been just one single person or thing that can be credited for the success that we have had. I’m proud of my entire team and our Shell Shack family of employees for showing up and giving it their all each and every day.”


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