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Jonathan WeathingtonJonathan Weathington is the CEO of Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, a fresh seafood and cold beer concept with locations spanning the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, and Illinois. Featured on the cover of FSR magazine and making appearances on Good Morning America, Jonathan has garnered recognition in esteemed publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Nation’s Restaurant News. His no-nonsense approach to hospitality and business is reflected in the authentic coastal experience Shuckin’ Shack offers, where customers are welcomed with a casual atmosphere reminiscent of a coastal dive bar. Jonathan’s unconventional journey, from earning a master’s in international relations to his diverse background in retail and customer service, uniquely positioned him to lead Shuckin’ Shack to success.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Jonathan Weathington details his unconventional journey from a master’s in international relations to retail and customer service to CEO of Shuckin’ Shack
  • How clear messaging and a focus on exceptional customer service are central to Jonathan’s leadership approach
  • Why Jonathan actively participates in new store openings and maintains a direct connection with frontline employees
  • The importance of delivering messages at the right time and understanding communication styles
  • How Shuckin’ Shack’s culture is described by customers and employees
  • The qualities Shuckin’ Shack seeks in potential franchisees
  • Jonathan shares why the company’s unique market positioning caters to an underserved category in the restaurant industry
  • How the brand’s annual contribution to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reflects its commitment to making a positive impact

In this episode…

Some restaurants are known as staples within their communities. Even as a franchise, it’s possible to be known as a unique place to be. How can someone in an executive role shape the vibe in a franchise with multiple locations?

According to Jonathan Weathington, his executive leadership style at Shuckin’ Shack is characterized by authenticity and hands-on engagement. With a no-nonsense attitude, he prioritizes clear messaging and a focus on exceptional customer service, shaping a culture that resonates with the concept’s authentic coastal experience. His commitment to actively participating in new store openings, working in the kitchen, and maintaining a direct connection with frontline employees reflects a leadership approach that goes beyond the traditional CEO role. Moreover, Jonathan’s dedication to values and charitable causes reinforces the culture of authenticity and community support that defines Shuckin’ Shack.

On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Rise25’s Chad Franzen welcomes Jonathan Weathington, CEO of Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, for insights into his straightforward attitude towards hospitality. Jonathan details his unconventional journey, from a master’s in international relations to restaurant CEO. He discusses the authentic experience at Shuckin’ Shack, highlights the brand’s unique market positioning as the largest oyster bar chain, and delves into its commitment to community support.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders show powered by Rise25 media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world


Chad Franzen  0:19  

Chad Franzen here, co-host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combined marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve sorted everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spot This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to or email us at support I want to give a shout out and special thanks to Lauren Coulter, Integrator and Chief Biscuit Eater at Biscuit Belly, for introducing us to today’s guest, Jonathan Weathington. Lauren was a previous guest on the show when you can find out more about her and Biscuit Belly her restaurant by listening to that episode, it’s called bringing home the bacon or you can visit biscuit Now without further ado, Jonathan Weathington is the CEO of Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, a fresh seafood and cold beer concept with multiple locations in the Carolinas along with Georgia, Maryland, Florida and Illinois. He has been featured on the cover of FSR magazine and has made appearances on Good Morning America along with being quoted and featured in various publications along including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Nation;s Restaurant News and other local, regional and national newspapers, journals and magazines. His approach to hospitality and business is characterized by a no nonsense attitude. Hey, Jonathan, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? 


Jonathan Weathington  2:05  

Hey, great, Chad. Thanks for having me.


Chad Franzen  2:07  

Thank you. Hey, so for those of us who have not been to Shuckin’ Shack, tell us what a first time customer might notice or experience when going there.


Jonathan Weathington  2:16 

Sure, well, you have a hell of a good time that first and foremost, we’re really after that kind of authentic coastal experience. You walk in and instead of you know, this traditional Welcome to insert name of place here. It’s, Hey, have a seat, we’ll be right with you. Or, Hey, have a seat, what kind of grabbed a drink or sit wherever you’d like. You know, something that’s pretty authentic and someone that you might find along the coast at a dive bar that serves great food. But you know, from there, kind of the expectations take over and we deliver and we hope you like cold beer cocktails, we start there. And then we go straight into basically wild cod American domestically served product. It’s a higher quality and stuff you might get overseas and our customers seem to love it. We do a really good job at it.


Chad Franzen  3:03  

Sounds fantastic. Hey, can you tell me a little bit about your background? I know you have a master’s in international relations. But now you’re running Shuckin’ Shack.  How did that all work out?


Jonathan Weathington  3:14  

You know, it’s a secure, circuitous route, I guess you could say is the best characterization of my background. I did. I did go to school and pursue a master’s in international relations, which prepared me for foreign service. And, you know, kind of one of those weird conundrums when people get out of grad school and undergrad where you start applying for jobs. And those jobs want you to — it’s an entry level position, right. But they don’t want you to have five years of experience. And so I got caught in that weird time in between basically 2007 and 2010, when, when the employee market was flooded with people overqualified for everything. And so I, you know, I kind of became a number, so to speak. But prior to that, I spent, essentially my whole career even through college and grad school and high school, of course, and before in retail and customer service. So I had spent, you know, 15 plus years retail customer service, anything from shipping packages, to seasonal employee to working at Blockbuster Video, and blockbuster was kind of the King back in the day to Best Buy or for Hilton Hotels, and several others. And so that’s my circuitous route. And I guess, you know, when things don’t work out, you figure out, you figured out what works and you keep on keeping on and, you know, that kind of led me to Shuckin’ Shack.


Chad Franzen  4:32  

Yeah, so you joined Shuckin’ Shack and you were promoted to CEO within six months, apparently that that background doing kind of like, you know, jobs that maybe young people would have really helped you.


Jonathan Weathington  4:45  

 I think it was the only one that would take the job. All jokes aside, no, I for me, it was I knew the founders, which was helpful. I was working with one of the founders that another business he and I had actually started a bar business together when I was 24. Ran that for two years. We ended up not renewing our lease and so I had a good connection to the founders. I was around very fortunate to be around when the concept started, so I saw it come out of its infancy at this first location and I was actually a customer that became CEO over time. And, you know, the guys kind of sat me down at a board meeting and said, you know, we’re going to hire a CEO. And I thought, that’s great. I’m looking forward to learning under someone and you know, and they said, Oh, by the way, it’s you. And I said, Okay, let’s do this since I was 29. And had never obviously serve at any sort of C level, executive position, but always eager, always challenged local, good challenge. And, you know, I think if you keep your messaging clear, and your desires clear, and the goal is clear, which is to serve your customers exceptionally well, then everything else seems to fall into place.


Chad Franzen  5:56  

So when you characterize when, when you say you’re characterized by a no nonsense attitude, what does that mean?


Jonathan Weathington  6:02  

I think people overcomplicate hospitality. First and foremost, I’m a firm believer that there’s really two elements of hospitality. When it comes down to it, that’s the person giving the hospitable nature attitude. And that’s the person receiving the hospitable nature attitude. I think too many times, whether it’s restaurant groups, or retail groups, or whomever, we try to complicate. And we throw pieces in there that we believe will serve as a, I guess, substitutes for what hospitality is really all about. Hospitality is really all about one person showing another person a good time, and making sure that they return. That’s it. And so when we, when we bring in, you know, technology, implementation and loyalty programs in here’s a robot, and here’s the screen to look at, and please order on our kiosks can please have a seat? And, you know, please do this. And we want you to do this. And can we have your phone number? We promised you not to call but we’ll text you and can we have your email? And don’t you want to do this? And aren’t you interested in that and can’t we follow up when you three or four times a week over the life of the customer. It’s not necessary, it’s simply not necessary. If you do a good enough job at executing on food and beverage in our case, and show people a good time, they’re going to come back and you don’t need all of that extra stuff. And so that’s just kind of my attitude towards things.


Chad Franzen  7:23  

So you have been the CEO there for nearly a decade, I think you joined the company in 2014, you were pretty young, what do you have kind of like a story that stands out to you during your time so far, like, like that was unusual or an interesting story.


Jonathan Weathington 7:40  

Being in hospitality, I think you have the nature of having unusual stories all the time. So something weird is going on all the time, when you’re serving, you know, hundreds of 1000s of customers a year. And you have full service restaurants where that customer relationship may last an hour, you know, our average customer sits in a seat about 50 minutes. And so you add up all those minutes together of every customer that sits in seats in our restaurants and something weird is bound to happen. I don’t know if it’s necessarily weird. But you know, I’m still very much in the business on a day to day basis. And I think that sometimes catches people off guard. And, you know, I still attend every single new store opening, I will work the kitchen on in a new store opening if we’re short staffed. I know how to run a fry station. I know how to Expo. I’m a terrible bartender, but I can certainly pretend like I’m pretty good. I know how to talk to people. And I think that having conversations just generally speaking with whether it’s an average consumer, and you know, they pull you aside and say thank you so much Do you work here? And I say, well, kind of you know, I work for sure can check in the office. And that’s usually the extent of it. And, you know, I love it, it’s something for me that it’s always very, has been very near and dear to my heart. And, you know, I do what I believe in. And I believe in true hospitality. And I think that extends all the way up through sea level leadership and founders and everyone, everyone should be able to step in at any moment and give the customer a great time. And that’s what I like doing.


Chad Franzen  9:15  

What kind of a message do you think that sends to, you know, the staff normally think of the CEO is somebody you’d never see and is in some office somewhere. But you know, when you see the you’re willing to do you know, things that you know, other regular employees are doing? What message does that communicate? 


Jonathan Weathington  9:30  

You know, I do it altruistically. I don’t really do it to send a message. First and foremost, I think I really believe in showing hospitality. I truly do believe that. I think the message that is received for the most part is that, you know, these guys work hard. It’s not just me, my whole office staff can do that. And so while I may be one on the one, the one on the podcast talking about it, my entire office staff can do that. So we’re not afraid to step in. And that’s a part of who we are, not just professionally but personally as well. And so, you know, for me, I’m actually not that far removed from frontlines. Yeah. I’m a CEO of a multimillion dollar company at this point. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was an hourly employee, you know, working in In sales and commission, and so for me, hanging on to that connection has been critically important, has been critically important in connecting with our frontline employees and looking at them and saying, No, you don’t understand it wasn’t that long ago that I was right there. I’ve been an hourly employee in the 2000s. So keep that in mind in the 2010s. I’ve been an hourly employee before. So keep that in mind. So I’m here to help you. I’m here to help you succeed at your job. And I’m saying like, you can make this a career if you decide to make this a career, if you don’t, and you’re just here to collect your paycheck and move on. I totally get that too. Because there’s a place for that.


Chad Franzen  10:55  

Has there been you know, you started out even at a high level at an early age has there been maybe a mistake that you remember that you’ve that you’ve kind of learned from, and I’ve turned out to be a good thing that you made it?


Jonathan Weathington  11:07  

I mean, I make mistakes every day. I think I think being very vocal about your intentions, and being very vocal, and being very opinionated, which I tend to be sometimes rubs people the wrong way. And I think one of the things that I have learned over time, is not that you should curb or change your messaging, but you have to figure out when to deliver that messaging. And so at times, I come across like whether it’s new store openings or meeting someone for the first time or in a new vendor relationship. I you know, we’re in business with several vendors, within our company, who we’ve been in business with for years and years. And my first interaction with them was very brash. And it was a no, I’m not interested. And then I had to go back and say, way away, just because I say no, I’m not interested doesn’t mean I’m not interested forever. Like, just press pause. I’m not interested right now, I’m working on one thing at a time or a couple things at a time. This is not something that’s an initiative for me right now. And so I think understanding that the way you communicate things can be just as equally important as what you’re communicating. And that took me a little bit of time to learn, because I am typically fairly concise, and I am typically curt with a lot of people. And I think that comes across as brash. And I don’t intend to be that way. But I typically say exactly what I’m thinking, but I’ve learned over time, that’s not always the best approach.


Chad Franzen  12:38  

I saw on the Shuckin’ Shack website that you guys do franchising. What do you look for in a potential franchisee?


Jonathan Weathington  12:48  

Someone who can serve their community and talk to other people, it’s pretty much that simple. I mean, of course, there are financial qualifications and all of those things. When it comes to franchisees and multi unit franchisees and you can read all of that on our website. But practically speaking, we’re looking for someone that can be hospitable. We’re looking for someone that can you know, I asked, we’re interviewing for a position our office a couple of weeks ago and and listed on the job description that we were interviewing for is you feel like you’re a person that can talk to anyone on Earth at any time. That’s exactly what we’re looking for in a franchisee as well. I think people get confused or have a misleading understanding of what franchising is as a whole, especially on the restaurant side, they think, Oh, I don’t want a chain restaurant in my town. Well, nine times plus out of 10, that chain restaurant is locally owned and operated. It’s a small business just like any other small businesses on that same street. And we are looking for people who can truly run their restaurant as a small business who are going to be there every day, who know their customer base, who speak to their customer base, who know how to inspire others when it comes to employee retention, and can show their community a good time and can keep that business open and consistently do it 363 days a year.


Chad Franzen  14:04  

Have you ever had to turn down maybe even somebody who was financially qualified but maybe didn’t fit the brand?


Jonathan Weathington  14:11 

All the time, all the time, we’ve turned down more people than we brought into our system, where it’s you know, and I’ll tell people when they come in and we do an executive interview and we sit down with them. And you know, we’ve looked at their financial qualifications, we verified their income we verified you know, assets and things like this. And then they’ll come in for this what we call approval day or discovery day, every brand has a little bit of a different name for it. They’ll come in, they’ll sit at our conference table. And it’s that day is less about us giving our presentation. But at this point, we know they know who we are. There’s an educational process. It’s really about us learning the candidate. And there have been, you know, two dozen three dozen times over the last 10 years where we’ve we’ve sat people at that table and we say, you know, we’ll tell us about you what do you do in your community? What are you into, and we get into these really qualitative questions and it catches people off guard, they’re expecting us to say, you know, what’s your investment profile? You know, how do you feel about risk you understand that business is hard and they know all that at this point and we know All that too. And I have looked at people flat out as dead pan as possible at the end of those days, of course not in front of other candidates but but in an executive interview portion and said, Hey, I think you’re gonna be a great franchisee, but it’s not going to be for sure I can check, I think you will make a great franchisee in another system, you’re just not a great fit for what we’re doing. That’s tough to hear in their shoes, I know it is. But at the end of the day, what we’re after is long term success in our franchise locations, and we had to be extremely selective with who we bring in.


Chad Franzen  15:49  

What would make Shuckin’ Shack a good opportunity for somebody who does fit the brand?


Jonathan Weathington  15:38  

For someone who does fit the brand, I mean, the quickest 30-second elevator pitch I give people is whatever commercial street is nearest to you right now where there’s a bunch of restaurants walk out into the center of that street at 3am. When no one’s around, and look one way and look the other way, count the number of burger taco and pizza joints and then count the number of seafood joints. And I can guarantee you which one is going to have the lowest. So you need the proof is in the pudding. It’s an incredibly underserved category. There’s simply nothing like us on the market. You know, we believe that we’re the largest Oyster Bar chain in the country. And we’re not even at 20 units yet. It’s extremely underserved. And so just from a market positioning standpoint, there’s a ton of whitespace available.