Life of the Party
Dallas Business Journal – by Holli L. Estridge Staff Writer
For Cajun Crawfish Co. owner David Snell, life is one big party.
Snell’s live crawfish boil events, which he hosts from a mobile trailer in front of grocery stores, has helped propel his small-time catering operation into one that generates six-digit revenue.
He and a partner launched Cajun Crawfish on a paltry $10,000 in 1998, toting a used trailer to stores like Tom Thumb and Albertson’s throughout the Metroplex. Capitalizing on the party atmosphere has helped keep the Lewisville-based company in the black ever since.
A technical recruiter at the time, Snell considered the crawfish company to be a good source of residual income — a weekend gig. But even just as a side business, the company grossed $25,000 in its first year.
Encouraged, Snell posted a Web site and began negotiating deals with other local businesses. Grapevine-based Big Fish stepped up to provide side items for the crawfish boils, including jambalaya, red beans and rice and fried catfish. A Dallas Tom Thumb store offered cooler and freezer space for product storage. In exchange, Cajun Crawfish catered one of the store’s events free of charge.
“This helped us to avoid the overhead of having an actual brick and mortar building,” Snell said. “We’d just take our trailer, pick up our supplies and go out to our location.”
After several years at Tom Thumb, the caterer began sharing space with a drink machine company called Bourbon Street Drink Mix.
“Two months ago, we came together under the same roof, and it has been an absolute win-win,” Snell said. “Now people can come in, and we’re a one-stop shop.”
Besides serving as storage space for Cajun Crawfish’s products and equipment, the retail store provides a way for Snell to sell live crawfish and his company’s signature seasoning blend, plus rent out equipment for customers who want to do their own boil.
Snell also has expanded his services to provide event planning and continues to promote his new retail location to more than 1,000 customers who signed up for e-mail alerts.
One challenge from the start has been keeping the company afloat during the off months. Crawfish season in Louisiana can begin anywhere from November to January. It peaks in April and May and ends in late June.
To deal with the fluctuations, Snell expanded his offerings to include on-site Surf & Turf meals, with grilled steak and lobster for $40 per head. Next month, he plans to add Cajun fried turkeys, tur-duck-ens (chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey) and honey-glazed hams.
He’s also pursuing mass production of Cajun Crawfish’s seasoning mix, a spice blend the company spent more than two years developing.
Through all of these initiatives, Snell expects Cajun Crawfish to generate $400,000 in sales for 2007.
The crawfish boil segment is also an important segment for one of Cajun Crawfish’s Dallas-based competitors, TJ’s Market & Catering. TJ’s, an East Coast-style seafood market, does crawfish boils for private and corporate entertaining, in addition to dealing in fresh fish and gourmet foods.
“It’s an important profit center for us, but it usually depends on how good the crawfish season is,” said John Alexis, a company spokesman. “If it’s a season that starts early and ends late, it’s all the better.”
Alexis said much of TJ’s and Cajun Crawfish’s competition comes from fly-by-night vendors who do not have licenses or health code certifications.
According to Snell, a couple of his main competitors, though licensed, couldn’t make it through the off season.
“One of the best business decisions I made was buying Bayou Boys, another local company that was doing what I do,” Snell said. “They called and told me they were about to file for bankruptcy and asked if I wanted anything. I took over their entire business by just paying off their phone bill.”
Now Bayou Boys’ employees work for Cajun Crawfish.
In the future, Snell said he hopes to open up two restaurant locations in the Metroplex, akin to a Rockfish or Razzoo’s, with live music.
“In a couple of years, I might also be ripe for selling,” he said.
NAME: Cajun Crawfish Co.
BUSINESS: Catering and corporate events
HEADQUARTERS: 1671 Riverview Drive, Ste. 114, Lewisville 75056
TOP EXECUTIVE: David Snell, Owner
ANNUAL REVENUE: $200,000 (2006)
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