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Downtown Oyster Bar In Flourishing Mix

By Liz Biro, posted May 7, 2014
(Photo by Liz Biro)
A restaurant boom on downtown Wilmington’s Market Street, between Front and Second streets, continues with Shuckin’ Shack oyster and seafood bar preparing to OK its first franchisees.

Shuckin’ Shack owners Sean Cook and Matt Piccinin said “15 solid leads” and “three on the brink of signing” are reviewing the restaurant’s new franchise option. The first franchisee could be named in a few weeks, they said.

Additionally, the pair plan this week, possibly today, to launch a website explaining the franchise opportunity to potential buyers. The site’s web address will be shuckinshackseafoodfranchise.com. Information may be requested at the restaurant’s existing website at pleasureislandoysterbar.com/franchising.

The Market Street block where Shuckin’ Shack stands took a hit in late 2012 when fine dining mainstay Deluxe, 114 Market St., closed after a 20-year run. A year later, Perkeo wine bar filled that space.

Also in 2013, dining room renovations happened at Dixie Grill, 116 Market St. Across the street, workers began restoring the circa 1841 Masonic Hall, 125 Market St., to house Slice of Life pizzeria, which moved into the building this spring. The restaurant Cork ’n’ Fork is under development at the previous Slice location, 122 Market St.

Cook and Piccinin own two Shuckin’ Shacks. The first store, at about 33 seats, opened in 2007 at 6 N. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach. The downtown restaurant at 109 Market St., with 40 seats, debuted in 2012. The two stores employ 25-30 workers, Piccinin said.

Upon launching Shuckin’ Shack, the business partners said their focus was, as Piccinin put it, just “to get through the first year.”

“I always had it [franchising] in back of my mind and kind of a pipe dream,” Piccinin added.

Upon seeing that they were able to duplicate the concept downtown, Cook and Piccinin looked seriously at franchising. The spark, they said, was when Farriss Hospitality commercial food and beverage equipment company owner Bill Farriss, of Wilmington, connected them with restaurant franchise developer Greg George, who helped Wilmington’s Port City Java and Fuzzy Peach develop franchise concepts.

Shuckin’ Shack’s steady growth, small size (about 1,700 square feet), reasonable start-up costs, niche neighborhood oyster and seafood bar design and strong development team convinced Cook and Piccinin that they had a franchise mold, the men said.

Forthcoming Shuckin’ Shacks would mostly mirror the original stores, although the restaurants’ signature newspaper clippings highlighting Cape Fear area fishing, weather and other coastal headlines, which are embedded in tabletops and bartops, might feature some news relevant to individual locations. Owners would have some autonomy to customize a store with neighborhood memorabilia, Cook and Piccinin said.

The men met while living in Carolina Beach. Cook, who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, had restaurant server and management experience. Piccinin, a Canadian, earned a marketing degree from University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Cook, who operates Pleasure Island Rentals, had been eyeing the spot where Shuckin’ Shack would open in Carolina Beach, thinking it was perfect for food service. Piccinin was working in construction. As they became friends, Cook said he noticed Piccinin’s solid work ethic and sense of responsibility. As they became friends, the Shuckin’ Shack idea blossomed.

“We were both under 30, and what guy under 30 doesn’t want to own a bar?” Piccinin said with a chuckle.

Development, however, was served with a big helping of hard work. Both men said they logged long hours constructing and manning the original Shuckin’ Shack while working second jobs. In 2013, each was named Pleasure Island Entrepreneur of the Year by the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the University of North Carolina Wilmington Entrepreneurship Center.

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