As a child I loved Red Lobster, but only because of their cheddar biscuits. My love for Lobster didn’t take place until I worked with Josh Thoma, founder of Smack Shack. Although I still think lobsters look like giant bugs, I can appreciate the culinary genius behind cooking one and I’m completely intrigued by them.

And just to get the record straight, lobsters don’t squeal when you put them in hot water, it’s the air escaping their exterior skeleton that makes that “tea pot” noise. Before I could go any further, I just had to know that, so I figured I would share that with all of you as well.

From Food Truck To Brick and Mortar

Smack Shack started as the very first food truck in Minneapolis, with Josh Thoma leading the original menu that you still see today. Now, Smack Shack has two brick and mortar locations, both being in the industrial districts of their cities; Minneapolis (North Loop) and Chicago (West Loop). The menu has an East Coast casual coastal taste and bursts of Old Bay seasoning. Being that everything is boiled in a giant cauldron with onions and Old Bay, there is definitely a theme across the menu and it’s none to be reckoned with. Items such as the Lobster Guac, Shrimp and Grits, Crab and Lobster Boils, and Smack Burger are all personal favorites, and yes I am suggesting them to you.

But this isn’t a food review or a foodie’s blog, so that’s enough of all that. What I really want to talk about is how difficult it can be to take a well-known and loved brand from a Twin City to the Windy City, and have it be a success all over again. Easier said than done, so the saying goes.

Instinctively I wanted to understand the original mastermind behind the brand, so as to understand the brand itself. After spending numerous hours with the founder of Smack Shack, Josh Thoma, I started to get a better understanding of the energy and ‘flavor’ behind this 11 million dollar concept. But there was one big problem; although the menus from both locations were nearly identical, the decor was on point, and the location was prime, there was something very indistinct missing. You would think that simply copying the concept from Minneapolis and plopping it into Chicago would be a no brainer….

No one understands and cares about your brand like it’s creator, you. No one is going to work as hard as you to ensure you succeed. And surely no one is going to care as much as you will, should you fail.

Adapt or Die

If you take an animal out of it’s habitat, it either adapts into something it’s not or it dies. If you take a restaurant concept out of its stomping grounds, it either modifies into something it’s not or it closes. Because not every concept works everywhere, and at any one time, restaurants rely on their creators to carry their legacy and build the brand. But humans are animals and adapting can be grueling, tiring, and stressful.

Restaurant owners that have amazing concepts tend to get a ton of compliments and compliments turn into ideas to expand their concepts. Great, that’s not the bad part. It gets unstable when you expand into an unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar faces. It gets even worse when you are forced to rely on outside influencers (perhaps local partners), other than yourself, to carry your legacy.

No one understands and cares about your brand like it’s creator, you. No one is going to work as hard as you to ensure you succeed. And surely no one is going to care as much as you will, should you fail.

From Twin City to Windy City

This is not to say that Smack Shack isn’t making a name for itself in Chicago, because it most certainly is climbing the ladder. Hell, I’m writing about it for gawd’s sake. From the first food truck in Minneapolis to an address inside the Google building, I would say there’s definitely something worthwhile here. I’m hopeful in the sense that I want to see a Twin City concept make it in the Windy City; to bring diversity to the West Loop and new networks of people from other areas. It definitely took a lot more than just duplication of concept, long hours and marketing efforts. Quite simply put, it took adaptation and the setting aside of pride to get this Minneapolis concept launched and thriving in the Chicago market.