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Shuckin’ Shack Bartender-Turned-Franchisee Sarah Lookingbill Makes Waves with Her New North Carolina Restaurant

What started as a hunt for a job on the beach eventually led to an exciting franchise opportunity.

By Cristina Merrill1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 11:11AM 09/17/19

Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar was still a very new concept when Sarah Lookingbill, (now a franchisee with the brand) approached the restaurant in search of a bartending job in 2009. A friend pointed her in the direction of the seafood-focused beach bar and restaurant, which had only been open for two years. 

By that point, Lookingbill already had a great deal of restaurant training and industry experience under her belt. The upstate-New York native got her start waiting tables at her parents’ restaurant when she was 16 years old. While she attended several colleges, she ultimately chose to dive right into the restaurant industry and proceeded to climb up the management ladder in several restaurants. 

“I came from a background in bartending and restaurant management and also held training roles for large corporations,” Lookingbill said. “I worked for TGI Fridays for six years when I was growing up in upstate New York and received most of my bartending and training experience there, in addition to working for several other restaurants. I lived in Wilmington, North Carolina before moving to Carolina Beach, where Shuckin’ Shack started and was able to apply my experience in training and I also had connections with a lot of restaurant industry managers.” 

Founded in 2007 on the Carolina Coast, Shuckin’ Shack offers fresh seafood in a no-frills environment in 16 restaurants across four states. Of the 16 restaurants, 14 are franchise owned. The brand prides itself on its laid-back beach approach, encouraging their customers to feel relaxed and welcome

Lookingbill worked as the brand’s front-of-house trainer as the company was growing and right before it began to franchise, ultimately serving as the trainer for eight Shuckin’ Shack locations. When she and her husband had their baby, she had to decide whether she wanted to go back into her old job or do something else in the restaurant industry. Fortuitously, her husband, an IT professional, also wanted a change. Since Lookingbill’s relationship with Shuckin’ Shack was already so well-established, she and her husband decided to become franchisees. 

She opened her franchise in March of 2018 in Leland, North Carolina, which is less than a half-hour drive from the beach and tourist haven that is Wilmington, North Carolina. 

“I have a lot of experience that I know has been helpful to the Shuckin’ Shack brand,” Lookingbill said. “I have a management background and a service background, which is huge because that experience with people is critical to doing well in the restaurant industry. Because I worked as the front-of-house trainer for numerous Shuckin’ Shack locations, I felt confident in the brand itself and knew my general manager work would help me as a franchisee. It was a natural fit.” 

Lookingbill also had extensive experience working with Shuckin’ Shack’s franchisees. 

“I worked directly with franchisees before I was a franchisee,” Lookingbill said. “Nothing was a surprise. Actually, while I was Shuckin’ Shack’s front-of-house trainer, I helped develop some of the materials we had on the support side. So it was an easy transition to the other side of the table.” 

The enthusiasm goes both ways, as the Shuckin’ Shack executive team appreciates the valuable experience Lookingbill brings to the brand .

“Sarah is a wonderful addition and contributor to the Shuckin’ Shack family,” said CEO Jonathan Weathington. “Her passion for the industry, combined with her business acumen has made for a successful franchise in a prime market. Within months of opening her franchise it was clear she was going to be very successful, and she has been.”

Not only has Lookingbill’s Shuckin’ Shack been a success, it has also given back to the community. Her restaurant has hosted local Chamber of Commerce events and helped raise money to repair the nearby Stoney Creek Plantation neighborhood, which was devastated by Hurricane Florence. Her restaurant was also awarded Best New Business of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce when it had been in business for only four months. 

“I want to make sure to give back to the community because the community supports us,” Lookingbill said. 

Lookingbill is not opposed to the idea of opening more Shuckin’ Shack locations, but for now, she is happily focused on her one restaurant. 

“We seat almost 200 people a night with the outside patio alone, so that’s a lot to work with,” she said. “Maybe in the future I’ll expand, but I didn’t ever want to be in day-to-day operations all the time. I want to step away and enjoy time with my family. It’s exciting that Shuckin’ Shack allows me to do that.” 

The startup costs for a Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar franchise range from $241,000 to $578,000. To learn more about franchising with Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, visit