Founders sell Slapfish interest to Mac Haik investment group

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The founders of the 22-unit Slaphfish fast-casual concept have sold their interest to investor Mac Haik Enterprises Ltd., chef Andrew Gruel confirmed Wednesday.

Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Slapfish, which Gruel launched in 2012, partnered in September 2019 with MH Slapfish Capital LLC, a restaurant division of Houston-based Mac Haik Enterprises. Haik’s restaurant group also included franchised First Watch units, opened as Egg & I, as well as a majority interest in The Original ChopShop and Bellagreen brands.

In addition to Haik’s investment in Slapfish’s parent company, the group had agreed to develop as many as 30 franchised units of the seafood-oriented concept in Texas and Arkansas. Those units were not opened.

Slapfish, founded from its roots as a food truck, currently has 22 units in 10 states. The location at 1800 M St. NW in the District of Columbia has permanently closed.

In a tweet July 3, Gruel said he and wife, Lauren, had sold their interest in Slapfish. “The plan was always to exit at 10 years and start all over again,” the tweet said, adding that plans were for “two new concepts hitting the market shortly.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Gruel said he would continue to operate his Big Parm Pizza in Tustin, Calif., and will be opening a new flex-casual-style Calico Fish House in a second-generation space on the Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, Calif., likely in September.

Calico will include a “full bar really leaning into the alcohol component” as well as sustainable local seafood, Gruel said, and he’ll be working on the 4,000- to 4,500-square-foot project over the next six months.

He also plans to expand Big Parm along with a plant-based Butterleaf brand and Two Birds, a chicken concept. The latter two now exist as virtual concepts, but Gruel said he envisions all four brands in an eventual food-hall type concept that he has planned.

Mac Haik Enterprises is owned by Mac Haik, a former wide receiver for the Houston Oilers, the National Football League team now known as the Tennessee Titans.

Gruel said the sale of his Slapfish interest was “amicable” and allowed him to focus on his other concepts.

“Something that I kind of leaned into through the pandemic is to create an opportunity where I can feed people as they need it,” he said, “whether that's free or at cost for situations where the economy takes a turn or there’s a crisis that occurs. I think it’s stitched into our mental DNA now to not know what’s next, so I wanted to build concepts where it’s value friendly.”

Slapfish is known for sourcing sustainable seafood, both farmed and wild, and its menu features a variety of tacos, lobster rolls, sandwiches, salads and bowls. The brand was honored in 2016 with a Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Trendsetter award. Gruel was on NRN’s Power List in 2017.