Danielle Mahon is turning up the heat on her low-country boil.
Mahon, founder and president of Topsail Steamer, is preparing her company to begin franchising. Until now, the purveyor of take-home, steam and eat seafood pots has grown organically, carefully selecting the markets where its low-country boil menu will resonate. She launched the business in 2017 on Topsail Island, wanting to recreate the kind of casual family seafood feasts she enjoyed on the Jersey shore during her growing-up years.
From Topsail, the business branched out to Wrightsville Beach and then north to Mahon’s native surf and turf along the New Jersey coast: Long Beach Island, Ocean City and Sea Isle City. Most recently, Topsail Steamer opened a location in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
“We knew our best strategy was to continue opening stores,” Mahon said this week. “We’re so excited to share Topsail Steamer and the experience customers get to have when they visit us. We asked ourselves what would be the best way to replicate that beyond the East Coast. What we learned is that our model in itself is so streamlined and straightforward that it provides the perfect opportunity for others to [develop] the brand in their own markets.”
Mahon said that the company will be very deliberate about its franchising path.
“We are probably 85% to 90% done with designing the process,” she said, adding that she and her staff expect to launch the franchise offering in July. “We intend to be very intentional with the pace at which we award franchises and the franchisees that we award franchise locations to. We want to make sure that we’re going to be able to provide each one the support they need to be successful.
“We will award a limited number at the beginning to be sure we have everything in place: training, up-and-running support, supply chain. We’re not immediately about large numbers but about taking an intentional approach: the right person, the right market and all the resources needed to support a franchise, especially in its first year.”
Underpinning the decision to franchise is the success Topsail Steamer has seen through its partnership with Goldbelly
. In January 2020 Mahon applied to join the national food shipper, aiming to share her seafood steamers with customers nationwide. Through Goldbelly, Topsail Steamer now ships to seafood fans in all 50 states, raising awareness of the brand. The ability to serve a wide network of customers also helped the company thrive during the pandemic.
Launching a franchise model won’t spell the end of corporate location expansion, according to Mahon. Topsail Steamers will continue to add stores “where it makes sense for us to do so; in adjacent markets and where we have the structure in place,” she said.
In late summer or early fall, Topsail Steamers will venture out a bit further, sailing south to a new coastal area: Anna Maria Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“The idea is to test a different seasonality,” she said. “The only down-time in Florida is hurricane season. We are in coastal, vacation-destination markets, but it’s likely that we may also open a corporate store in more of a nontraditional location to test that kind of market.”
Topsail Steamer was the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021
. It also landed at 594
on the Inc. 5000 2021 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies and received a 2021 Traveler’s Choice Award from TripAdvisor.
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