After over 20 years in the Air Force, I knew I wanted to spend my retirement in a laid-back beach environment. A Shuckin’ Shack franchise was the perfect opportunity to do so.

After enlisting in the Air Force in 1992, I held a long list of roles and responsibilities. I started in logistics as a supply technician then was picked up for the Air Force Honor Guard, so I was attending funerals and White House ceremonies. After that, I did seven years in recruiting, spent time with medical teams, then turned into a program manager.

It was at this point that I was picked up as a General’s aide. This role is essentially the household manager and personal chef. I was sent to culinary school through the Department of Defense, but I also went to the Culinary Institute of America. This was when I got my background in cooking.

Growing up, food had always been a part of my life, but it was burgers and hot dogs at family reunions. It wasn’t until I spent time in Germany and Turkey through the military that I got into the local culture and started getting excited about food. I still wasn’t trying to cook, though. Later, I spent some time in Texas and began to realize just how important food could be. There were guys getting up at 4 a.m. to get the brisket going for their Texas BBQ. That was when I really started enjoying food and going to different restaurants. 

This was all leading up to my time as a General’s aide. When I got picked up for that role, I didn’t even want to do culinary work in a professional sense — I was intimidated. While there are jobs in the Air Force that are based solely on your culinary skills, this role considered airmen and non-commissioned officers who were strong candidates all-around. They were looking at my track record and work ethic; the General needs to like everything about you and the way you work because it’s a really personal relationship.

I was chosen for this reason, and I committed to going to school. I started learning about pastries, sauces and techniques, and everything fell into place. I fell in love with my work, but after the General I was working for retired, I went into acquisitions (purchasing contracts) for a bit before I retired.

Around 2013, my wife and I were considering other options. She was working for the government, and I was working for the College of William and Mary managing hospitality-related tasks similar to what I was doing in the Air Force. But we knew we were getting closer to retirement, and we wanted to get to a location closer to the beach and have an opportunity that would allow us to really relax. 

We ended up coming across a Shuckin’ Shack ad. There was a photo of an oyster bar in it, and I could truly envision myself there in that photo. We were traveling a lot and had become foodies. We were getting into oysters, too. All it took was that one photo and the headline they had on the ad, and we were interested.


A Secret Getaway to Carolina Beach

We knew we wanted to experience the brand from all sides before starting the investment process. We planned a vacation to Carolina Beach with intentions to visit the local Shuckin’ Shack, but we didn’t reach out to the team before going. 

It was a secret shopper type of experience because we wanted to make sure we got a realistic view of what it would be like, and we fell in love with the brand. It was somewhere that we could hang out all day, and everything about the model just screamed, “We can do this.”

The more I researched the brand, the more confident I became. Jonathan Weathington, the CEO, was very supportive of having a veteran in the system. In addition to veterans’ overarching ability to follow systems, he recognized my history in hospitality, and he holds strong personal beliefs about the resiliency and grit of veterans. We’re able to adapt and overcome, and we’ve been trained to react flexibly, even in unexpected circumstances.

We ended up being the first veteran franchisee to sign on, and Jonathan made it very clear that he would be interested in our feedback and constructive criticism as the emerging system grew. He has said time and time again that veterans give and take feedback well and can make crucial contributions to both specific franchise systems and the overarching franchise industry. Hearing this — the value he saw in veterans and in me, specifically — only made me more confident. I was excited to take the next step.

I understood that, while franchises aren’t a guaranteed success, they are business models that have been vetted, and this can also make the borrowing process a bit easier. I got in touch with an approved vendor, and we opened our doors in 2015.

It’s been a great eight years. We’re one of the top-performing locations in the system, and we’ve built a team of reliable, high-caliber staff members. We’re coming up on the 10-year mark, and we’ll be more than happy to sign on for another 10. I just turned 50 this year, and I’m already receiving one pension from the military, so we’re excited to move forward with another chapter with Shuckin’ Shack as the brand grows. 

There are a lot of unknowns, but there are even more tools in place. We’re just doing our thing and enjoying what we do. I think a lot of our success can be attributed to my military background. I’m a good rule follower, but I’m also good at moving things around when I need to. I have a certain set of tools that I’ve developed, and those are applicable both in military contexts and beyond. 

Given the success I’ve seen with Shuckin’ Shack and the franchise model, I encourage brands to focus on military markets and veterans that are looking for their next step to take a look at franchising. Over the course of a military career, we prove that we have ourselves together. We’re honest, we’re reliable, we’re community-oriented, and we’re great entrepreneurs and operators.