The first brick-and-mortar Slapfish sprung from a food truck in 2011. It was built in Huntington Beach, Calif., close to the source for its sustainable, seafood-centric menu. Chef-founder Andrew Gruel positioned it as "a modern seafood shack" with the goal of getting Americans to eat more fish by serving quality product in an unintimidating fast-casual setting. He created an accessible menu of fish tacos, sandwiches and lobster and shrimp rolls, plus introduced novel items such as chowder fries. Excellent customer service was also part of Slapfish's DNA from the get-go, with an emphasis on advancement. "Our staff has the opportunity to make significant money in tips, and we have very low turnover," Gruel says.

Today, there are 19 units, with 30 expected by the end of 2019, he adds. Four are company-owned stores, "but all our growth is focused on franchising this year," Gruel says. "The franchise team members are part of the infrastructure; we are partners and we grow together."

The menu has since expanded to include bowls, more starters and signatures specific to each location. Plus, each market can swap out the designated seafood to offer the most sustainable and seasonal choices. For example, the fish tacos may be filled with salmon in the West and rockfish in the East. "Many of the franchisees are chef-trained or very creative, and they're allowed flexibility with the menu and the model as long as they understand the core brand," says Gruel. Slapfish's first downtown location recently opened in Washington, D.C., and can serve as a framework for future urban franchises.

Millennials and moms are currently the concept's "regulars," but Gruel is working to broaden that base. "Our target market is different from our regular market," he says. "Our goal is to grow 20 units per year, and there are not enough fast-casual seafood moms and millennials to accomplish that."

LocationFountain Valley, Calif.
2018 Systemwide Sales ($000,000)$25*
YOY Sales Change49.7%
2018 U.S. Units17
YOY Unit Change54.5%
2018 Average Unit Volume ($000)$1,830*
Future 50 Year2019

*Technomic estimate

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