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Episode 51: Find out how Travis Hester is serving up the Best Catfish in the State of Arkansas at

Spread the Ozark love

IANWA Open 0:11

It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area, or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn 0:42

Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn. And I'm excited today as I always am. To bring you another great episode of the show. You know as we always say here on I am northeast Arkansas we focus on the intersection of business culture, entrepreneurship and life and today's episode is actually a an amalgam of all four of those areas and our guest today is Travis Hester and Travis is the founder of Eat My No, but he's the founder of Eat My Catfish, which is a new local restaurant here in Northwest Arkansas, based almost across the street from Malco. Right behind Smitty's. Right there off of Joyce. And what's that street Steel? Right, exactly. So there was something else up there. But Party City McAllister Right. Yeah. So they're right up there, like so if you're going towards Shogun they're right there on the left. Can't miss it. It's a great location. But without further ado, Travis, how are you doing today?

Travis Hester 1:38

And I'm great. I'm a static to be here.

Randy Wilburn 1:40

Oh, good. Good. I'm glad that you took time because you're based out of Central Arkansas. But you're up here quite a bit, obviously for the restaurant. And you know, I reached out to you the first day you guys had a little publicity thing through Facebook and there was you know, and those ads do work, because it got me in there that day. And we went and checked it out because my kids love catfish Got to check out MawMaw's sauce there, which is really good. And we'll talk a little bit about her influence on you. But, you know, we really want to welcome you to Northwest Arkansas. And I'd love for you to just tell our audience a little bit about who you are, and about your story and why you're here.

Travis Hester 2:16

Yeah, no, it's cool. It's fun to have a story or telling and somewhere along the way, three, four years ago, we found out that people really want to hear how we got started. And it's cool back in 2008. I was 24 and had never cooked catfish and alive, decided to move back from Dallas to where I grew up and open a food trailer selling catfish on the side of the road and it kind of came out of nowhere but you just said Welcome to Northwest Arkansas. I would tell you right off the bat. We have felt so welcome in this community. It's not that people in central talk bad about y'all. Now it is everyone's open arms in the community leadership, everybody. So it's been great. But we grew up in Saline County. What I call this iconic Southern Farm my house was between two lakes, my grandparents on one side My great grandparents on the othere. Aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody in one spot, and it all kind of revolved around grandma's house. So every birthday was spin around grandma's kitchen table. There was cattle in the field. There was big gardens. There was chickens. That's all I knew growing up. And so it was really good experience. And of course, grandma MawMaw was a great Southern cook, right and play dinner on the table every night with the greens out of the garden. And fish you knew it was Friday. Yeah, so every Friday was catfish. And she did so many special things. But one of those things was you already mentioned the MawMaw sauce so she would make that several days ahead of time. The difference between hers and the traditional is like you have the traditional like the big chunks of onion and pickle, right, just kind of floating in some mayonnaise. Yeah, they never married together. We'll she would marry her's together. She let it set for several days and the time it came to Friday. It was good. And I was like 14 or so I told MawMaw said we've got to figure out a way like bottle this stuff and make money I'm I'm here 14 years old trying to make money off my grandma, but I never at that point at everything. I'd open a Catfish restaurant.

Randy Wilburn 3:58

Oh man. That is I mean You're almost prophetic with that. But no, you know, I think the difference is, and I recognize that I mean, your grandmother was far ahead of her time when it came to the whole farm to table movement. And it was the real farm to table movement. But I think the difference would probably be that she made that sauce with love. Absolutely. And that's that is the difference. And so you're carrying on her legacy through that sauce that you offer up at Eat My Catfish, which I love that. I mean, that's great in and of itself. So I couldn't believe when I read that you had never cooked catfish before you set out to cook catfish.

Travis Hester 4:33

Yeah, which is it's true. You know, it's kind of carry on a little bit. I went to school in Dallas college and graduated finance degree and was working for a couple years for a company I'll draw financial buying subprime auto loans in two years and was 2008 and in the subprime finance business in 2008. I thought, Man, I gotta do something different. I'm ready to get out of here. So I followed my future wife and moved down there. We didn't know each other met down there but well from Central Arkansas. So we moved back together. And then I look at her and say, Hey, I'm gonna buy from trailer and muscle cafe on the side of the road. And she looked at me like, why did you follow me back? You know, kind of look and yeah, I think she had me a lot of hard, hard moments during that first year of trying to figure it out. But literally future following was what gave me the idea of the catfish and so I go into taste it and so I sat down at the tasting and we knew what product what form had good cabbage and so they put in place and they say, you know, this one right here is frozen fish and this right here is fresh fish that come out of the same pond. It's the same fish but they freeze this when they don't freeze this one so I'll taste them. And I said well, if I can just put it over here the fresh fish if I can serve that one Why would I won't even think about serving this because it's the frozen is cheaper and it's easier. You don't have to forecast it a week out you can just yeah, just pick it up whenever you need it and said but it's not good. Yeah. And he said well, we love and 90% of people use that frozen fish right there. Good. So you know that decision back 12 years ago was kind of how the food truck started. We're gonna base we're gonna we're going to be in a food trailer and back in 2008. There wasn't any in Central Arkansas. We're going to base it around fresh product. So we're going to bring in we're going to use a fresh chicken a fresh wrap. We're going to hand bread it all even though we're sitting on the side of the road and it was called back then a roach coach joking around but you know, we didn't have a filter fryer or your cash register had worked in a restaurant waiting tables in college but not a whole lot experience there. So we just sit on the road and figured it out. But we use grandma's recipes and what I didn't mention is grandpa. So grandpa was an outdoorsman, he went he would go redfish and so if you come to our stores, you see all these family pictures around and you see people holding up these 30 or 40 pound redfish right sitting on them. It was called fitness just south of New Orleans there on the dock and but and then it got into shrimp and so that so my earliest memories are my grandpa bringing back five or 6 150 pounds of core ice chest of raw Gulf shrimp heads on and though and the friends would sit on the on the carpet out there and they would paint trip heads and shrimp seasons during the heat of the summer. So it stunk and but they would sit there to do it and they freeze the shrimp and so we ate fried gold shrimp every week for my whole job. I didn't know any better, right? Right. But that's the same recipe we use in the restaurant and that cocktail sauce Mais the same one who's the restaurant now? The coleslaw. My grandma had same one.

Randy Wilburn 7:03

So it was good coleslaw. I'm a coleslaw aficionado. I gotta say, your coleslaw is on point. Yeah,

Travis Hester 7:09

Thank you, I appreciate that. So we took all those family recipes and tried it and it was going good. And then about a year in, I'm in the backyard party. This guy says, you know, you've thought about selling crawfish man I've had it's good to get cooked it with my buddy one time but and so I says, Well, he says my ex wife's cousin, brother, sister, husband. He calls it from South Louisiana. He's a Cajun and he can teach you how to cook it and bring it to you. Here's his phone number. So the next day I call him and we started a conversation. He gives me his recipe and says I'll bring you a sack this week. And so that was kind of our it factor that got us from being this trailer selling catfish to being this place where people wanted to come because we had something that others didn't, right. We had we had good catfish, but we needed someone else to draw them in. So what literally started with one case of catfish, and by the way when I got that gets catfish I called him back and said now how do I cook it? That didn't research. I didn't do much prep work on that right but I'm not a cook. I love to cook at the time. That's how it got started. But and then you started one second crawfish, too. And you know now we're the largest, you know, buyer of crawfish in the state. Largest buyer in the state. Yeah. So Wow. And it all started, you know, just 11 years ago there and Military Rd with a trailer that didn't have a sign on the side of it,

Randy Wilburn 8:19

Man and a phone call. I mean, it's all about relationships, too, because yeah, person connected you with the sky down in south. You know, it's funny. I've heard a lot of good things about folks down in Louisiana that they really have big hearts and willing and open to sharing. I was in Lafayette and heard some great things about the people down there. So

Unknown Speaker 8:37

They're all standing Yeah, so we're farm to table now with three different farms in South Central Louisiana. They're great people. It's not like you know, most restaurants any product they call been a key star Prime Vendor. They're great to us. But yet others like Sysco or US Foods. You call them up getting a case of fries or chicken or whatever you want. Tomorrow. Are you gonna pick it up right now? You can't do that with crawfish. It doesn't work that way. Crawfish you have a short window You get about 48 hours, sometimes 72 out of the water, they have to use it or once it dies, it's gone. So you have to have a quality farmer who knows what they're gonna do who's up front and when it was caught, who can get it here we can pick it up from and so we've really, you know, in our missions and we talked about working with local suppliers, you know, local, may be 10 hours away for crawfish, but that's as local as it gets. And it takes a lot to build those relationships.

Randy Wilburn 9:23

So crawfish season is from what is it months without R's It's May through....

Travis Hester 9:27

No, it starts with January. Yeah. So it starts mid January how it works...

Randy Wilburn 9:32

They get bigger as the season goes...

Travis Hester 9:33

You nailed it! So all those farms use basically imported labor because they have to just once it starts it starts. Mother Nature controls it because the colder the water, the harder it is for shellfish to basically get tough enough to survive outside the water. That makes sense. So when the water warms up just a little bit, Mother Nature helps them out mid January, they get that labor and they then they start getting stuff out of the fields. So by mid February, we really start to see a lot as long as it's not brutally cold down there. And then we go all the way till mid June or July is depending on if it gets hot super fast or not or...

Randy Wilburn 10:06

So do you increase your offerings of crawfish, crawfish, yeah. Or do you increase those offerings during that season? Or is what do you do differently?

Travis Hester 10:14

So we only sell crawfish during crawfish season so you may go to a grocery store or chinese buffet and you may see crawfish boil here and that's a frozen product. That's not like what we're talking about real deal Louisiana crawfish. So during that time, once it begins to come sustainable where the shells hard enough to eat the last 48 hours then we pull seven days a week every shift that we're open. One of the few places that does it kind of north of Central Arkansas or in Arkansas at all. And then we do we sell it by the pound. So we start the price is going to start higher because the supplies lower and then we work down to a more you know a volume price we can come get ice chest full of cook crawfish and have a big party.

Randy Wilburn 10:52

That's gonna be interesting because I know that up here, I've been invited to several crawfish boils. So this will be your first true season. Here in Northwest Arkansas it will be interesting to see what it's like.

Travis Hester 11:02

You know, in crawfish what you just said is via the backyard party right now and that's what it is. It's a social event as much as it is. I'm coming over it's like I'm coming over for steaks you know? Yeah. And yeah, you may go because they have crawfish but it's a fun atmosphere. And that's what's made it grow so much in popularity is because people love to get together and have a good time. Right and they based it around this crawfish so we sell a lot of crawfish as well around Valentine's day we'll start these bullet buckets we mix in and endure for the Northeast so you get these steamer pots. But we mix in snow crab or Gulf shrimp course with corn, potatoes, but we also last year like offerings lobster claw muscles, and Jonah crab. Oh really? Yeah. So you can mix and match build your own what we call bowling bucket. Get them regular, spicy however what amount of heat you want, and it's good Okay, my mouth's water cuz I havent had it in months.

Randy Wilburn 11:54

You're making me hungry now because especially coming from the Northeast. That's been my wife's biggest challenge living here is just the lack of access to a lot of good Seafood! Yeah. And that's just it's a real issue. So when Whole Foods came in, it was great. Yeah, we started to get stuff. Of course, Whole Foods is expensive. But I mean, nonetheless, we now have access to that. But before that, you know, I lived in Boston I took for granted I could go anywhere, and everything I was getting was caught, like within the last two or three days. Yeah, if not sooner.

Travis Hester 12:20

So go back to that idea or that decision we made when we're tasting catfish when we didn't even know how to cook it. And that day, we said, we want to base it around a fresh product, we really made a decision mentally to say we want it we want to, we want to have a quality product, whatever we do, and that's followed us along the way. So, you know, you only can buy shrimp and crab. You know, there's always shrimp for the only fish like three, four weeks out of the year. Right. And it's heavily sanctioned and how much can be caught? What the size has to be what part of the ocean or sea you can go in and do it right. Yeah. So we source those products and buy them in a kind of a 11 month window for the next 11 months Should we get we say all that because it's hard. It's not like all Gulf Shrimp is good. Or all snow crab is good, right? There's a lot of issues out there and crabs, snow crabs is twice as high it's ever been I won't go too deep and all that, but it really takes a lot of effort to be able to source good seafood 12 months out of the year.

Randy Wilburn 13:13

Yeah. Now do you have a buyer that does all the buying for you? Or how does that work? So in our team, we have person is our purchasing, okay. Jessica does a great job works. Another buyer who basically is looking at the product, send us pictures of specs. And, you know, everybody knows how the markets work. You know, when there's before they start fishing, the price can be sky high, right? It's going to go down a little bit and it may go back up and what their fish report is and you're just trying at the bottom, but at the same time you're trying to buy a quality product, right? That's going to last that you when you get two or three months in that you're not getting complaints that you know there's no meat in this crab or this shell the shells in this shrimp are too thin. I can't peel them, right, which are served every day. Exactly. So you gotta get quality.

Yeah, so tell me a little bit about the truck still exists. Right. That's it. It's still out there and multiplied and multiplied. Yeah, how many trucks Do you have now?

Travis Hester 14:04

We have two and we use those for catering events.

Randy Wilburn 14:06

Okay, all right, I got you so it's not normally open every day like it was before, but you still have the original truck?

Travis Hester 14:12

Correct. We still have the original and we have we added another and we cater all of the state of Arkansas out of those trucks. So since then we open from three years in the food truck three and a half years and we opened our first little 60 seat restaurant in Benton. It's in a horrible location. It's Walmart location number five or six,. And it's down a hill and this big shopping center L shaped and we're in the back corner, and the store face itself is actually recessed back in off the awning front. The worst location you can get and they know him in lease in five or six years but I thought it was a good idea to go pick this location. And it was part of it. But you think about the most plain Jane restaurant you're walked in nothing on the walls concrete floors, in order and that's what we were and but we were so freaking proud of that place. Because we had worked so hard at that point to get to there. Now that place is still same location I almost don't want get rid of because I'm prideful on that. But it's 150 seats now but then went from there went to Conway. We took a little break there meanwhile, I got married and had a child and had to figure out how to be a dad and a husband, which is tough in this business. Life happens. Exactly. And I didn't want the restaurant business to be be the death of me or my family. So we took some time that we opened up a Little Rock and then North Little Rock in 2008. And in Fayetteville 2019

Randy Wilburn 15:21

Wow. 2019. 19 sorry. Yeah. Yeah, okay, that's what's a wave. Okay, now that's good. So what was the at some point I guess you had said, you know that the next place I go would be up to Northwest Arkansas. Was that it? Or what was the decision that brought you guys up here ultimately?

Travis Hester 15:38

I'm a pretty honest guy. Someone tell you how to happen. We were sitting in a meeting. One of my buddies said are you I haven't met Jordan planning for we got started. It was Wrights barbecue. And I had heard seen some stuff on Twitter. I said, Man, I want to go try that barbecue. So a buddy of mine said, Hey, do you know this place? You want to go eat with me sometime? It only had a couple of friends lived up here. I said, Yeah, but I have a Real Estate buddy who knows him and we'll all go to lunch one day so I go meet with a real estate guy just to just make a connection before you eat lunch, and he says, you know, when do you think you'd be in Northwest? And so this was in March, late March of this year, I said, probably about two or three years. And so fast forward two months later, we had two LOI's on two different locations. And we were like alright let's do this! Because we felt so good when we got here and looked around, and I couldn't resist it.

Randy Wilburn 15:39

So are you satisfied with your decision?

Travis Hester 15:49

Absolutely. Oh, yeah. I couldn't be more satisfied.

Randy Wilburn 15:55

Yeah. Well, I mean, the nice part about it here, as I know, you have in Central Arkansas, there's a nice supply of really good, you know, smart young people, as we were talking about, yeah, that are moldable and trainable. And, you know, when you have a system like yours, you know, you have something that's not going it's not a fly by night operation. Yeah. So I think that's important.

Travis Hester 16:45

Yeah. So we've really spent the last couple years building out a corporate structure that allows us to define every process that we do internally, and I won't go too deep into that. But what you said is hiring pool and that's another misconception that we hear in Central all the time is, man, don't go to Northwest because you can't find anybody to work. They'll leave and go right down the street and Chick fil A in Springdale is paying 14 bucks an hour because they can't find employment. These are all things you hear, right? Because it again, we're two and a half hours away. It's not that far, but you just get these outlandish things. I would tell you, the labor pool, the market up here has been so good. There's so many talented people who want to work and have good work ethic. It's been really breath of fresh air.

Randy Wilburn 17:25

That's awesome. That's awesome. So part of your mission statement is exceeding expectations. What kind of how did that come about? What do you mean, I know a lot of it is born out of the impact that your grandmother had on you will call her MawMaw, because that's what you called her and, and then just all the stuff that you've picked up over time and but I mean, what is that exceeding expectations mean for you?

Travis Hester 17:47

Well, my passion for cooking has turned into a passion for development and development of our team around us. But looking back on what when you start kind of doing some self reflecting later on after you've had a couple you know, successful stores I traced it back. My grandparents were actually pretty much everybody in my family has been an entrepreneur. They had a diesel shop, my great grandfather founded in like the 60s. And everybody, all his sons work there. And a lot of the below that generation. And what I've kind of fast forward that these were shop closed in late 80s. And then the not mid 90s 2000s, all the people worked in the shop, family wise started to pass away. But one thing I noticed is every time they passed away these people who'd worked for them for 20-25 years, would still come to the funeral 10 or 15 years later. After they hadn't worked for them. I was like, wow. Yeah, what's going on here? Yeah. And then I started to think about the relationships my grandparents had in the community or in church. And really, what they instilled is more than these recipes that we've used is the is taking care of the people around you. It doesn't matter who they are, how close you are with them, no matter if it's a complete stranger or somebody at church or somebody works for you. You treat them like family. Absolutely. It doesn't matter if their woman or a man if they are black or white. It doesn't matter. It's just you take care of everybody the exact same way and treat them like family. So we trained our staff that we, you know, when we, when you walk in our door, we want it to feel like you're walking into my home. And if it doesn't, then something's wrong, because you're not gonna be comfortable in that environment, if it's not. So we want you to feel like you're walking through your house and you're coming over for dinner, and you're going to stay a couple hours, because you want to do that. So we've got to figure out a way in every environment, we have one to create that ambience, but two to train our staff that way. So this passion, it really turned into developing leaders, you know, we come at the mission statement, it says, you know, developing the future leaders of our community, right. So that involves community involvement and stuff that we do, we can talk about later if you want, but it really boils down to taking people who maybe have never had a job before, or maybe they have and they've had a good or bad experience. And then teach them what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a positive person, what it means to be instinctive and react on your own and be empowered to, you know, do what you're trying to do based on the knowledge you've been given. And it's exciting, and that's our passion and a lot of time to introduce ourselves now as a leadership company or development company and not a restaurant group because we spend so much more time developing folks and working on that, than we do developing recipes or sourcing catfish.

Randy Wilburn 20:08

Well, I think that's huge. Because, you know, there is a shortage of young people being developed as leaders, right? I mean, people are looking a lot of times at young people is just, hey, just take care of what we need you to take care of and, you know, be seen but not heard. And you're taking it from a totally different perspective.

Travis Hester 20:26

Absolutely. We currently have about 22 managers in our organization and which is why we were able to come to Fayetteville because we had so much talent, and people who want to. We had 11 people move up here. 11 people raise their hands, I want to go do this. Yeah, I want the opportunity. And so we are people who want opportunity, one want to improve and can see themselves doing more and you can use, say sell them, but basically you're just selling on the idea of what they can become because they haven't reached that yet and waiting. So you gotta figure out why that is and how you can help them get there. And you know, basically their strengths and make sure that work on the weakness along the way. And it's fun way to manage all promoted from within. Wow, what I think we have to prior years manager experience on our staff, we don't do very well hiring from outside of management because it takes a lot to understand who we are as a company in our culture.

Randy Wilburn 21:15

Yeah, you've systematized it. So people, it's almost better to work from within, especially when you can promote from within. So yeah. So what have you been able to do down in the community in Central Arkansas that you hope to replicate up here in Northwest Arkansas?

Travis Hester 21:29

Well, we've got a couple things. We love to go into areas where they need some... I love to speak so it's really easy to tell our story and talk about with passion, how we can help young people especially develop themselves right and so we worked with a group down there in Southwest Little Rock, very underprivileged kids, most of them didn't have two parents in the household. And that was the first really connection we've we've hired eight or 10 out of it. They've all been with us. I think the average employment and we hire them at 15 or 16 and the average employment is over two years. Yeah, So they are very loyal because they've never had a strong relationship before, and they don't have a lot of self confidence. And so that was a really turning point for us to be able to say, Hey, I think we have a connection here. So, here locally, you know that hiring pool down there is not as good and we know that especially in the in the metro markets, for whatever reason it is, so we've been trying to, on the Central Arkansas board for Junior Achievement, don't know how much you know about Junior Achievement? It's a lot of that. I joined them because they wanted entrepreneurs to come in and be able to tell stories and do those talks and be able to get in the classroom to tell them how not maybe it don't matter if you're going to work for us. This is how you can go about getting a job. This is what you look like in an interview. This is how you should talk in an interview. This is what employers actually looking for when they interview. Yeah. And then you know, along the way, you're going to meet a lot of good young people who are trying to find a good environment for them. There's a lot of employers out there who are not going to treat 16 - 17 year olds the way they could and develop them because it's just about hey, I need someone to run the cash register and we don't look at it that way, ever. So that's exciting. But even you know, flaner Smith, another, you know, not in the best part of town. But students from all over all over, we spoke there ownership program two weeks ago, it just kind of the same topic but about entrepreneurship and what it means to be a good part of the community and develop, you know, those future leaders. So, yeah, that's kind of what we're doing right now to kind of partner with that. We've worked with other organizations like Easter Seals, I'm on that board as well. And trying to give our people an opportunity to, you know, see the, the other side and why it's good to have gratitude towards others.

Randy Wilburn 23:31

Absolutely. And they have Junior Achievement programs up here and they are really, some of them are connected to my Rotary Group that I'm a part of, which is the downtown Fayetteville Rotary Group, but I'm always amazed. I think that's great because the Junior Achievement is it gives it gives everyone that wants to be a part of this and help young people a chance to improve your speaking to kind of share your story and to encourage. Every young person needs some encouragement to be the best version of themselves and a lot of times they may not be getting it at home. And so I mean, just what you're doing, I certainly applaud you for that. And we need more people like you really what I call sowing into the next generation. Because they need it. Yeah, they definitely do. I mean, we I know we, you know, with social media and everything we look down on on the the Gen Z kids, and even this next generation is being called Generation Alpha, which is going to be I mean, I don't know, I mean, they're the ones that are truly going to take over the world. But it's going to be interesting to see, you know what happens, but I think you're making a difference. And just even coming into a classroom, you don't know who you're going to touch and they may show up at your doorstep at one of your locations in a year or two and say, Hey, you know, you spoke to me and I need a job and I, you know, I want to be able to give back and do what you're doing.

Travis Hester 24:43

Yeah, that's the hope right there is that we can, we can maybe we have a couple words that sticks in their mind that helps them get through, you know, that class or that semester or whatever it is and better themselves. And if it comes as circles back to us, that's great. If it doesn't, we're being the right example in the community that we believe that can help create the, you know, the whole ecosystem that we want around us. If anybody's listening the podcast that has we're looking for it now is opportunity Northwest kind of do the same thing. So there's any opportunities up here they might have, feel free to reach out to us. We'd love to help you know speak to some organizations up here and see how we can help as well.

Randy Wilburn 25:19

Oh, yeah, well, I'm definitely I'm fairly well connected there. What you're going to find about this area, as I'm sure it's the same in central but there is a there is a huge giving movement up here. And there's so many philanthropic organizations, I'm actually going to an event tonight with Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas, and that's a great program but and I'll have to actually introduce you to Tyler Clark, big shout out to Tyler but he's been on this podcast. He introduced me to a lot of people but they are doing some great things with single parents and in those that are trying to get a leg up with their education and get out of the vicious cycle that some families find themselves in and never able to kind of get a leg up and so certainly I'll make sure I make some introductions for you. But I also put in the show notes, some information on how people can contact you. So they can reach out and say, Hey, Travis, I heard you on the podcast, we'd love to have you come and talk to our kids or, you know, we'd love to have you share your story and kind of see where it goes from there. So I appreciate that. Yeah, no, absolutely.

Travis Hester 26:18

So, I'll take a step back. So we talked about these leadership, we talked about how we determined where we came from, and successes. And so in doing that kind of look back, we traced it back. And of course, we have core principles as a company, but we tracked it back to to, we call it daily principles that we were at, to kind of throw at these young people and say, I got two things, you do these two things, and you can you can do better. And that's positive attitude, and then the willingness to improve on a daily basis. And so we tell them and I try to still meet with most all new hires that they don't get to meet with me they get to watch me in a video which is sort of boring, but those are hanging on every wall in every restaurant and it's getting this positive attitudes, we know we can accomplish so much more and we start with the positivity outlook, and then the willingness to improve on a daily basis, we tell you're not going to come in here an All Star. It doesn't. We can't build a bridge in a day. Don't try to do everything at one time. Just come in here and learn from what you did yesterday, right or wrong and build upon it every day and keep a positive attitude and you can do anything you want this company. Absolutely. So this store up here we just opened I'm not sure if you so you didn't, you came to Grand Opening but you didn't hear the little speech that we gave before.

Randy Wilburn 27:22

No, I came after that.

Travis Hester 27:24

Yeah, so the the lead manager at this store actually started in our food truck. Okay. Okay, at age 17. Okay, he had taken some hiatuses and gone to college and what not. There's a lady in our corporate team our Director of Training. She started as 16 year old in store as well. And so she went to Arkansas State, International Business degree, recruited her back she'd done some internships with us during the summer, but you get two people leading this brand new restaurant that were heavily invested in our number one project and led by, you know, two individuals in their young 20s that been with the company. They started the company six or seven years ago, which is you know, it's just really cool to think about what we kind of visualized years ago has actually come to fruition and we have these individuals that we've really put a lot of time and developing them as people inside outside of work and as leaders, as managers, as numbers, finances, whatever it is, and they're sitting here leading your biggest investment Yeah, it's a really cool feeling to come back and surreal to look at it and come up here and walk in the door and realize it this is actually happening.

Randy Wilburn 28:25

It's got to be kind of humbling, you know, I mean, it just to see that right, because it's like it's it started with a dream it started with this idea simple food truck and you know, with a guy from a guy that didn't know how to cook catfish, and I had never cooked catfish rather I should say and and and now look at where you are. So yeah, that's pretty cool. Anything is possible. So before we close, I'd love to know what's next for you. I mean, where does Travis Hester go after this?

Travis Hester 28:53

So, you know, I don't know what that holds yet. But I can tell you what we think in the firm horizon. We know that we want to have a few more stores up in the Northwest. Sure, we'd love to have some markets that we love that we want to be a part of. And some communities, we want to be a part of that we just think really highly of. The Chambers that are doing a great job and in the community. And that's one thing we look at is how involved in active and positive is the Chamber in creating work and economic impact. Sure. We want to continue in Central, we may add another concept. And we've built out a really good corporate structure that allows us to be efficient at what we do, and we want to put we want to plug more things into it. And just to continue to grow leaders. We kind of grow as fast as our internal team does. And we're excited about that or anything.

Randy Wilburn 29:35

Yeah, so that's exciting. Well, I'm certainly going to be on the sidelines watching and rooting for you guys. And I mean, Travis, I can't thank you enough for agreeing to come on this podcast and I'm sure you were like the day I reached out to you which is the day he had the grand opening. I was like man, I want to have you on the podcast because this is what Northwest Arkansas is all about. So I appreciate you coming on and sharing with our audience. I'm going to put you on the spot because I didn't mention this to you before. But what's What's the last book that you've read that really impacted you?

Travis Hester 30:02

Oh man well I gotta tell you I don't read very well I don't read books I listen a lot of podcasts and articles.

Randy Wilburn 30:09

Besides my podcast...

Travis Hester 30:11

Yeah, no, no no, you know we we do a lot of motivational stuff. So stuff from John Gordon or Simon Sinek we liked those two guys a lot. They provide a lot of useful quotes and short videos for our staff to learn from. There he goes digging this up there we go get the brand new book!

Randy Wilburn 30:27

Yeah, The Infinite Game. You gotta read this when you get a chance.

Travis Hester 30:29

We got a group down there. A peer group I meet with and that was their book of the month last month I didn't read it but I got the Summary and got the gist of it. But yeah, we love. We love looking at individuals who are able to break it down to a very simple, like just just do these two things, like a daily principle. Just follow these few things and your habits are going to change in a great manner that allow you to do more and I was one of those kids who had did not live up to my potential in high school because I said just was just stupid, right? I just did stupid things. But I had most of us.

Not all but I had good mentors around me that kept me going the right way. But so I think it's when, especially for young people, if you can break it down to a few things like Simon does, or like John Gordon does, I think it's, he's really used for them, they can apply it and then not trying to not trying to rewrite everything for them.

Randy Wilburn 31:22

Absolutely. No, I love that. And Simon, I mean, a lot of what Simon talks about with leadership you are actually putting into practice and because, you know, he wrote Leaders Eat Last and Start with Why, which was really foundational for me, but it just helped me to really crystallize what I wanted to give back to the world and his viewpoint of that in the way that businesses should run and leaders should lead. It just seems like you are falling in lockstep with that. So, man, I certainly congratulate you with that. So what's the best way for people to reach out to you if they want to connect with you whether on a philanthropic level whether they want to just connect with you because they're interested in the concept and they want to learn more about the business Yeah, or whether they just want to connect with you in general.

Travis Hester 32:04

So, you know, is our website if you are interested in eating, look at the menu and learn more about us or read your story. My personal email address is So simple so Anybody, reach out to me I love to connect, we love to network and see how we can partner with others. And community, it's not about making money. It's just about helping each other and grow and, you know, that's my passion, is connecting to people in an industry wide or leadership wise in the community and really figuring out what we can do to partner with others to you know, help each other out.

Randy Wilburn 32:37

Yeah, yeah, well, that's perfect. I will put all of that in the show notes so that people know exactly what they're looking for. We're going to throw your logo up there and we're going to do a good job and and represent you so MawMaw would be proud of all you've accomplished and that you continue to accomplish. But folks. I gotta tell you, I've been to this restaurant. The catfish is the real deal. You got to get some of that MawMaw sauce and get it on the side. Get the coleslaw if you like coleslaw, it's really good. They know what they're doing. I even had the fried okra which I actually really liked. I thought that was excellent so but we'll be back to get some more and I'll certainly report back and let you know about some of the other items on the menu but definitely check out eat my catfish brand new location here in Northwest Arkansas, let us know what you think about it and I had to twist Travis's arm but I just said to him, you know, my man Jordan agreed to give the listeners of the podcast a free drink if they ever came to Wrights BBQ and so I said ask the same thing to Travis and Travis said he would do what

Travis Hester 33:34

Well I don't know why Jordans being so cheap.

I want to "One Up!," Jordan, let's do it. We have we have what we call the Willies, fried green tomatoes they are chunks of green tomatoes. We bread them real lightly in cornmeal and a little bit of red peppar. So when they come out they are chunks of green tomato and are lightly fried. They're going to be like a sweet spicy, get some buttermilk ranch on the side. They are a very non-traditional fried green tomato, not the slices right? They were so freaking good. They are my favorite appetizer so if you come in mention the podcast we'll use the Keyword Podcast then you get a free one of those.

Randy Wilburn 34:07

All right there you go that you've heard it first right here. Travis who owns eat my catfish so he's authorized to do this is going to give up some of Willie's fried green tomatoes. You got to mention the podcast say that you heard him heard Travis on the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast and his team which we already know he has some great people working for him will take great care of you. Check them out. Let us know what you think. And certainly you can comment on your experience at Eat My Catfish and our shownotes there at Well, that's all we have folks. So Travis, thank you so much for spending time with us today. I appreciate you on one of your mini trips up here in Northwest Arkansas. We're going to work on you we might get you up here as a permanent resident so you still drive down to Central.

Travis Hester 34:48

I need you to have dinner my wife, she's the one.

Randy Wilburn 34:51

We can work it out. Okay, work it out. That'll be fine. So but man, we appreciate you so much. Thank you.

Travis Hester 34:56

Appreciate everybody in Northwest Arkansas. I appreciate you having us on the show.

Randy Wilburn 34:58

Absolutely. Well there you have it folks, Travis Hester from Eat My Catfish and Check them out. It's a really great brand new concept restaurant based here in Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville right over by the Malco movie theater. You can't miss it, but certainly would encourage you to try their food. Let us know what you think. And that's it. That's all we have for this week on this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. As always remember, we love getting feedback from our listeners. I love hearing from you guys. Wherever you listen to this podcast. Whether it's iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, I Heart Radio, Apple podcasts, please take time to write a review. Let us know what you think I'm starting to see more reviews come up being added to them on a regular basis. So we'd like to get your feedback. If there's something you don't like, let us know we'll certainly try to fix it if there are things you like. Let us know that as well. It all helps us as we continue to grow this podcast and we can continue to try to impact Northwest Arkansas one episode at a time. But that's all I have for today. Remember episodes come out every Monday at 12 noon. So I will definitely see you next week and make it a great day. Remember what I always say get 1% better every day. If you do that you'll be surprised at what you'll accomplish in the space of a short period of time. That's all. I'll see you next week. Peace.

IANWA Open 36:20

We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcast can be found. For show notes or more information on becoming against visit. I am Northwest We'll see you next week. On I am Northwest Arkansas

About the Show:

We recently had a chance to sit down with Travis Hester, founder of Eat My Catfish. An Arkansas Seafood restaurant based in Central Arkansas and now with a new location in Fayetteville. 

Travis discusses the roots of Eat My Catfish and how he was inspired by his Entrepreneurial family especially his Grandfather and his Grandma, affectionately known as MawMaw. Growing up on a farm in Saline, County,  Arkansas, Travis learned early what the “Farm to Table,” movement was and he has tried to capture the essence of that in his five restaurants. 

We discussed his desire for building a strong team and why he likes to invest so much in the training and development of his people. In fact, two of his homegrown managers and nine other loyal teammates moved up to Northwest Arkansas to help Travis open the restaurant.  

Eat My Catfish is the number one seller of Catfish in the state. In addition to Catfish, they offer tasty Po Boy’s, and Crawfish in season.  If you like fresh seafood and good home cooking you need to visit Eat My Catfish in Fayetteville or one of the four locations in Central Arkansas ( Benton, Conway, Little Rock, and North Little Rock). 

Also, Travis provided a special gift to our listeners when you visit the restaurant.  But, you need to listen to the episode – it’s close to the end – when he mentions the bonus available.  Be sure to mention the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast when you go to Eat My Catfish! 

If this podcast episode resonates with you please let us know by commenting below or by dropping us an email. We appreciate each and every listener of this podcast. 

 All of this and more on this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas.   

Important Links and Mentions on the Show*:

Eat My Catfish, 32 W. Joyce Blvd, Fayetteville, AR 72703  – 479-326-9090

*Note: some of the resources mentioned may be affiliate links. This means we get paid a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

This episode is sponsored by:

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Connect more with I am Northwest Arkansas:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. We showcase businesses, culture, entrepreneurship, and the lives of everyday people making Northwest Arkansas what it is today. Please consider making a one-time donation to our production team through PayPal to help with the expenses of keeping this podcast running smoothly


  1. I have ate a lot of catfish in my time but eat my catfish is the best I have ever eaten and the best service ever staff is the best Definitely 5 star rating Restaurant

    • RWilburn RWilburn

      Hey David, Thanks for this feedback. We concur with your findings and we appreciate you listening to the podcast. Please spread the Good News!



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