Written by Cameron Harris.
Photos courtesy of Coco Shrimp.
Anyone who has seen Disney’s Lilo & Stitch knows that “ohana means family.”
Brothers-in-law and co-owners of Coco Shrimp, Jordan Barrus and Isaac Hadley have taken that traditional Hawaiian concept and applied it in full force in Fort Worth.
The former BYU-Hawaii classmates have worked together since 2016 when Jordan quit his corporate job in California to move with his wife, Isaac’s sister Mary, to the Lone Star State to help run Isaac’s fledgling food truck business.
Having since developed a loyal following for the food truck, the duo recently opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant last month, bringing its take on the shrimp trucks from Oahu’s North Shore to the up-and-coming South Main district.
The journey from food truck to restaurant wasn’t all smooth sailing, however.
“When we first came in, we thought we could be the general contractors for all the labor,” Barrus said. “We were just idiots, walking into something we had no idea about. Isaac is optimistic to a fault. Nothing will get him down; it is like his superpower. He is optimistic until the end. Even when he is out of money, it is ‘Dude, we’ll find a way. Don’t worry about it.’
“We were in a funny situation where we thought we would get the cheapest guys we could find off of Craigslist. We didn’t know any better. We paid them half up front, three-quarters up front and they just started falling off one-by-one and disappearing. But Isaac, being the optimistic guy that he is, was like, ‘We can do this.’”
And do it they did.
With nothing but YouTube “How To” videos and sheer guts to guide them, they got to work digging trenches, building out the HVAC, doing the framing and nearly everything in between.
While they left the electrical and plumbing to professionals, Coco Shrimp’s new location is largely the result of the hard work and determination of Jordan, Isaac and their team.
“Every time I think about it, I get chills,” Barrus said. “Just the fact that we were able to pull it off and we are still open, it turned out really well.”
The duo did get one lucky break though, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
While scouting out potential locations, a real estate broker suggested they take a look in the South Main district, which, at the time, was in the infancy of its revitalization. After hearing about the plans to develop and improve the area and, more importantly, the cost of rent, Barrus and Hadley were sold.
Almost immediately, their concerns were put at ease as they began to see apartments, businesses and other restaurants spring up over the next few months.
“It has turned into the biggest blessing we could have ever accidentally fallen into,” Barrus said. “Coming in now, if we were to rent this spot now, it would be eight times more expensive than what we got it for when we first signed. It was right in the price range we were hoping for and it was right in an up-and-coming area like we were hoping it would be. I want to say it was luck, but it was just the right place and the right time. Somebody is watching out for us.”
Having never run a restaurant before, Barrus and Hadley had a lot to learn before opening their new location last December.
One of the biggest lessons they learned was that their presence wasn’t always in the best interest of the business. By letting their employees do their jobs, everyone’s lives improved.
Now the co-owners try to focus their energies on bigger picture items like marketing and continued growth, while their employees manage the day-to-day operations.
So far, so good.
“The first time we stepped away was out of necessity,” Barrus said. “We knew we had to do it and that was the plan from the beginning, but it just hurt so bad to let it go. It’s like somebody taking away your baby. You set up managers and people that you trust but nobody is going to take care of your business as well as you do. It is our everything. It was hard but the more we stayed away, the more they grew to learn how to cope with the different circumstances that came up. They learned that we weren’t going to be there 24/7, they figured it out pretty quick. We just created systems for everything.”
The duo even took some inspiration from the big screen to make sure every detail was in place while setting up its new shop.
“It’s kind of like McDonald’s and that movie, ‘The Founder,’ Barrus said. “That just hit the nail on the head. It’s about getting systems down for every single thing, going through the motions before you set up the kitchen. We had everything laid out in chalk just like they did, going through the motions and seeing what would be easiest and most efficient.”
While that attention to detail has certainly helped, Barrus was quick to attribute the business’ success to another factor, harkening back to the concept of ‘ohana’ that played such a large role in its inception in the first place.
“I wouldn’t say that we are insanely successful, but I have found that a lot of our success comes from treating our employees well and creating an awesome atmosphere where people are comfortable with each other and looking out for one another. If you treat your employees well, they treat the customers well. If the customers are happy, everything runs smoother. You get five-star reviews and if you get five-star reviews more people will come. It goes hand-in-hand. We try to make sure our employees are 100 percent happy with what they are doing and where they are, get in touch with them and get to know them on a personal level. Once you do that it flows. If they are happy it shows.”
Even now, less than a month into the newest version of their business, both Hadley and Barrus still have their eyes set on the horizon to see what the future might hold.
“I have no idea what Coco Shrimp will look like in 10 years, but the goal is to build a business that can run itself and support the lifestyle that we want,” Barrus said. “It is getting to that point. Isaac and I differ in our thinking. He wants to get back to Hawaii as soon as possible. I want to stay and open up more restaurants. If we can expand into Dallas, other states, see where we can go with it. The goal is to get it to grow by itself. That’s kind of the direction we want to take it. It’s just training a good team on how to open it up, get the vibe, feel and style that we want so we can open up locations without us having to be there 24/7 doing the work ourselves. I want to see how far we can ride and keep going.”
Address: 318 Bryan Ave., Fort Worth, TX 76104
Hours: M-Th 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m., F-Sat 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Closed Sundays
Phone: (817) 720-6235
Address: 4440 Basswood Blvd., Fort Worth TX 76137
Hours: M-Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Closed Sundays
Phone: (808) 371-1760