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Slapfish set to jump into bigger pond

The restaurant, which focuses on sustainability, isn't only expanding in Orange County. Owners will be taking franchise to Middle East.

January 08, 2014|By Anthony Clark Carpio
  • Co-founders Andrew Gruel, 33, center, and Jethro Naude at Slapfish in Huntington Beach on Tuesday. Slapfish started out as a gourmet food truck service in late 2009 but has evolved into a restaurant business since April of 2012.
Co-founders Andrew Gruel, 33, center, and Jethro Naude… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

While Huntington Beach restaurant Slapfish has endured the typical trials and tribulations of a new business, its owners are now reeling in success and ready to cast a wide net into the Middle East.

On a recent afternoon, founders Andrew Gruel and Jethro Naude reminisced about the days when all they had was enough money for a few food trucks and the ambition to establish a profitable and environmentally sustainable food franchise.

The co-owners recalled the time in 2011 when a food truck broke down on the 405 Freeway during gridlock traffic and the day their cooks had to make sandwiches in the vehicle as they were driving to an event.

"Ah, good times," Gruel said while Naude laughed.

Despite early hiccups, the trucks eventually made the business partners enough money to allow them to give up the road and in 2012 open a restaurant in the Newland Shopping Center, off Beach Boulevard and Adams Avenue.

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The restaurant has gained popularity with the help of its lobster rolls and signature Major Crunchy sandwich, but Gruel, 33, and Naude, 34, are not yet satisfied. The duo recently signed a deal to build 75 franchises in the Middle East over the next 10 years. They're also aiming to open their second company store in Orange County — in Laguna Beach — by early April.

"We're so involved with the business that it's kind of surreal," Gruel said. "It's hard to take a step outside and assess it from that perspective."

Their rapid expansion is a part of a three-pronged business approach. Gruel said the Surf City location is an example of what the owners call "Slapfish fast casual," offering a variety of salads, sandwiches and tacos.

In Laguna Beach, they plan to take the "Slapfish X" approach — a smaller shop that offers fewer food items. The plan for the Middle East is to open full-service restaurants.

Buzz around the business has grown to the extent that Gruel, who has worked as a chef in high-end restaurants along the East Coast, has been on the Food Network show "On the Rocks." During the episode that featured the Slapfish co-founder, he helped the Ringside Lounge in Huntington Beach develop a better menu.

Gruel said he will also be a resident judge on an upcoming Food Network show in July but couldn't give out further details.

Gruel and Naude link much of their success to their focus on sustainability — both in the food they use and in their day-to-day operations.

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