Hook and Reel, a Cajun seafood franchise chain based in Queens, New York, prides itself on showing customers that getting messy only adds to the fun.
Customers, equipped with disposable gloves and bibs, are encouraged to dig into the food using their hands. The dishes are laid on paper and each table comes with a bucket for the discarded pieces.
The restaurant is looking to extend the reach of its self-described lively dining experience from coast to coast in the next two years.
“As we see the sales progress, as well as other similar Cajun seafood boil concepts popping out everywhere across the nation, we really put our focus back on trying to expand this concept,” says Chane Lou, who works in business development.
The seafood brand, founded in 2015 by CEO Tony Wang, is now up to 23 stores across 14 states. It started as a single unit in Lanham, Maryland. In 2018, it expanded to Staten Island, New York, ultimately leading to the company’s expansion throughout the East Coast and beyond.
“We built another one, and then another one and then it kind of exploded and we just started this path to opening a whole bunch every month,” adds Pamela Raskin, head of marketing.
The numbers are quite fluid as the full-service restaurant said it has 52 locations coming in 2020 across California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. That broadens to a goal of opening 100 stores over the next two years. A lion’s share of the current and future units are franchises, with just a handful serving as company-owned.
The chain aims to create a New Orleans-like experience with common favorites like shrimp, lobster, crabs, clams, crawfish, and other seafood items. Customers can further customize their order by picking a sauce, spice level, and extras like corn on the cob, potatoes, fries, boiled eggs, or sausage. The seafood boil is mixed in a plastic bag filled with steam and then served to guests. There’s also po’ boy sandwiches, a cold food bar, soups and salads, wine, beer, and signature cocktails.
“The business has just been growing and growing so we decided to bring this concept to more communities and serve more of the people,” says Lee Lin, managing partner.
Though the growth is rapid, Lin assures that each franchisee comes in with a host of experience, either from previously owning a restaurant or working at one for a long time. Lin says franchisees can only own one unit, and they are required to work at the restaurant. The managing partner believes this ensures better care and day-to-day success for each location.
Raskin adds the company is growing infrastructure to support the openings. Less than a year ago, a support center—based out of the corporate office in New York—was formed to train franchisees for all types of matters like marketing, finance, and human resources.
“So just like any start-ups with high growth, we’re always counting on our people both at the support center and at the restaurant level,” Lou says. “We hold high values in terms of customer service, so we’re always looking for people to join us who care deeply about customer service, and we try to provide a good environment for both our staff and our customers.”
Raskin says Hook and Reel is also working on a rebranding effort that’s scheduled to roll out in about a month. The marketing director notes the changes will “better suit what we think our restaurant and our brand represents, which is a bold, fun dining experience.”
She describes the re-brand as a complete 180—modernization that will change uniforms, the website, the look of the menus, and how future stores are built.
The whole idea around the restaurant is to create a celebratory space, Raskin says.
“You wear a bib, you’re wearing gloves. You can’t be texting while eating our food. It really builds that community within the restaurant,” Raskin says. “… It’s such a messy food to eat. You can’t take yourself seriously while eating a Cajun seafood boil. So, we’re creating a sort of approachable, inclusive environment that tries to connect with community. They can have drinks, they can have these seafood boils and just have fun. … It’s more of an event than just sitting down and ordering dinner. It’s a fun, one-of-a-kind seafood experience.”