Franchise Development Leader: Chef Andrew Gruel, Slapfish Founder and CEO
Franchise Development Leader: Chef Andrew Gruel, Slapfish Founder and CEO

Chef Andrew Gruel created Slapfish to bring seafood to the masses.

When Chef Andrew Gruel started Slapfish in 2011, his goal was to get more people to eat seafood. Local, fresh and delicious, Slapfish seafood breaks through any preconceptions people may have about the seafood industry and invites customers to experience seafood in a whole new way. And, in order to introduce the industry to the widest audience, Gruel knew franchising was the best route for the brand.

“When we started the concept early on, we had to make the decision to raise capital or franchise,” Gruel said. “We knew we had something that worked; the model and economics were strong. We knew that if we could find the right partners, franchising was the simple answer.”

As all franchisors know, choosing the right franchisee partners is crucial to the success of any franchise, and that’s exactly what Gruel says he loves most about franchising: the people.

“What we love is that each group that joins Slapfish brings something new to the table,” he said. “We have multi-unit franchisees who have existing brands and we have one-unit mom-and-pop franchises who manage the day-to-day. Our large unit franchisees learn just as much from the small franchisees, and vice versa.”

Gruel knew finding franchisees with passion was the key to success. He made sure that every Slapfish franchisee can troubleshoot problems in every area, from customer services to kitchen operations. They all understand what needs to get done in order to be successful.

Since the fast-casual niche is growing, there’s a lot of private equity available in the space, making it a particularly attractive investment opportunity. Gruel says that opportunity has attracted a number of prospects of varying degrees of experience and capability. He says he is adamant about finding people who aren't just looking to make a quick buck.

“It’s a difficult field, it’s hard, hands-on work,” he said. “Just because it’s a tried and true concept, doesn’t mean you don’t have to work it to succeed.”

While Gruel is certain franchising was the right choice for Slapfish, he does have one grip with the industry, namely its ever-changing regulations.

“Franchise regulations are a tough world to navigate because they change so quickly,” he said. “The biggest issue is they change not because the environment, but because of the administration. The compliance element changes frequently; it’s so bureaucratic. I would prefer the regulations could be solved with the partnership with the franchisor and franchisee because when it gets down to ‘who’s responsible for what,’ it loses the relationship piece.”

Gruel admits his frustrations with regulations are a small price to pay for the fast-growing franchise brand. Gruel has created a model that independent owner-operators can thrive in, and Slapfish’s ever-changing menu options and outstanding customer service have led to the brand’s initial success.

The seafood franchise has expanded to 14 locations across the U.S. and plans to open 10 more before the end of 2018. Gruel looks forward to continuing to bring the crowds to each new location because he knows that’s what sells franchises.  “People see crowds and they see demand,” he said. “That’s what sells a franchise.”