Dallas Hale is the Chief Executive Officer at Shell Shack, a successful seafood chain with six locations in Texas and one in Florida. He is also the CEO of Texas-based restaurants Sushi Marquee and Ebb & Flow. He’s gone from working as a busser to operating some of Texas’ top restaurants and overseeing more than 500 employees. Before this, Dallas proudly served in the US Coast Guard for five years.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Dallas Hale talks about his experience in the food industry and how it prepared him to run his own restaurant
- How Dallas and his business partner created Shell Shack: by watching what other seafood restaurants were doing wrong
- The importance of comfort for a successful restaurant
- Dallas explains how he helped grow Sushi Marquee into the best restaurant in Frisco, Texas
- Some of the keys to Ebb & Flow’s success during the COVID-19 pandemic
- The challenges of being in charge of multiple restaurants in different locations
- Why you should always stay proactive to keep your business fresh
- Dallas’ failures, triumphs, and milestones in the restaurant industry
In This Episode
Shell Shack has become the go-to destination for seafood in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. So, what makes it stand out from the hundreds of other seafood hotspots in Texas? Dallas Hale, the co-creator and CEO of Shell Shack, tapped into a restaurant market that left much to be desired — and transformed it into something amazing.
Dallas first came up with the concepts that made Shell Shack a success while working at a nightclub. With this experience under his belt, he was able to build the seafood restaurant into a fun and engaging atmosphere with mouth-watering food. Since then, he has overcome the challenges of running multiple restaurants in different locations, operating these restaurants during the pandemic, and keeping his concepts fresh and up-to-date. Now, Dallas is here to share his secrets for creating the best restaurants in Texas.
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen chats with Dallas Hale, the CEO of Shell Shack, Ebb & Flow, and Sushi Marquee, about how he grew his restaurants into dining destinations. He discusses his humble beginnings in the industry and shares the lessons he learned from bussing tables, working in nightclubs, and managing award-winning restaurants. Whether you’re a foodie looking for the best crab in DFW or an entrepreneur planning to open your own restaurant, you don’t want to miss this!
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Chad Franzen 00:20
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 SpotOn restaurant, where they combine marketing, software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway, to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more go to SpotOn.com.
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Dallas Hale is Chief Executive Officer at Shell Shack, with six locations in Texas and one in Clearwater, Florida. He’s also CEO at both Ebb & Flow, a restaurant and bar in Texas, in Dallas, Texas, and Sushi Marquee in Frisco, Texas. His humble beginnings in the hospitality industry started when he was 11 years old as a busser in a small restaurant called McLean’s in his hometown. At 19, he joined the US Coast Guard and proudly served for five years, he came out with structure to set goals, enthusiasm to excite others, and willingness to do whatever it takes to be successful. Today he’s successfully launched multiple concepts and oversees more than 500 employees. Dallas, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
Dallas Hale 1:51
Good. Thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen 1:53
So tell me a little bit more about how you got started in the restaurant industry at such a young age.
Dallas Hale 1:56
Um, you know, I was a as a young kid I just needed to work in make some money so I got a job at McLean bussing tables, and then dishwashing and you know, just started they’re having to get up you know, five o’clock in the morning to be there for breakfast on the weekends. And and that’s kind of started my niche.
Chad Franzen 2:16
What town was that in?
Dallas Hale 2:18
That was in Cedar Creek in, uh, in Seven Points, Texas.
Chad Franzen 2:22
Alright. How, how big of a town is that?
Dallas Hale 2:25
That’s pretty small. Cedar Creek is the biggest man made lake in the state, but uh, it’s a pretty small town.
Chad Franzen 2:32
So did you work there all the way up until 19? Or are in the restaurant industry all the way up until 19, when you joined the Coast Guard?
Dallas Hale 2:38
Yeah, pretty much. I did a stint at Dairy Queen and a pizza place and stuff like that until I got, you know, finished in high school and everything and then joined the military.
Chad Franzen 2:50
Did you start to develop ideas even at those early ages for restaurants and how, how you’d like to see them operate, or was it just work experience?
Dallas Hale 2:58
Um, no, I think, you know, at that young age, everybody wants to do the whole nightclub thing. So you know, I had ideas about nightclubs and stuff like that. It wasn’t till after I got out of the Coast Guard, and worked in nightclubs and started being a very well rounded manager that I started having ideas about the restaurants.
Chad Franzen 3:17
So you, you started working in nightclubs once you got out of the Coast Guard.
Dallas Hale 3:17
Chad Franzen 3:17
What were kind of your goals and how did you kind of transition back into the restaurant industry.
Dallas Hale 3:20
Um, so when I was in the nightclubs I was, you know, enjoying myself, nightlife and everything, and to be a well rounded manager, some jobs offers will come up and you couldn’t get them because you didn’t know food, or you didn’t know anything like that. I tried to be the best well rounded manager that I could be. I worked in sports bars, restaurants, nightclubs, everything you could possibly think of, to really round myself and, you know, know what my industry is all about. So I took some lower paying jobs to learn and to get mentored. And that’s how I got to where I am.
Chad Franzen 4:05
Can you give me an example of one of the places you were a manager at? And maybe one of the key things you learned during that time?
Dallas Hale 4:12
So I see. I was managing at, a… What was the name of that restaurant? It was a while back? Well, let’s just talk about I was over Ziziki’s. And they just started opening and at that point, all I had was nightclub experience. So they brought me in to run the bar and at that point is where I started to, they started teaching me about the food.
Chad Franzen 4:42
How did you get involved with Shell Shack?
Dallas Hale 4:43
So Shell Shack is a is my my and my business partner, Matt Saba. That’s our creation. We, we saw a market for the seafood concept that was not being executed properly. And with with my experience in what I was seeing when I went into these different types of concepts, I was seeing how they weren’t executing, they weren’t doing the drinks properly, they weren’t doing the right hours properly, their their food was inconsistent. So Matt and I took the next two and a half years of developing our sauce and everything at our sports bar, believe it or not, and doing crab Thursday, until we finally got it to where we were happy with it. And then there we went and found locations and started executing.
Chad Franzen 5:15
So Shell Shack had already been in existence before you got there, and then you changed everything.
Dallas Hale 5:40
No, Shell Shack wasn’t in existence. There were other types of seafood restaurants. We just the concept, developed our own sauce, and made Shell Shack concept what it is as the number one seafood in DFW, you know, by taking everything that we saw with our experience and executing it properly.
Chad Franzen 6:04
Okay, so you had some experience then in developing kind of, like recipes and food as well?
Dallas Hale 6:11
Well, I can taste it. I’m not I’m not that great of a cook. But we do bring in the right people who are very good at that.
Chad Franzen 6:18
Okay, what kind of, what kind of, how has the culture in those restaurants improved, would you say, compared to how it was before you guys took over?
Dallas Hale 6:29
Well, so we didn’t take over Shell Shack. We created it.
Chad Franzen 6:32
I’m sorry. Before you created it. Yeah. How is that? How’s the culture of Shell Shack different than, you know, kind of those other places that didn’t have those?
Dallas Hale 6:40
We we sit here and I mean, we we grew and true story. We we tried to franchise one of those, one of those restaurants and they wouldn’t franchise to us because of who we were. So that’s when the worst thing you ever tell me it’s no, that’s when we created our own concept. So we did the hours properly, we did the the full bar properly, everything. And we took we took a concept that we’re watching in a little 1500 square foot building to now we have some of our are 7500 square feet, and they’re just busy from open to close. And they go on three our waits and it’s just real exciting.
Chad Franzen 7:22
Why would you say that culture is important in the restaurant industry.
Dallas Hale 7:28
As far as what?
Chad Franzen 7:29
You know, how you feel when you walk in there, things like that. Oh, or for the employees?
Dallas Hale 7:34
Well, so with with when you walk into a place, I mean, you got to feel comfortable with it, you you don’t want nobody likes to go anywhere. They don’t feel uncom-, that they feel uncomfortable. So when you walk into a place you need, you need to feel that comfort level, even if it’s your first time or if it’s your 20th time walking in there. And your employees, they really got to enjoy it too. They really got to buy into it. You know, I have one of my top managers he, he always says, you know, Dallas had drink the Kool Aid. I believe in Shell Shack. I drink the Kool Aid. And, you know, I’ve got some employees that have been I’ve got one in particular, she’s been with me almost 20 years, been with me through all my concepts. And just is with me, you know. I’ve got you know, other ones, uh Dominic. I mean, this guy is just a rock star and loves his job, been with me six, seven years you know, and they really take ownership and have fun and really go the extra mile to make sure everybody feels that comfort level.
Chad Franzen 8:30
What’s your favorite dish at Shell Shack?
Dallas Hale 8:34
Well, I got a couple. So, the bairdi crab, which well, we’re one of the only ones that can get it in the state of Texas, is just… I mean, amazing, amazing crab. Like, and most people don’t know about it, except watching Deadliest Catch on TV and they talk about the elusive bairdi crab. It is. It is amazing. We have some new items coming out that I’m really excited about that, uh, that a debut today actually. We’ve got a, a seafood pasta or shrimp pasta, we’ve got them. We’ve got scallops that are about to be coming out, lobsters coming into the mix. But, I’d have to say, all in all, my favorite is the bairdi crab.
Chad Franzen 9:19
Okay, very nice. So you’re, you also are CEO at a couple other places. Tell me about your involvement with Sushi Marquee. How did that come about?
Dallas Hale 9:27
Sushi Marquee, an old friend of mine came to me and said he had an idea. And he wanted… There was this place out of Hollywood that was just a blast. And I flew down there to check it out. And it was a lot of fun, but it was horrible sushi. I mean, and they didn’t have a full bar. And I mean, you would have, you would literally have a $20 food bill and maybe a $600 bar bill, but the place was fun. I get it that. So his idea was to recreate that, but do it with amazing sushi. And I kind of took a backseat role on it and, and then I ended up stepping in taking over full operations with it. I was always the CEO. But um, and we really took it with, you know, they built the, the foundation for it. And then we just took it to the next level and we’ve got an emcee in there and a DJ. And, you know, it’s so interactive. It’s a concept that really nobody has ever seen before. And I think that’s why we’re so successful. And on top of that, our food is so phenomenal. We in fact, we just won best seafood in I mean, best sushi in DFW, and best all around restaurant in Frisco beating out five star steak houses for best all around restaurants. So wow,
Chad Franzen 10:45
What makes it so unique, would you say? I mean, you mentioned some of the things in there. But you know, what is it about it that’s so great.
Dallas Hale 10:52
So it is a 5000 square foot on the inside 3000 square foot patio. It’s got a TV system, I call it a system because it’s 18 TVs put together that run as one. We’ve got 80s and 90s videos playing at all time, we have a DJ in there with an emcee, the birthday parties, we hold the world’s Saki bomb record, we it is a fun, interactive restaurant that kicks it up to the next gear. You’ll have people in there doing a line dance, or they’ll be singing Living On A Prayer or Sweet Caroline and and it’s just such a fun experience that you can take anyone from a six year old to a 60 year old there, and everybody’s gonna have a good time.
Chad Franzen 11:37
Did it evolve into that? Or was that kind of a vision that you started with? And it started like that?
Dallas Hale 11:42
It well, it didn’t quite start like that. It was the vision and we just had to nudge it along to get it there.
Chad Franzen 11:49
What about Ebb & Flow?
Dallas Hale 11:51
So Ebb & Flow was the brainchild of my little brother. And he needed my help a couple years ago. And Ebb & Flow opened right before COVID. And so as you can imagine, it needed a lot of help to make sure to get it through. My brother is a huge live music venue operator and didn’t know a lot about restaurants. So I came in, took over and along with my sister in law, Laura who designed the place if you’ve ever heard anything about Ebb & Flow, it’s gorgeous. But we took it. And we took this concept again, with great food, great ambience and great craft cocktails, to a level where during COVID, we were making good money. And because it was doing so, well we decided to open up the second one and went to the Shops Legacy in Plano and open up our second location and they’re both just doing phenomenal. It’s a great atmosphere, great brunch. You know, people want to be seen there, great patio. In fact, here again, Ebb & Flow this year got best new restaurant, best brunch in Plano, best patio in Plano.
Chad Franzen 13:03
Wow! How did you, you said you kind of survived; not only survived during COVID, but thrived. What do you think were some of the keys to your success even during COVID?
Dallas Hale 13:12
I think a good product number one. But number two, and I’ve said this publicly, I don’t think it was a secret that the people who fought to stay open and who had a great product, who did not throw their hands in the air and “say oh my, god poor me”, they thrived or if they did well. They did not lose money. I know several friends that have restaurants that did the same thing. And they did thrive. Unfortunately, other people kind of threw their hands up and those are some of the ones that aren’t around anymore.
Chad Franzen 13:48
Did you have to make any adaptations or changed because of it? And did did those changes last?
Dallas Hale 13:56
So we did. Our to-go went up 500% which was crazy. And you know, restaurants are not equipped to handle that many to go, especially on the phone. So we actually had to change our phone system because, we had people that were getting upset with us. They were saying they were trying to call in and it was taken 30 minutes before anybody answered the phone. Well,what they didn’t realize is I had four people answering the phone nonstop and as soon as they would hang up the phone, they would pick it up again. Hang it up, pick it up again. And so we actually had to change our system to where it put people in a queue. So they knew what number they were, so they knew we were actually answering the phones and not just ignoring. People thought we were ignoring but it got crazy with all those to go orders. Now they have tapered off some. Our to go business is still phenomenal. But with people coming in the restaurant now, they have tapered off some
Chad Franzen 14:48
So that to go element is still much stronger than it was prior to COVID
Dallas Hale 14:52
Chad Franzen 14:53
And you think it will probably last that or it stayed that way.
Dallas Hale 14:56
I truly believe so. Yeah.
Chad Franzen 14:58
What are some of the challenges associated with being in charge of, you know, you got Ebb & Flow, you got the sushi place, you got Shell Shack. What are some of the challenges of being in charge of different types of restaurants in different places?
Dallas Hale 15:09
Oh, not a great social life. Yeah, well, well always having to keep that phone on you. 24/7. Um, it, you know, it does give you some challenges. But, you know, it also kind of gives you new fresh things, instead of just looking at the same restaurant over and over, you know, you, you have something you need to do. Like, right now, at Sushi Marquee, we’re, this week, we’re doing our final testing and training and we’re actually adding hibachi to the menu over at Sushi Marquee. So, you know, it breaks up the monotony. And I’m, you know, over here a little bit more than than normal, eating a bunch of hibachi food and gaining a bunch of weight. But you know, and then, in the next two weeks, we’re going to be unveiling the scallops in the lobster over at Shell Shack. So we’re over there, we’re doing the PR for that. You know, I did a TV show last week that was about Ebb & Flow. So then I was over there doing that. So you know, it gets it to where you’re not just doing the same thing every day?
Chad Franzen 16:12
Would you say, when you do things like that, those are kind of proactive decisions. You’re trying to keep the place fresh? Are they reactive, or a combination?
Dallas Hale 16:20
No, we try to always stay proactive. Because, you know, a young entrepreneur, I did beat my chest, when I thought I was just doing amazing. And I lost sight that, you know, I just thought everything was great. And, and then sales started to dip off. And we were a little cocky about how well we were doing. Not in Shell Shack; this was way earlier. And so I learned at that point that you know, whatever you do, right now, you don’t see the effects from it for six months. So with our promotions with the, you know, food critic, with everything we do, we always keep our foot on the gas. And, you know, and on top of that, I have a great staff and great support with my corporate office. You know, my CFO, Angela, my co Monty might, my assistant, Shelby. I mean, I didn’t have her I’d be going nuts.
Chad Franzen 17:14
What do, is there a story that kind of was like a valuable learning experience, you talked about some of your, your earlier days, where you kind of had to, I don’t know, humble yourself or learn from a certain situation and move forward.
Dallas Hale 17:26
Actually, my, so I’ve had one location fail. And that was, when I was right after I got out of the military. I was 25 years old, working in the nightclub industry, young general manager. And this is the incident I was talking about. We were doing great numbers, great sales, I came into a situation where I could buy this nightclub. And I thought I knew everything there was to know about the industry. Well, well, I didn’t know I didn’t know everything, there was no and what I did know, it was only on a management level, not an owner level. And I, my concept ended up failing. And I had to humble myself get back down to the roots, become a manager, a general manager, and really start learning how to be an owner. And luckily enough, I had a couple mentors that saw something in me that maybe some people might not have. Because probably they probably should have fired me a million times. And they did not and they taught me and I started learning more than what a normal general manager would. I started doing insurance audits and different things that’s really handled at a corporate level. I started doing those and I started I was started to be cultivated as a, learn how to be an owner.
Chad Franzen 18:41
Do you have some some milestones that you’re particularly proud of so far?
Dallas Hale 18:45
God I got so many I mean, you know, opening up my first concept that’s, you know, going, you know When we when we do a different concept, when we did our sports bar, and, you know, that was fun and exciting. Shell Shack, you know, is another one and watch it grow and become the you know, number one seafood in in DFW. You know, a Sushi Marquee. I mean, I there’s just so many of them that I just and they just keep on coming, you know, very exciting.
Chad Franzen 19:16
You guys are obviously being very proactive in terms of keeping your your current restaurants moving forward. Do you have any ideas percolating in your mind for the future?
Dallas Hale 19:25
Yes, I do. Yes I do
Chad Franzen 19:27
You want to share them?
Dallas Hale 19:28
Uh, Not yet. Talk to me first quarter next year.
Chad Franzen 19:33
Okay. I don’t blame you. So we’re big fans of publicly acknowledging people who have been influential for us. Who are some people in the restaurant industry that you respect and look to.
Dallas Hale 19:43
So there’s a probably David Yarborough and Scott Gordon from Front Burner is is a huge, huge one. Scott’s been somebody that that I could go to and call and, you know, I could pay him for to come and meet with me. And his payment that he required for me was to buy him lunch. And we would sit there and I could pick his brain and he was such a good mentor. And to this day still is and all he required for me was that I pass it on, and I can only charge the same thing he charged, and that was lunch.
Chad Franzen 20:25
Okay, very nice. Uh, well, it’s been great talking to you today, Dallas. How can people find out more about your restaurant?
Dallas Hale 20:32
So they can then go the website. We have ShellShack.com, SushiMarquee.com, Ebbandflowtx.com, you can google us. You can Google my name, they will all pop up. But yeah, I mean, just Google and we are all over, we’re, we’re constantly doing our PR. You know, cooking shows. We’re on the news, everything. Yeah.
Chad Franzen 20:55
Okay, sounds good. Well, best of luck to you in the future. And I really appreciate your time today. Dallas thanks.
Dallas Hale 21:00
Chad Franzen 21:01
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