As a kid, Matt Piccinin and his family would travel from Canada to Carolina Beach, North Carolina to spend their vacations soaking up the sun and making memories together on the coast. He grew to love the town so much that he moved there on his own years later, completing a degree in business and marketing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Meanwhile, Piccinin’s friend Sean Cook owned Pleasure Island Rentals, a kayak, surfboard and other beach sundry rental company in the heart of downtown Carolina Beach. Piccinin and Cook felt what their sleepy town needed was its very own oyster bar with exceptional food. Cook kept a close eye on nearby high-traffic real estate, waiting for a prime spot to open. The friends had a dream to open their own low-key bar on the beach—but unlike most 26-year-olds, they’d actually do it.
One day, a property just two storefronts down from Pleasure Island Rentals was put on the market. Piccinin and Cook scrounged together enough money and pounced. Both armed with an entrepreneurial spirit and backgrounds in construction, the two men and got to work. On nights and weekends, the buddies would grab a case of beer and invite their friends to hang out while they physically built their very own bar and restaurant.
"We saw a need for an oyster bar in our town, and after a quick chat over a couple of beers, we decided that the Shuckin’ Shack would be born,” said Piccinin. “But it took more than a few cases of beer to come up with the final plan.” In 2007, the first Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar officially opened.
That first restaurant occupied just a small 900-foot space and offered a very simple menu. Piccinin and Cook quickly realized, however, that their niche oyster bar was becoming something bigger; something really special. The revenue per square foot was outstanding, but what really struck them was the tight-knit community that formed within those walls. Retirees and transplants that had moved to the area became friends and regulars, enjoying a laid-back social lifestyle that was previously unknown to them. Shuckin’ Shack had blossomed into a friendly home base where everybody knows your name.
After several summers of learning the ins and outs of running a small restaurant, Piccinin and Cook wanted to build more magical communities of people and spread the good vibes even further. They opened the second Shuckin’ Shack in historic downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, in November 2012.
Jonathan Weathington first met the Shuckin’ Shack co-founders in 2007 after answering a Craiglist ad posted by Cook seeking a kayak instructor. The two hit it off quickly, and Weathington was soon promoted to general manager of Pleasure Island Rentals. With a construction background himself, Weathington helped build the Wilmington Shuckin’ Shack and watched it grow from its infancy to full-fledged success, surpassing the competition in the bustling area.
In late 2013, Piccinin and Cook called Weathington and told him they were interested in expanding Shuckin’ Shack through franchising. They said they weren’t able to make any long-term promises, but they could really use his help. At the time, Weathington was working at VF Corporation, but still valued that small business ethos—so he decided to scratch his own entrepreneurial itch and got on board. He had 14 years of experience in the service and retail industry, and with him named Vice President of Franchise Development, Shuckin’ Shack began franchising in 2014.
“Ever since the beginning, we’ve been a dive bar that serves exceptional food,” said Weathington, now CEO of Shuckin’ Shack. “We’ve grown and evolved over the years, but we’ve always stuck to what works: incredible food, unparalleled service, and ice cold beer and cocktails.”
Shuckin’ Shack has differentiated itself within the fast-casual segment with its small square footage requirement, low inventory and minimum waste, smaller staff sizes and maximum return on investment. The oyster bar is also uniquely positioned in the market as it has no direct national competition.
What truly sets Shuckin’ Shack apart is its authentic approach to the coastal lifestyle. “We like to have fun, but we’re hardworking,” said Weathington. “We’re not cheesy. We’re authentic and true to who we are.”
With 16 total restaurants, Shuckin Shack now boasts 13 franchised units across four states—soon to be five—and is gearing up for major growth across the country, including in areas people wouldn’t expect to be able to order fresh seafood year-round.
“Coastal markets are our bread and butter, but our top performing stores are actually inland,” explained Weathington. “We have strategically targeted secondary inland markets where folks aren’t quite used to getting such high-quality seafood there, and they’re coming out in droves to check out what Shuckin’ Shack offers.”
The Shuckin’ Shack franchise sees $1 million in average unit volume across the system. The oyster bar is currently looking to grow in key target markets across Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as Columbia, South Carolina, Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennesee. The corporate team is currently focusing on Columbus development and will be traveling to the state capital in April.
“I really enjoy being a part of the franchise. I have definitely come a long way,” said Jason Thorpe, Shuckin’ Shack franchisee in Summerville, South Carolina, the currently highest-performing unit in the system. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most rewarding experience, emotionally and financially, of my 20-year career in the restaurant industry.”
Shuckin’ Shack is seeking qualified franchisees who prioritize good hospitality and want to be a part of its authentic mission. Start-up costs for a Shuckin’ Shack franchise range from $234,200 to $541,350 and include a $37,500 single-unit franchise fee. For more information on available franchise opportunities, visit https://www.shuckinshackfranchise.com.