Marketplace: Slapfish opens third Utah location in Park City
For most people, fresh seafood does not come to mind when they imagine the mountains and deserts of Utah. Slapfish wants to change that.
The seafood restaurant Slapfish recently opened in Kimball Junction, the third location the franchisor opened in the state within 2017.
The restaurant began in the California surfer’s town of Huntington Beach in 2011, where Andrew Gruel, founder and head chef, went to start a sustainable seafood program at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
While working with the program, Gruel met with both consumers and chefs. He studied the population and people’s eating habits and found that people were often deficient in the vitamins and minerals that seafood can provide. He soon found the reason why.
“There wasn’t an option for good, high-quality seafood,” he said. “On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got fine dining and white table cloth, and at the other end of the spectrum, you have greasy fried food.”
So, he decided to open a restaurant that offered fresh seafood at a lower cost. He focused on sustainability as well as transparency with the food on the menu. Before adding an item to Slapfish’s offerings, he looks at how the fish was farmed, what it was fed and even the working conditions of the employees at the facility.
What started as a food truck soon became a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which then evolved to a company with 11 locations around the country (and one scheduled to open in both London and South Korea soon). Slapfish’s vision is catching on.
Gruel partnered with a franchisee group in Utah to open three restaurants in the state, with several more scheduled to open in the coming year, said Kyle Hardy, director of operations of the franchisee MeisterGuys LLC. MeisterGuys LLC, which owns Five Guys Burgers and Fries, purchased rights to open franchise locations of Slapfish in Utah and surrounding states.
The franchisee’s first locations in Lehi and Sandy both broke records for Slapfish and, after a successful opening weekend in Park City on Dec. 29, the restaurant is on track to do the same.
“We were all surprised at how busy we were when we opened up,” Hardy said. “Sales have been fantastic.”
While Gruel said that it has been a challenge to maintain the restaurant’s sustainability goals 800 miles from the ocean, he has not tossed it to the wayside with the franchisee’s purchase. Instead, the menu rotates based on what is available, so a fish taco could have Acadian Red Fish from Maine one day and trout from Idaho the next.
“There is the ability to change,” he said. “We call that ‘choose the dish, not the fish.’ The ability to be flexible with seafood allows us the opportunity to maintain some of those sustainability standards based on seasonality and price.”
Even the décor around the restaurant is made of repurposed wood from old docks.
Gruel and Hardy said that one of the reasons the restaurant selected Park City as a new location is because people here tend to care about sustainability when purchasing food. The decision to move next to Whole Foods Market was also part of the restaurant’s strategy to target a certain demographic of shoppers.
“This concept has Park City written all over it,” Hardy said. “They like places that practice sustainability. They like places that recycle, and we’re that.”
Plus, he said, having an East Coast lobster roll and New England clam chowder appeals to visitors from the East Coast.
Gruel said that the “whimsical” menu items, such as the Dagwood (fish and chips on a sandwich) or the lobster grilled cheese attract customers who might not normally order seafood. Having fresh fish with playful menu items that everyone in the family can enjoy is the ultimate driver of his brand.
In fact, the name Slapfish comes from the imagery of fish slapping around a boat right after they are caught.
“The idea is that the fish is so fresh, it will slap you,” he said.
Ultimately, Gruel hopes to not only get more people to eat fish, but to be conscious of what they are eating and where it comes from. He knows that he has a long way to go, but even if he changes a few people’s minds, it will be worth it.
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Bill White shut down his restaurants in the spring when the pandemic hit. They’re back up and running, but the challenges brought on by COVID-19 remain: “[I]t seems we collectively are taking one step forward and two steps backwards.”