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Best fish tacos in PCB.
They said he has the best fish tacos in town. Knowing the term “best” is relative, depending on who’s using it, the term “best” is relevant to me in my description of them; they are delicious. But, I’m hardly a fish taco connoisseur. After countless emails raving about the superb quality of Finn’s Island Style Grubb, located next to Mr. Surf’s Surf Shop on Thomas Drive, I had to check them out. What I found was amazing, and what owner Justin Buxton does to his fish tacos is inspiring. His business model is simple: provide excellent quality, unique flavor, keep it small and do it in a laid back atmosphere. This is what kept him in business over the summer when oil threatened the beaches of Panama City Beach, trashing summer tourism numbers and possibly damaging the perception of Panama City Beach for years to come.
A small, recent beginning.
Finn’s Island Style Grubb opened in June of 2009, greeted by a first summer many small business owners could only dream of. With continual lines that would last for hours all summer long, Buxton was stoked to have started his new business. Of course, serving quality food was nothing new for him. Having been raised in a local family restaurant business, he also had a culinary degree to keep his resume company. Being raised in Panama City Beach and working charter fishing boats through college after a 4 year tour in the Coast Guard, fish was nothing new to him either. It only made sense for him to open his own grub-joint at some point – and a food truck (or trailer) was the lowest barrier of entry for him.
He started out real strong.
Winter of 2009 was as good as could be expected during a shoulder season, but when spring break 2010 hit, he was blown away. Numbers were better during spring break than they were summer of 09 and word was getting out that his fresh bought fish every morning and home made seasoning was the stuff to fill your gully every day. “We were using spring break numbers to forecast our summer numbers and we started getting really excited,” Justin said. They had plans of expansion, building a shelter from the elements and a possible relocation to a bigger spot. When the oil spill hit, they decided to hold off, just to see how it all faired out.
The BP Effect.
Summer numbers were down for 2010, over 2009. But this doesn’t account for how much of an increase they should have seen given natural growth of a new, high-quality business and the effect of word-of-mouth marketing. Buxton estimates that he was off between 20 and 40% this summer over summer of 2009. “I bought an ice cream truck and worked it in the evenings to help get by,” Buxton said, “Our overhead is low so we could always pay our bills and still put some money aside for the future, but we should have done a lot better.”
How they kept up, despite losses.
Finn’s does various forms of organic marketing, such as giving out stickers and selling t-shirts, but probably the most successful aspects of his business growth has to do with the quality of their product. He shops every morning for fresh fish and only uses fresh ingredients for all of his menu items. He has a laid back attitude of keeping the customer happy and maintains a huge local following. “Probably one of the things that helped the most over the summer was the local support,” Justin said, “We have tons of local regulars.” it was hardest seeing how they were being effected by the threat of oil, he went on to say. He was less worried about his business and more worried about the environment. He surf’s, takes his two little kids to the water often and lives a beach lifestyle.
His original plans included closing for a couple months over the winter months to spend time with his family. But revenue losses over the summer will probably keep him open all winter. If next spring starts to take off like this spring did, and summer proves to be a winner like this summer was supposed to be, he’ll sell the ice cream truck, work less hours and take advantage of some freed up time to hang with his kids.
Small business mentality, low overhead is king.
Justin was lucky. His small business mentality kept his overhead low and allowed him to stay in business this summer when others were barely hanging on. He’s gonna survive to live another summer and his fish tacos will continue to make mouths happy. He’s still looking around for opportunities for growth and looking into marketing his fish taco seasoning, but without the BP oil spill scare, he’d already be ahead of the game. The BP Effect changed the second summer of his business, but fortunately it didn’t change his life.
For more information about Finn’s, you can stop by, next to Mr. Surf’s on Thomas Drive or give them a call at 850-249-FINN. Make sure you tell them you read about them on PCBDaily.com.