Resilience, Adaptability, and Innovation: Lessons from Surf’s Up Franchising Founder Eric Roy | Restaurants & Franchises Series

How can an entrepreneur build a thriving seafood franchise and positively impact lives through resilience and adaptability?

In this episode, Eric Roy, founder and CEO of Surf’s Up Franchising, shares his inspiring journey from growing up in the inner city of Chicago to establishing a successful fast-casual seafood restaurant chain with eight locations. Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, Eric’s unwavering determination and ability to pivot have been instrumental in his success.

Eric discusses the importance of creating a unique brand identity by offering proprietary seasoning blends and a diverse menu that goes beyond just fried seafood. He also emphasizes the value of fostering an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for customers from all walks of life.

As a genuine and resilient leader, Eric aims to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs to persevere through adversity and surround themselves with a supportive network of mentors and advisors. He shares his experiences overcoming setbacks, such as the unexpected closure of his first restaurant location and navigating the challenges of franchising during a pandemic.

Eric sees Surf’s Up as more than just a way to make money – it’s an opportunity to create a positive impact in the lives of his employees, franchisees, and the communities they serve. Through his franchising efforts, he hopes to expand the brand’s reach and bring its unique flavors and welcoming atmosphere to new markets across the United States and beyond.

Mentors and resources that inspired Eric:

  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – a book that encouraged Eric to persevere through struggles and believe in the potential for success
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki – a book that influenced Eric’s decision to pursue entrepreneurship and create generational wealth
  • Industry veterans and advisors – a network of experienced mentors who have provided crucial support and guidance in growing Surf’s Up Franchising

Tune in for valuable insights on building a thriving seafood franchise, overcoming obstacles, and creating a business that makes a positive difference in the lives of others.




Welcome to another edition of inspired stories where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes, how they’ve overcome adversity, and explore current challenges they’re facing.

Anthony Codispoti (02:48.333)
Welcome to another edition of the inspired stories podcast where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes and be inspired by how they’ve overcome adversity. My name is Anthony Cotaspodi and today’s guest is Eric Roy, founder and CEO of Surf’s Up franchising, a fast casual seafood restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and delicious Southern inspired recipes, including fried green tomatoes, fried lobster, catfish and shrimp.

Started in 2012, it has since grown to eight locations. They provide catering services and accommodate private events. And together, we’ll hear how he was able to first make the transition from the inner city of Chicago to a tax accountant, and later to starting a chain of seafood restaurants. Before we get into the good stuff, today’s episode is brought to you by my company, Ad Back Benefits Agency, where we offer very specific and unique employee benefits.

that are both great for your team and fiscally optimized for your bottom line. One recent client was able to add over $900 per employee per year to their bottom line by implementing one of our proprietary programs. Results vary for each company and some organizations may not be eligible. To find out if your company qualifies, contact us today at addbackbenefitsagency .com. Now back to our guest today, the CEO of Surf’s Up franchising, Eric. I appreciate you making the time to share your story today.

Eric Roy (04:12.825)
Well, thank you for having me, Anthony. I appreciate it.

Anthony Codispoti (04:15.147)
So Eric, let’s start at the beginning. I want to hear about maybe some of the challenging circumstances that you had to overcome living in the inner city of Chicago to going to college and becoming a tax accountant. Can you kind of paint a picture of what that arc looked like?

Eric Roy (04:31.897)
Yeah, so I grew up in the Londo area of Chicago early on. I mean, it’s funny because now, looking back, I’ve kind of been away a little bit for a while. I still have a lot of family on the west side of Chicago. I’m in the suburbs now. But looking back,

I can see the difference, but when I was coming up in, I really didn’t know any difference. I had a lot of love in my family. So I didn’t know if it was any different from me growing up there or me growing up in the White House or anything else. We had a big family, a lot of love on both sides. My parents, they had me, my mama was 16 or 17 when she had me. My father was probably like 18 to 19. So they were young, but…

My dad, he loved his family. So he worked and he worked his job. He worked at the United States Post Office. He started around then after I was born and he stayed there until he retired. And then he helped put my mom through school and she always was really big on education. So she became a nurse and as they did better, we kind of like moved on to better apartments, then eventually moved out of the Mandela area.

into the suburbs, moved out to Oak Park. Then eventually they bought a house in Maywood. So, you know, I was able to kind of get away. One of my biggest challenges was when I was, and this was, I was a little older. I was probably like 14 or 15. And I got, you know, I was actually in the library, a couple of my friends goofing off. I got kicked out of the library, left, was walking. But while we were in the library, there was a group of guys kind of like,

started hanging out and we were leaving the library on our way. I was just going to the store. I was really just going to take a break for a minute and then come back to the library and pick up my friend. A group of guys followed me down to the store and jumped on me. So, you know, I mean, they kind of sparked something up with me, jumped on me. It’s probably about eight or nine of them. And they like hit me in the face with a brick. They broke my nose. They broke the bridge right over my eye right here. So I had like stitches here and…

Anthony Codispoti (06:36.169)

Eric Roy (06:43.193)
But that was a turning point in my life because after that, you know, before that I was, you know, on the basketball team, getting straight A’s. I was still, and I kind of maintained that I left the basketball team. But then after that, I started to spend more time back in the city with my cousins. Cause you know, this was after I moved from the city into the suburbs and kind of like was new on the block. That’s kind of like, you know, I didn’t know everybody. So that’s kind of how it happened. But then that drove me back to the city. And then maybe like,

Almost a year later, I got my license, my parents got me a car. So I was constantly back in the city, you know, with my cousins and you know, my cousins, they kind of were raised a little differently and you know, and that kind of like sent me in a different direction for a few years. So that was like a big challenge that I had to overcome. And, you know, it got to the point where I was able to kind of really think about it and go back to that point and kind of, you know, try to try to switch it up, you know, so that I can get, you know, going to a more positive direction. I say like that.

Anthony Codispoti (07:36.714)
So you were in the suburbs when you got jumped by that group of eight or nine guys? So you were in the place where you thought you were supposed to be safe or safer.

Eric Roy (07:41.049)
Yeah, I was actually in the suburbs, yeah, in the suburbs there. So I moved from the city. Yeah, I mean, yeah, and it was, you know, and it was safe up until, you know, up until that point. I guess I was like the new guy on the block, you know, it wasn’t the people on my block that did it, it was some guys, you know, a few blocks away that, you know, just a group of so -called bad guys that, you know, just started hanging out.

And, you know, I guess that’s what they were doing. And, but, you know, that kind of sent me in a situation where, you know, I wasn’t so focused on school anymore, even though I still did well enough to graduate and eventually go to U of I, but I just wasn’t focused like I was, you know, I was really mentally, you know, kind of like thinking about that a lot, you know what I mean? So I kind of changed, instead of me, you know, focusing on school and the basketball team, I went over and started spending more time with my cousins and everything, you know, my cousins, you know, these were some pretty

tough guys you know so I started spending time with them and meeting their friends and got started hanging out more back in the you know in the neighborhood.

Anthony Codispoti (08:40.552)
And so am I hearing you correctly that maybe that was a direction that wasn’t entirely good or productive for you?

Eric Roy (08:46.809)
You know, I learned a lot, right?

you know, like the school of hard knocks, but you know, I, you know, and that’s what I did like when my son was coming up. So my son right now, he’s one of the VPs of product at JP Morgan. But that was one thing that I focused on. He’s 31 now, but I focused on it and made sure that he didn’t have to deal with the situation that I dealt with. I made sure that he was safe because I know when I, you know, all the time when I was safe, I was good. When I all of a sudden wasn’t safe, you know, that kind of made me go back to, you know, now I want to be this tough guy, you know,

what I mean because I’m kind of like trying to save face. So you know that and that’s why I made sure that my son and my nephew didn’t have to deal with that. You know we kind of like tried to make sure and you know my parents you know them and my sister as well we always really try to really make sure that the boys were safe because you know it’s tough coming up in the inner city you know African -American you know because and even in our situation we were living in the suburbs but our whole family was in the city.

So we would still go back and forth, you know. And so once that happened, I really spent, you know, I was still sleeping at home at my parents’ house, but I spent 80, 90 % of my daytime after school, like in the city and, you know, kind of like back in the city, you know, wanting to be a tough guy for a minute, you know.

Anthony Codispoti (10:04.137)
And so what was it that kind of got you back on a better track? Was it going to the University of Illinois? Was it going back to college?

Eric Roy (10:10.425)
Well, that was part of it. And then, so I had my son at 18, then I had the one that said JP Morgan, then I had my oldest daughter at 20. And that’s the one that went to Ohio State. So I was a young father, just like my father was. And so that was part of it, having my children. And then I was able to get away and go to U of I and kind of like…

Meet some different friends also. I kind of give myself a little space. But you know, you and I, you know, that’s two hours from Chicago. So I found that that still wasn’t enough space. So my son, because you know, everybody, you know, you’re in Champaign, but it’s kind of like an extension of Chicago, you know. Really good school. But I mean, so, you know, so I still wasn’t all the way, because I would still come back home a lot. You know what I mean?

But just growing up and maturing, you know what I mean? Had a couple near death type of incidents, you know what I mean? I got robbed and a couple of things happened that really kind of like forced me to.

sit back and kind of like really, really think and see, you know, how did I get to this point? You know, because everything was going perfectly, wasn’t doing too well in school. And just through that reflecting and just maturing and having my children, I came back home to Chicago for a minute and left U of I, and then ultimately was able to go back and instead of being in, because my mother, she was a nurse. So she wanted me to be a doctor. So she always pushed me, you know, to be a doctor, be a doctor. And I felt like,

Sounds cool. You know, I was good in math like science. So I you know, I so I originally went to the U of I for chemistry and then you have I dropped out I when I went back I had changed my whole major to accounting So I had to go like an addition. I’d already been there like three years I had to go an additional three years to get the accounting degree So, you know, you know all of that just kind of like mixed up together and I had to go back to when when the incident happened

Eric Roy (12:18.265)
to really understand where I need to go, just to understand what set me on that tangent.

Anthony Codispoti (12:25.864)
So it wasn’t one near -death experience, it was a couple of them, and then sort of a slow evolution, a slow burn from there that kind of had you take stock of your life. And hey, how did I get on this path, and where do I want to be?

Eric Roy (12:36.793)

Eric Roy (12:40.665)
Yeah, it was a one was a car accident. We went to visit one of my friends at Lewis University and you know, we were driving back me and a couple of these same, you know, guys we were hanging with and you know, we goofing off and everything. We’re an expressway. One of the guys from the backseat jumped and grabbed the steering wheel and like just turned us into the median. So, you know, that was that was one thing. And then I then I got robbed at gunpoint and that was another. So, you know, those those those two things really kind of like.

You know, you start to think about stuff, right? You gotta sit down and kind of like, okay, this isn’t working. It’s time to do something new. And I was always smart enough to be able to step outside myself and kind of see what I was doing. You know what I mean? And just so I can change, you know.

Anthony Codispoti (13:23.911)
And so you went on to become a tax accountant, you graduated from school, became a tax accountant, you kind of moved up the ranks of a couple different companies there as a tax accountant. What was the path, what was the bridge from being a tax accountant to now I think I want to start a chain of seafood stores. Talk to me about that evolution.

Eric Roy (13:29.017)
Mm -hmm.

Eric Roy (13:42.169)
So that’s a long, well, it’s not a long story. So I became a tax accountant. I was one of my first good jobs. I was a staff accountant for a couple of years. And then I eventually was hired as a corporate income tax auditor for the Florida Department of Revenue. So I worked at the Chicago Service Center. So what we did was we audited companies in the Midwest that did business in Florida. So I was there for about, I went for about almost five years.

But while I was there, there was a friend of mine who had a restaurant, a Chicago restaurant that used to be about 15 or 16 locations before he bought it. But at one point he bought it. So when he bought that, and I was still keeping in contact with him. I was working for the Department of Revenue and he was doing really well. So I was always a serial entrepreneur. So I always had that in my mind, like, maybe I’ll bring that back to the West side one day. But at the same time, I was working for the Florida.

So I would fly out to Tallahassee and do a lot of training. And my wife, you know, I beat out there for two weeks at a time. My wife would come with me. So while we were there, we, you know, we were both big foodies. So we would go to the different restaurants there and we liked how they were doing it. They had like a different types of style, but they had like a few different seafoods. And then you can have it fried. You can have it grilled. You can have it blackened. You can have it steamed. And, and just to add to what we were saying earlier, like, so, so we’re, so one thing we do different as

We don’t only fry everything. So a lot of our stuff can be grilled or blackened also, you know, so we, so, and we kind of like got that from, from them, you know what I mean? So my friend, he had a seafood restaurant. So originally I was gonna bring his, I was gonna license his store and bring it back to, to on the West side. Cause they had gone from like 14, 15 locations in the eighties down to one location where my friend bought it. So I was gonna bring that back over, you know, back over to the area where I was from.

And you know, and halfway through the conversation, you know, my friend, you know, we kind of wasn’t seeing eye to eye. So I just decided to, and I’d already leased a store. I bought equipment, talked to my wife about it. And then we both just decided, you know, let’s just do our own thing. And go ahead, I’m sorry.

Anthony Codispoti (15:57.926)
So his concept was sort of the inspiration for you. It kind of gave you the idea, the fuel for the fire. But to go from the idea to starting a restaurant on your own with, from what I’m understanding, no previous restaurant experience, that’s a bit of a leap.

Eric Roy (16:15.865)
Right, right. Yeah, it was a huge leap. And look, and at the time, I didn’t realize how much of a leap it was, right? So now 12 years later, I see it was a huge leap. And how that happened was, so I decided with no experience, I trained at his restaurant, maybe at…

two or three days. And then I went shopping with them once or twice. I mean, and that was it. So when it was time for us to open, so we decided to come up with a name and everything. When it was to get close to time for us to open, I knew that I had to hire someone that really was experienced in, you know, startups and things like that. So we posted a couple of ads looking for employees. I found a guy, Todd.

guy named Todd Jagow that wound up being like a godsend. I mean, you know, you’re looking at interviewing people and, you know, even before the interview, he basically sent me a menu. He sent me some sauces and, you know, a couple of recipes. So he was really on top of it. And so we wound up hiring him. And then we wound up in the crazy part. So we opened January 20th, 2012. We opened on a Friday.

The crazy part is that it was a blizzard. It wind up being a blizzard. You know, we’re in Chicago. So it literally wind up being a blizzard, but we wind up doing really well. You know, this was our first grand opening. We wind up doing really well. Todd was doing really well. I had…

Couple people that I knew, couple of young guys that I was kind of like mentoring, that I kind of brought in there. So I had them working. Of course, when you first start off, you got everybody working. This was something I didn’t know then, right? Then you look at your first couple of payrolls, like, wow. So it started off and it took off really, I mean, it took off awesome, man. It couldn’t have been better. And now the crazy part is, so when you’re first, you’re new to the restaurant business, you’re about to open.

Eric Roy (18:10.745)
people aren’t gonna want to rent you a space. You know, you’re brand new, they know the restaurant business is risky, they’re not gonna want to take a chance on you. So the location that I found was on the side of a Menards. Menards is like a home depot, like a large home depot store. It was a little small place on the side of Menards. It used to be, I mean, it was a few things over the years, but it hadn’t been used in over 10 years.

So, you know, I had to come in there and clean it up. And, you know, so that’s but let’s see what I didn’t know is I was learning a lot about the process. This was my first store, but I was learning about the process. And this was in the west suburb of Hillside. So it’s a pretty strict suburb. So, you know, they were going to you were going to go by the laws. We had to eventually install fire alarm sprinkler systems. You know, we had to do a lot. So this was my first kind of like learn event.

So I did all of this right. My wife helped me financially. I took out money from, you know, from me working at the Department of Revenue and my mother helped me. So we came up probably about 70, 80, 80 grand. Opened this location. It was crazy. January 20th, everything’s going great. In September of the same year,

Menards posted an ad in the local paper saying after 20 years of business in this location, we’re closing our doors. So, you know, I mean, and this place used to be like the hillside mall, but it had been broken down to Menards and this little small spot really was just an extension of Menards and that’s it. And there’s like a Carmex like way down on another lot. So of course, with Menards leaving, you know, we’re not gonna survive. We have to leave. I mean, the parking lot was for like,

Anthony Codispoti (19:30.019)

Eric Roy (19:53.625)
2 ,000 spaces, you know what I mean? So, so that was like our first.

Anthony Codispoti (19:56.771)
You got a lot of your foot traffic from Menards with them shutting their doors.

Eric Roy (20:00.697)
That as well, but not only that, when Menard’s left, it was a 2000 space parking lot. The whole place was dark. You know what I mean? And not only that, the landlord, the property taxes that they had to pay for the space was, you know, 10 times what our rent was. So there was nothing we could do. So originally, they were going to give us a relocation money.

to relocate because they know that it wasn’t nothing that we did. So they wanted us to itemize everything that we spent and everything. So we did that. They wind up just playing a waiting game with us because they knew without Benares being there and being dark and it kind of looks kind of desolate. You got one little small spot. And so they knew. So we played a waiting game with them. And we eventually they didn’t give us any relocation money, but we eventually had to leave. So that was my first like.

Anthony Codispoti (20:51.459)

Eric Roy (20:52.569)
huge challenge, you know, in the restaurant business. That was in the first, that was in the, man, in the first year. So all the money that we had put into it, everything pretty much gone. So, so after that, so, you know, I was, I was a little down, you know, this is like November’s that, that, that same year, 2012, a little down. So I’m like, okay, well, you know, I’m going back to the, to the accountant game, right? So I applied to a few jobs. I get a few interviews, you know, over the next few months.

Anthony Codispoti (20:54.659)
And that was in the first year. That was just several months after you’ve opened. Okay.

Eric Roy (21:21.049)
and don’t get any other jobs. But so that same 2012, that Christmas, we’re doing like a family gathering type deal. You know how everybody gets together for Christmas. And we’re all hanging out with my cousins and everything. And one of my cousins, he was like, boo, you know you gotta keep going, don’t you? And I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I’m like, what do you mean? He was like, that’s how that type of thing go. He like, you open up your first store.

it might close, it might blow up. Then he said, then you regroup, open up another one. And then he said, that one might close. You regroup, open up another one again. And then he was like, and then after you do that for about six or seven years, people start to know you. People start, you started to be known for it. And then I thought about it and I’m like, it made a lot of sense. So if I would have gotten a job during that little dark period from like November to March or April,

I probably wouldn’t be sitting there talking to you about this restaurant business. But so I was still looking for a job, didn’t get the ones that I interviewed for. My wife, you know, because she knew she runs a hair salon, so she’s doing her thing, but I’m at home, you know, twiddling my thumbs. So she’s constantly looking for places. So and she’s always been good at this, man. She found a place which is really not too far from where we live on the west side of the city, just east of Oak Park, you know, pretty decent area.

And the landlord’s really fair. So she passed. So and this was like a straight up God’s sin. So the landlord, they wanted at the time, this was 2013, they wanted $2 ,500 a month for the rent.

So they wanted two months security deposit and the first month rent. So that would have been $7 ,500. Now also, this was a location that had been abandoned by someone else six months before. So the two owners, they really wasn’t in a restaurant business. They had tried a restaurant before when they bought the building. Didn’t want to have anything to do with it. They really was trying to sell us the building, but we couldn’t afford it at the time.

Eric Roy (23:20.569)
So they was like, you know, all the equipment that’s here, because the last people abandoned it. They said all the equipment that’s here, you can have it, do whatever you want to do with it, throw it away. So I still had some equipment from the hillside location. So 7 ,500 was kind of steep. So I convinced them, the landlords, let me give you the $5 ,000 security deposit and let me get a month or two to clean the place up and get it right. And then I’ll give you the 2 ,500 first month rent on the first day when we open.

And then, you know, and they was like, okay, cool. So, so I was able to scrap up five grand. My wife and I from family, you know, we was able to kind of like just scrap that up and got the five grand, signed the lease. Once we signed the lease and got the keys, we still had some equipment from the prior location. So we brought our stuff from the prior location. And then, and what we didn’t know at the beginning, we found out in the backyard of the new location, there was a container, like the back of a truck, like a container.

You know, we had the keys to that. Exactly. We open that up and this thing is filled with restaurant equipment. I mean, like garbage equipment, though, like garbage stuff broken up. You know, I mean, pretty much garbage equipment.

Anthony Codispoti (24:19.265)
Like a shipping container.

Anthony Codispoti (24:30.625)
Nothing usable.

Eric Roy (24:32.697)
Well, it was maybe one of two things I was using, but we didn’t need it anyway. But what we were able to do was take this equipment. Now at the same time, I had a cousin and our cousin, he did a lot of recycling. You know, that’s what his job was. He had like a recycling company. So he would do like trash outs for the banks for foreclosed houses. Cause you know, the whole foreclosure thing was still going on. So.

He was able to take some of the restaurant equipment and everything and take it and scrap that. And then we sold some stuff, scrapped some stuff. And so we wound up, from that restaurant equipment and signing this lease, we wound up coming up with close to 10 ,000. So we took this 10 ,000 and now we bought our signage and painted the place.

and started to, you know, and started to build it up. So the moral of the story is I was actually able to, I was able to make money by going into this location. I made it $5 ,000 and I used all of that. So, you know, cause I pulled the five from family, signed a lease, was able to get 10 from selling all the scrap metal and everything and the scrap equipment, and then was able to trade a couple of things with a few restaurant equipment company and was able to find, so I wound up, I wound up on the top, just really off of nothing. And then we,

opened this store in 2013 around Memorial Day. And it kind of like went gangbusting from the start. It’s like everything’s going great, but still some challenges ahead. So we was there for about, we was there for a full year, got to about a year and a half. And so the following year, 2014, because just like I said, everything was going great, we had a friend that had already inquired about, you know,

maybe opening up one of the same thing. And then at the same time, my sister’s fiance, he was really interested in it, you know, because he has been at the one on the hillside. You know, people are just watching you. You know, sometimes people are watching you, you don’t even know it. And so they were both interested. And so I’d already told my sister and her fiance, and they decided to do one. So now I’m on the west side of Chicago. Her fiance is from the South Shore area, which is on the south side. So they went, so basically in 2014,

Eric Roy (26:40.953)
He opened one August 1st on the South side, my sister’s fiance, and then a good friend of ours, he opened one in Maywood, which is another West suburb. So now 2014, we had three locations. So in this… Well, they were like, they were kind of like, well, they were licensees basically at the beginning because we hadn’t registered to sell franchises. So my sister, you know, they said I was like a fam -chise because, you know, that was my sister and my fiance. That’s basically her spot.

Anthony Codispoti (26:53.759)
And were these franchises or were these like your partners in them?

Anthony Codispoti (27:08.127)

Eric Roy (27:09.593)
That was her spot. So, you know, she wasn’t giving me anything. But my friend, my other friend, he was actually giving me a basic, you know, like a little royalty fee. And so then we had the three stores. So and I’m still running it. But, you know, now, so I still didn’t know a whole lot about the restaurant business. I’m still learning. So, you know, food costs like just the unit economics weren’t all the way there. So, I mean, anybody that’s in a restaurant business, no.

The margins are really small. So if you’re running, I mean, you could do a million dollars a year. And if you have those numbers off a little bit, I mean, you’ll be spending a million too. You know what I mean? So, but the moral of the story is that, so things were still a little tough. You know what I mean? For my wife and I, with her doing her thing as a business woman with the beauty salon, and then me doing my thing now with the restaurant. So the opportunity costs became too much. So, and I, you know, and I like the licensing thing. So I was looking at,

Eventually start franchising. So also in 2014 I applied for the trademark for surf sub with the USPTO Because I wanted to do the franchising but so what I wound up doing I wind up the location that I was in I wind up selling that location to another person that wanted to You know get involved in service up. So he came in this person had a lot more money than I did So I sold it to him

And I was going to go back to work as an accountant because the opportunity cost was too much. You know, I’m doing, you know, 90 grand as an accountant and, you know, and, but I’m just not really clearing 90 grand running the restaurant. So I sold the store to him. but he was supposed to be, it was supposed to be a surf sub franchise, but he remodeled it. And after he remodeled it, he decided to call it something else. It didn’t really make me any difference, but I still have the other two stores. So at that time I went back to work as an accountant.

About a year later, I got an office action letter from the USPTO saying that I couldn’t get the trademark. So I’m like, wow, because I really had my heart set on the franchise. At the time, my sister’s restaurant was going and our friend’s restaurant was going, but I was back there working as an accountant at USA. And I was there for a while, but that gave me some time to kind of recoup.

Eric Roy (29:22.841)
bill my credit back up, you know what I mean? Catch up on some bills. I was back doing that for about three, almost four years. Yeah, about four years. So they told me I couldn’t get the trademark. And I didn’t have the money to really, and I felt I was a smart guy. So I did my little research and it was a company in Virginia Beach that does shaved ice and their name was Surf’s Up.

But I did my homework on the USPTO. I did my research and everything. And I saw that they were class 35, which was shaved ice confectionaries. And my class was class 43, which was restaurant services. So I appealed to the USPTO and I added that in there. And I’m just going about my business. I would still help my friend and I would help my sister. And I was very involved in their stores also. So we would have meetings and stuff. And I was staying on top of it.

And in 2017, like, toward mid to late 2017, I found out that I was going to get awarded the trademark. You know, I found out they were going to publish me in the official Gazette. And if there was no objection in 30 days, then I would get the trademark registered. So when that happened, that kind of like burned a fire up under me.

And, and that, you know, so I’m like, now, okay, I’m about to get this trademark. I can get my franchise. I can do good back to what I was doing. And, so, you know, me and my wife, we back, we’re back on top of it. The next year, my wife, just like I said, she was good at this, found another location, which was right by a house in Oak Park. So we live in Oak Park, which is the first West suburb off of the city. So it’s a walking distance to city limits.

So we opened, so this was gonna be our pilot location. We were gonna use it to sell franchises and everything. So April 20 of 2018, we opened the store in Oak Park. So now, and this place, I mean, the grand opening just went crazy. I mean, we had it decorated. We were able to get it looking really nice before it was open. So I mean, it just went crazy. I mean, straight from the beginning, went really well. So now I had three stores.

Eric Roy (31:32.985)
And so fast forward to 2018, we were just doing our thing. Towards the end of 2018, we were featured on a TV show in Chicago on WGN called Chicago’s Best. So Chicago’s Best was a really, really popular show to end. It’s not out anymore, but they had like a 10 year run, but it was really popular then. They featured on Chicago’s Best, so things were just getting better and better. So 2019,

We licensed two more locations, one in Romeoville and one in Bronzeville. So we licensed two more locations. Right. Still doing license. So this is 2019. So when we licensed these two, plus we had the other three, now we were able to, because I left my, by this time I left my job at US Seller, but now we were able to, because you know, franchising costs a lot of money, right? So I mean like FDDs, franchise agreements, registrations, operations manual. I mean, this stuff is,

Anthony Codispoti (32:05.213)
You’re still doing licenses at this point. Okay.

Eric Roy (32:30.265)
100 grand easily. So, you know, so that’s why we were pretty much licensing because we really couldn’t afford 100 grand to put towards franchise. So by this time, 2019, we had made the money to, you know, through franchise, I mean, license fees and things like that. We had had enough money and I had been working at US Sailor, the new restaurant was going well. We had enough money to start the process. So, you know, we started the process piece by piece. We did,

You know, did the ops manual, we were working on that. We had to do the FDDs, franchise agreement, then the registrations. So in the 2019, we sold an additional seven stores. And this was just my wife and I, you know, we didn’t have any sales organization or anything. So, but see, during 2019, when we did these grand openings, we were, you know, internet, social media was getting kind of popular.

Anthony Codispoti (33:07.868)
Wow, that happened fast.

Eric Roy (33:21.977)
So we were putting this stuff on social media. I mean, and everybody was seeing it. Everybody wanted to be involved. So we did two stores in 2019. We sold seven, seven additional stores other than the two that we opened. So we had five. Then 2020, we know the pandemic hit. So at the time the pandemic hit, yeah, I mean, it was crazy because, you know, I had to, well, we, we, I basically made an executive decision. We were going to continue to stay open. We went from having the dine in to no dine in.

Anthony Codispoti (33:38.876)

Eric Roy (33:50.201)
We actually wound up really excelling in that sense, but we had seven stores that were under development that we hadn’t opened yet, hadn’t found locations or anything. So that proved to be good for some of our new people because they were able to get favorable lease deals. You know, like our highest grossing store is our Aurora store. They did 1 .3 million last year. But I mean, they have a really, really favorable lease.

because they signed it in like April of 2020. You know, exactly, because people, they really didn’t know what was going to happen. So, but the one thing that hurt us was, well, I guess it kind of hurt us, but we learned from it. So we weren’t able to do the grand openings anymore, you know, because you got to be six feet apart. So that’s when we started doing kind of soft openings. We started doing soft openings and kind of like gradually opening. So we gradually opened all those seven stores.

Anthony Codispoti (34:23.099)
But nobody wanted these leases, right? So.

Eric Roy (34:48.921)
I mean, and it took time, right? So I put an end to the franchise because I was trying to get those stores open and also go into support mode for just our whole group of stores that we had. I felt like I didn’t, I couldn’t add any more onto that at the time. So I focused on that and we did that for a few years. So, you know, and then a lot of stuff started coming from the pandemic, you know, started getting the…

third party apps and stuff started getting real big. And then the, then the technologies came in and now it’s a big AI thing. So they started throwing curve balls at me all, all type of ways. So I’m, you know, I’m constantly trying to adapt and even up to this day, you know, we’re, we’re still adapting, but as a result of some of the, and I was still learning myself as well, right? So a couple of locations we got wasn’t the best location. You know, a couple of them wind up being great locations. It’s like the one that did the 1 .3 million.

But like, for instance, my guy that had the original one location that wasn’t my sister, he had already been in business a while. So he talked to a shopping mall. They were giving him favorable rent, tenant improvement and everything. But the person that owned that shopping mall owned three other shopping malls. So, you know, he felt like he can do all three of those. And they were going to give him tenant improvement for all of it. But to make a long story short, we ultimately had to close those stores.

We had to close those and then we had two ghost kitchens, two ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens that we had, one in the South Loop area and one in Avondale area in the city. Did really well.

Anthony Codispoti (36:23.419)
And explain what a cloud kitchen is for people who don’t know Eric.

Eric Roy (36:27.065)
Okay, so a cloud kitchen is like a huge warehouse where they have like 30 to 40, 200 to 400 square feet kitchens. And they all operate off, so the thing is you pay them one fee and then you pay like, well at that time you paid a fee for the runners to come and get the food and bring it to the front.

And then other than that, they would handle the garbage. You know, they had refrigeration space, they had freezer space. They would have the towel service, the aprons, but you paid them, you know, maybe four or five grand a month and that was it. So you didn’t have the utilities and none of the other stuff that comes with a restaurant. But the down part, the downside to that is that it was all third party apps, all third party delivery apps. So if you don’t really know how to navigate those third party delivery apps correctly,

I mean, that can really get you in a funny situation because although it looks attractive, but you know, if you’re paying 30 % here and you know, so it wasn’t as attractive invention that we found to know that it wasn’t as good as we thought it was. So we ended up closing those three and the three mall stores and the two cloud kitchens, which brought us back to the seven stores. And then we recently got a store that we just opened.

in Forest Park that’s kind of like with the bar and everything that we’re working on now. And that kind of like brought us to this point now.

Anthony Codispoti (37:47.355)
So thanks for sharing that story, Eric, because there’s so many twists and turns that I think really highlights your resiliency, how adaptive you are, the scrappiness. And I really appreciate you sharing a lot of those ups and downs, because I think people who would just come and see you now and see Eric Roy, he’s got eight locations, like, well, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s got it figured out. Like, he was probably just.

Eric Roy (37:49.977)

Eric Roy (38:04.793)
Yeah, it’s serious.

Anthony Codispoti (38:14.811)
born this way, was born to lead, born to do this. And a lot of people wouldn’t have known this challenging path that you took to get here. All of the pivots that you had to make along the way, the number of times that you either gave up or were close to giving up, thought you were walking away, went back to work in another industry, had to sell scrap metal out of the back of the trailer so you could fund the…

Eric Roy (38:24.537)
Right. Right. Right.

Eric Roy (38:36.633)

Eric Roy (38:40.313)
It was serious. It was serious.

Anthony Codispoti (38:43.547)
the renovation, you know, it’s a really impressive story. So here’s where we are now, you’ve got eight locations, you’ve got the franchise documents in place, the franchise opportunity is available to folks. What does the franchise opportunity look like? What geographies are you looking for? Talk to us about that.

Eric Roy (38:48.025)
Yeah, it was serious.

Eric Roy (38:55.289)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Right, right, right.

Okay, so the only geography that we’re not looking for is the Chicago area. You know, because I feel like we have eight locations here, and anything that we do here is probably going to be myself or my family. I’m working on a couple things with the airports, trying to get into O ‘Hare Airport, and also working on some of the arenas in Chicago, trying to get into, like, United Center, Soldier Field, things of that nature. So all territories are available.

Of course, we’re looking at, well, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, California, because we’re trying to, we’re looking at, we might have something going on in Wilmington, Delaware. It’s like a beach type area over there. Because, you know, of course, by the name being surfs up, we’re trying to, of course, hit the surf, the places where you’re on the coast. We’re trying to be about a war to, even though it’s funny how I started here in Chicago where, you know, we got the lake here, but.

not a whole lot of surfing. Although some people do surf, now I’ve seen people with like the big boards, like I think they like boogie boards or something. You know, I don’t know, but yeah, but they look like big surf boards. So, you know, they have people that, so they’re doing, and you have some people that surf out here in the winter time, you know, I don’t know.

Anthony Codispoti (40:06.715)
thick paddleboards.

Eric Roy (40:16.729)
how they manage to do it, but you have some people that get in a wetsuit and actually do it. So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for really trying to focus on multi -unit restaurant operators. You know what I mean? But you know, of course, a great candidate. We’re gonna kind of like really do our due diligence and try to get really good people to work with. But we’re focusing on multi -unit operators.

I think we’re looking for a liquid 250 ,000, a net worth of about 750 ,000. I’m trying to think what else. I mean…

Anthony Codispoti (40:50.459)
What about the personality type? What kind of a person are you looking to work with as a franchisee?

Eric Roy (40:55.385)
So, hopefully looking for leaders. I’m looking for people that has restaurant business experience. Hopefully, if not, definitely have business experience. And I’m looking for people that’s sure of themselves. You know what I mean? I don’t really want anybody, you know, I don’t want to convince a person to buy a franchise that’s on the fence. You know what I mean? I want them to, because if he’s on the fence, then that’s an indication that he may not do so well, you know.

And I want somebody that understands that this is a franchise and there’s a way of doing things. You know what I mean? You can’t just go and just switch up and just change the menu or do this. Understand that it’s a group team and it’s a group effort. Somebody that understands the whole thing. You go far, you go together, you go alone, you go…

When he said you go fast, you go alone. You want to go far, you go together. Somebody that kind of understands that concept. I want to be a part of a franchise. You know, in the past, we’ve had people that come on and during what they call like the honeymoon period, it’s like…

Anthony Codispoti (41:48.475)
All right.

Eric Roy (41:59.413)
yeah, we’re going to do everything correct, man. Cause they see us doing well. Like I see you guys doing, man, we want to do everything exact. And then they open and then, and then right after that, you know, they said, you know, they like them, their mother’s greens better than the recipe of greens that we have, you know, things, things like things like that. You know what I mean? It was things that you have to work through. but you know, us, us doing this for a while and we’ve been able to kind of really learn, from.

You know, just from, you know, there were times that we didn’t get the, like I was telling you earlier, that we didn’t get the best real estate. It was times that we really didn’t get the best franchisee. It was times that we brought people into the business that really didn’t have enough capital to successfully do it. You know what I mean? Now we’ve had hit or misses with that also because the downside to it is I was.

kind of teaching people to do it the way I did it. And you heard my story, so you know I bootstrapped it. And I was showing people how to do it, people that otherwise would have never had an opportunity to open a restaurant. You know what I mean? It seems like this big giant that’s unattainable, but I learned that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I mean, I’ve seen places that wasn’t doing well.

And you can go in there and talk to them and be like, man, let me come in and partner with you or let me take over the operation and switch the name and everything. So there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And just going into these second generation spaces where it’s not gonna cost you a whole lot of money. But sometimes those second generation spaces are second generation just because of that, because they didn’t bring in enough revenue to keep going successfully.

Anthony Codispoti (43:37.883)
So generally when somebody is considering a new franchise that they want to purchase, they’re looking at multiple opportunities. What’s the benefit of Surf’s Up? What do they get with Surf’s Up that they may not be getting somewhere else?

Eric Roy (43:45.913)
Mm -hmm.

Eric Roy (43:52.825)
Okay, so one of the things I think you get a benefit when you give a service up is that, so you heard my story. So you heard, know the story of resilience. And, you know, I’m not the most established franchise out there, right? Because, you know, just like you said, you have a lot of options. So for one thing, we can do it for less money. You know, the obvious, we can do it for less money. But we’ve been in the game for 12 years, which is really good. But also, so this is what I had mentioned in the last few years.

I’ve, you know, last few years, I started to go a lot of conferences, really started to hone my skills and do a lot of networking. So I’ve basically, while doing that, I’ve gained a network of advisors and mentors.

of like real industry veterans that are supporting me 100%, you know, that have done it before, you know what I mean? And that’s really been like, really been crucial in our growth from going to where we were before the pandemic, when we, you know, just was franchising, just doing our own thing to actually go into these conferences, learning from others, meeting with others, networking with others. So that really brings, you know, and it brings credibility for one, but also, you know, it takes a village to actually do this and to do this correctly.

And, you know, I borrowed that from one of my somewhat mentors, but he helps me a lot. Advisor Sam Stanovic, he’s one of the senior VPs up at Big Chicken at Shack’s brand. So I borrowed that little tag from him, but it really does take a village, man. And, you know, I did this thing about seven years, kind of like just bumping my head.

my wife and I just own our own. And then at that point, I saw how it really had legs and it could really grow as far as, you know, you can do 500 stores one day. I knew I needed to get some help. So I started to do a lot of networking and everything. And then also I’m just, I’m a genuine person. And I go on genuine person, that’s one. And what I think is really important is that there’s not a lot of big guys when it comes to seafood. You see what’s happening to red lobster.

Eric Roy (45:53.049)
Something similar is happening in Long John Silver. Something similar has happened with Long John Silver. I don’t know about Bankruptcy or anything, but I know they’ve closed like, you know, hundreds of stores. I know Captain D’s, they’re not in Chicago. They’re like Southeast, Southeast, but they’re doing, I think they’re doing pretty good. But there’s really, it’s a lot of room. You know what I mean? It’s a lot of room for someone to come in and kind of like sneak in. And one minute, you know, one minute you don’t see me, and you know, now minute, now you see me everywhere, you know, you know. And I think it’s a huge opportunity.

Anthony Codispoti (45:53.878)
File bankruptcy.

Anthony Codispoti (46:02.038)

Eric Roy (46:23.129)
And you know, we’re doing it a little different than how it’s been done. You know, no disrespect to Long John Silver. I love them. But one of the things we did different, we have three proprietary seasoning blends. One for our shellfish, and this is for the fry stuff. One for our shellfish, one for the wings, and then we have one for our regular fish. And the reason we did that, we have three different distinct tastes. That’s like I said, no disrespect to Long John Silver.

I used to love Lone John Silver, but then as you get older, you realize everything tastes the same. The shrimp, the cod, whatever you got, it all tastes the same because it’s all like the same batter. And I didn’t want that for service up. And then I wanted to make sure we had proprietary blends. So we have a flavor that you can’t, I’m sure somebody can recreate it at some point, but it’s not like a typical flavor. We’re not just going to the grocery store and buying a bag of seasoned flour and throwing it on there. When we first started,

Just to show you our evolution, we first started, we were doing all of our sauces in -house. We were making like all of our, we have a remoulade sauce, hot and spicy, honey garlic, pineapple soy, our tartar sauce, our cocktail sauce, because we thought to be authentic and make all the stuff in -house, it was gonna be better. And it was, and I mean, the flavor was great, everything, but as we started to scale and started to add additional stores,

I saw that it was becoming like overwhelming to when we were training some of these new franchisees because they’re making all these sauces. And then we started, okay, so cocktail and tartar, we can buy that. You know what I mean? So we started to kind of make it easier for our new operators and also for our new operator staff. We started off with manual deep fryers where you gotta, and if you know anything about the, if anybody in the audience knows anything about.

manual deep fryers, you have to filter those fryers maybe once, sometimes even twice a day and change the oil. That’s a dangerous job and it’s a labor intensive job. So as we grew and evolve, we started getting the the Henny Penny fryers that you know that filter themselves. That you know that kind of like takes a lot of the stress off the employees back, you know, try to make it easier. We took a couple things off the menu things like.

Eric Roy (48:41.849)
we would have shrimp and grits. They would be great at the corporate store, but then at the other store, they wasn’t tasting exactly the same. So, you know, just really making it as simple and scalable as possible so that, you know, basically anybody in there can almost run any position in there.

Anthony Codispoti (48:56.629)
You guys have experimented with a lot of different things. You found what’s worked. You’ve moved away from things that were too labor -intensive, too challenging, too difficult, and you found smoother, easier, faster, more efficient ways to do them. Eric, you mentioned some of the unique flavors that you guys have developed, and that’s a big differentiator from some of the other seafood experiences out there. Let’s talk a little bit more about the customer experience. What are some other things that a customer notices when they come into…

Eric Roy (49:03.449)
for me.

Eric Roy (49:08.537)
Right, right.

Eric Roy (49:21.849)
Mm -hmm.

Anthony Codispoti (49:25.076)
a search up establishment. What’s their ambiance? What’s their experience like?

Eric Roy (49:30.233)
So I think what, and I say it, one thing that I’m really big on this man is that we’re really inclusive. You know what I mean? To everyone. I mean, we have, you know, we have every now and then we’ll have like a karaoke at one of the stores. I mean, if you look at the audience, I mean, you have people from all backgrounds, but everybody, you know, feeling good, good, you know, good, good, good spirited, good mood people.

I mean, it’s a place of inclusion. So, you know, you’re going to feel comfortable no matter who you are. And, you know, we really try to pick people that as far as our staff, especially like the front of the house people that is really customer facing. We really try to pick people that’s going to do exactly that. And we’re serious about that. I mean, if you look at our reviews, you know, on Google, Yelp, that’s going to reflect that.

It’s going to reflect that. I mean, and that’s one thing. And then you’re going to smell the aroma when you come in there. I mean, you’re going to smell the food. It’s going to make you hungry when you come in. Even when you’re out on the outside sometimes, you got the hood blowing and everything, you’re going to smell it. So, you know, you’re going to smell the food and you’re going to have some good music. Not crazy. Wow. You know, no, nothing offensive. You know, you’re going to have some good music, not super, not loud like that at a nice tone.

people are gonna be having conversations, you’re gonna have some community activists, you’re gonna have people from all walks of life. You might have a guy in a suit sitting there on his laptop. I mean, it’s just a really, really, really good experience. I mean, I’ve sat there with one of the guys, he was Barack Obama’s doctor and another politician. I sat there and talked to them and they just really love it. They love it, they love the vibe that’s there.

But you know, you got people from all walks of life that come in. And we treat everybody equally, and we treat everybody fairly.

Anthony Codispoti (51:20.595)
I like that. Eric, are there specific mentors or books that have been particularly helpful to you in your career path?

Eric Roy (51:29.337)
Yeah, so one book my mother, she always makes me read, because it’s tough being an entrepreneur and sticking to it, is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Glitwell. Yeah, so she always, because you know, and that talks about how like the hush puppies and how everything, things can, you can struggle until all of a sudden.

Anthony Codispoti (51:41.587)
Love that book.

Eric Roy (51:50.809)
It tips, you know, like, you know, now it’s like going viral or something. So that’s always, you know, talks about how, you know, when things are the worst, that’s when you should really start to, you know, get anxious and start to celebrate because you know something is coming. And, you know, just showing how, you know, you can be a week away from, you know, a phone call to change your life, you know, so you got to keep going. That, I say as far as books, Wristbed, Poor Dad, that kind of influenced me younger, in my younger times, because that, you know, kind of just showing how…

rather than being an accountant and just because you know, I saw a long time ago, you know, I could have kept my first accounting job and stay there and work there 30, 40 years and had a great life, you know, had a great life. But what I couldn’t do there is really create generational wealth where I would be able to, you know, eventually bring my family in and kind of like, and I couldn’t be an example.

of something for a lot of these people in the community that only don’t have those positive role models. You know, they see police, firemen, lawyers, and doctors. You know what I mean? In the hood, that’s all you really see for the most part, as far as powerful. Things are changing a lot now. But back in the day, that was it. So if you weren’t trying to be one of those things,

Lawyers, you’re going to see the lawyers because somebody in your family more than likely is going to prison. So you know something about that. Doctors, you know, you go to a doctor as a child. So that’s when you kind of like getting out of your comfort zone. You go to the doctor and then police and firemen, you know, which is, you know, all of those are great professions. But, you know, I was, you know, to able to someone to be able to say, you know, I want to be a businessman.

I want to be a restaurant owner and to be able to see someone that looks like you that did it and even to go farther and say, okay, this guy grew up where I grew up and that did it. And then of course I still got family in the area and I still go back. But for them to see that, I think that was, I’m really proud of that.

Anthony Codispoti (53:48.434)
I think you should be. Your story is a powerful example of resiliency. I think it’s terrific. Eric, I just have one more question for you. But before I do it, I want to ask, I want to do two things. If you’re listening today and you like today’s content, please hit the subscribe, like, or share button on your favorite podcast app. Eric, I also want to tell people, what’s the best way to get in touch with you? They’re listening to you, they like your story, maybe they’re interested in a franchise. How do they connect with you?

Eric Roy (53:52.665)
Thank you. Thank you, Matt.

Eric Roy (54:13.113)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can connect with me via email at ericroyjr at surfsupfranchising .com. So that’s ericroydjr at surfsupfranchising .com. You can go to our website, www .surfsupdivein .com. And we have a franchise page on there that you can kind of like link there. And you can also contact, we just did a launch call with the franchise consulting company.

Actually yesterday because we just relaunched our franchise program after going through the few years when I stopped We just relaunched this year and got updated FDDs and everything. So we’re ready to go We just launched with the franchise consultant company so you can also reach out to my consultant there Richard Morgan call him Rick Morgan and he’s a consultant at the franchise consultant company and he’s gonna be working with us with our franchise development and everything

Anthony Codispoti (55:05.937)
That’s terrific. Okay, Eric, last question for you. I’m curious, how do you see your business evolving in the next five years? What do you think some of the biggest changes that are coming?

Eric Roy (55:16.217)
well, so the tech, well, you know, now they got the whole AI thing, right? And there’s so much technology out there, you know what I mean? You gotta kind of like learn how to kind of wiggle your way through the technology. So as far as my business, as far as like the micro side, you know, surfs up, I see us growing in the next five years to a hundred locations. You know what I mean? Minimum. I see us expanding into different markets in the United States and possibly overseas as well. I’ve been talking to a guy out in Australia.

not too long ago, you know, so, and Canada. So I see us expanding into other markets, a hundred stores minimum in the next five years. But as far as the industry at a whole, I feel like the industry is still trying to recover from the pandemic. So I feel like it’s kind of like, kind of going to draw back. Cause you know, people have been kind of complaining about the pricing because of the inflation prices shot up. They’re talking about, you know, fast food, you know, is, is, is hired in casual dining now, you know, and you’ve got people like Applebee’s.

chilies that you know, you can actually go get a ten dollar meal deal at Applebee’s and sit down and eat and You know a Big Mac meal cost fifteen dollars, you know, so, you know, so I think it’s gonna be some Some correction in the industry, you know I think things went kind of crazy and still going kind of crazy a lot of stores closed a lot of big rest a lot of household names closing especially in Chicago, but I see you know, I see I see a correction in the industry, you know, so I swear I have

I’m really optimistic about the future of the food and beverage industry and the restaurant industry. I think there’s gonna be some great things happening, great expansion, great deals. I think there’s gonna be some newcomers that are gonna take the spots of like Red Lobster and Long John Silver and some of the big guys. So I got a pretty optimistic outlook.

Anthony Codispoti (57:06.065)
That’s terrific. Hey, Eric, I want to be the first one to thank you for sharing your story with us today. I really appreciate it.

Eric Roy (57:11.929)
Thanks, man. Thanks for bringing me on, Anthony. It helps me also, man, to kind of like get the story out and just to think about it and just to discuss it. You’d be surprised the amount of satisfaction you get from talking about your story and kind of putting it into perspective. So thank you. So thank you.

Anthony Codispoti (57:30.64)
Good, you’re welcome. It was a two -way street. I’m glad you enjoyed telling the story, because I enjoyed bringing it out of you. So it was mutually beneficial. Well, folks, that’s a wrap on another episode of the Inspired Stories podcast. Thanks for learning with us today.