Maranda and Joe Dowell pitched Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry on Shark Tank, striking a deal with Daymond John. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Dowell family’s seafood restaurant business in New Orleans. The hurricane didn’t destroy their love for each other or their entrepreneurial spirit. After moving to Atlanta and traveling the country making seafood at concerts and festivals, they launched Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry.
Their multi-purpose seasoning and breading mix can now be found in hundreds of stores across the United States. Following their appearance on Shark Tank, Brandon Andrews sat down with the Dowells to discuss their family, their business, and pitching the Sharks. [The interview responses below are a mix of Mr. and Mrs. Dowell’s words].
Brandon Andrews: People are passionate about their fish fry mix. There are some established brands in the market. How does Joe’s Famous Fish Fry give consumers a different experience?
The Dowells: It’s the taste! The experience you have at first bite overwhelms your palette. And you know it’s the love that’s behind it. There is emotion behind that rush of flavor!
Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry isn’t the first business for your family. What happened during your first journey into entrepreneurship? How are you applying lessons learned from the first business to Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry?
Our first journey into entrepreneurship was the restaurant business. We learned that we have passion for feeding people. We have opened several restaurants over the years, each time tweaking and revamping and overcoming obstacles. We see it as all one journey; we are evolving. Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry is just a product of perseverance. You have to never give up on your dream. Always be willing to listen to the market, and adjust to what is right for you.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed your first business, but not your entrepreneurial spirit and drive. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who experience setbacks and failure?
Failure is in your imagination. For us, there is no such thing as setback and failures; those are the things that you need to experience to learn and be productive. They are life lessons, business lessons; they propel you to grow and get to the next level. You must push through.
This is a family business. Joe Jr. created the recipe, his father (Joe Sr.) provided the initial investment, and Maranda provides expertise in marketing and business operations. How do you balance family with business?
We learned you can be so much better together! Most families are put together for a reason but the small things (distractions, disagreements, selfishness) keep them from ever realizing their potential together as a unit. We work together, we celebrate each other’s strengths, we sharpen and mentor each other to do great things as a unit. Each person in our family brings so much to the table. Joe brings grit and years of hands-on experience, and Maranda brings formal education and business acumen. Joe Sr. brings practical experience and wisdom. Our mothers, Patricia and Jean, bring balance, organization, and emotional support to us and the children. Everything you need for your journey you already have. It’s about recognizing it and leveraging it to accomplish your goals.
Maranda had the initial idea to package and sell the fish fry mix that people were standing in line for at festivals around the nation. Once you decided to sell the mix, how did you refine the product?
The recipe is mostly the same, but this product was perfected on the street corners. We used our own focus group at festivals, concerts, and HBCU homecomings. Our customers perfect our brand. What the consumer liked is what made the cut. Packaging was next; we needed a way to convey our message to the customer with packaging. We found out the consumer wanted larger servings, but not too large, and a convenient resealable package to use a lot or a little at their discretion.
You earned a deal with Daymond John on Shark Tank! Congrats! What advice do you have for entrepreneurs pitching investors?
We were so happy to do a deal with Daymond! It feels great that he really understood our journey. Our advice is to be confident in your business. Do the work! If you spend time in what you believe in, your confidence will only grow. We walked into the Tank knowing that the consumer was behind us. That confidence is conveyed to your potential investors more than anything that you could ever say.
What have you been working on since your appearance on the show?
So much! The orders have been pouring into our website! It has been overwhelming support! People have responded to us and it has changed the trajectory of our business! We will be meeting with more retailers to make it easier for people to get the product. We want it to be convenient and easy for them.
How do you plan to grow the business in 2018?
2018 is a big year for us. We are so excited! We will grow the business by expanding retail, exploring opportunities with food service, and developing new and exciting products that evoke that same emotion as Joe’s Gourmet Fish Fry.