Bar & Restaurant Podcast 001: Chula Seafood

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In this Episode we talk about the start of the business. How Jon, Mandy, and Hogan all got together and continue to have a strong working relationship not just with themselves but their employees. More about Chula Seafood below: Established in San Diego, CA by the Heflin Family in 2009, Chula Seafood is a family owned + operated fishery that purveys high quality, fresh fish from the Pacific Coast. The boat, CHULA, specializes in harpoon-caught & deep-set buoy Swordfish in addition to species off the California Coast. After years of commercial fishing, the family decided to take the plunge into wholesale distribution in California, delivering fresh, Chula caught fish. FV Chula is docked in Point Loma, CA and this is also where Chula Seafood Wholesale is located. Off-loading directly from our boat to local California restaurants and other distributors. Because of years of commercial fishing and close relationships with the local fisherman, we are able to supply the best of the best. In August of 2015, the family recognized the need for fresh fish in the desert and began delivering straight from the boat to Arizona. This led to the opening of our first fish market and restaurant, located in South Scottsdale and another slated to open late Fall 2018 in Phoenix. Chula Seafood is dedicated to purveying the highest quality product with matching customer service. Follow them on @chula_seafood on Instagram !

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Delo 00:05
Each one you just want to say, Mic check. Mic, check, mic, check. Mic check. testes, 12333 testes, right. Something in the fish. Oh, man. This was interesting. Did I use the day? Oh, yeah, yeah, upon stage. Absolutely. Good to go. Okay, cool. All right, here we are another episode of the bar and restaurant podcast. You don’t have to look at the camera. You can look at me. Anyways, I’m really excited because I have Chula seafood here today, which is dear to my heart, for sure. I love eating there. And I love seeing you guys every time I come in. And I’ve got all three. I mean, this is very cool. I’ve got Mandy, I’ve got john and I’ve got Hogan. So I’m excited to have you guys Welcome. We’re excited to be here. Yeah. Yay. Yeah, let’s, um, let’s talk about how the, well, the very beginning, like, how did you guys all hook up? You know what, what started this business? You know?

Mandy 01:11
Well, I’ll start. We kind of had john and i were kind of in a, I don’t know, not a loving job space, in our personal lives. And I had this epiphany one day, John’s dad has been in the commercial fishing industry for quite some time. And we just, I’m from Seattle. So we’re like, Hey, why are we not bringing this amazing fish that we have access to to the desert and not just to the desert, but to the retail consumer. So to have access to all of the fresh seafood, high quality seafood for you know, not just hotels and grocery stores, but all of the people. And then from that we started a little market the Vincent’s on 40th market on Saturdays. And then we got into a couple wholesale accounts, and then just kind of took off from there.

Delo 02:03
And so from the very beginning, how did you to actually originally meet Mandy and I,

John 02:09
we both went to ASU. Okay, seven years older than her. So I met her last year, cool, convinced her to stay. That’s how we met up and Hogan and I met each other in fifth grade, fifth grade. And we’ve been very good friends since probably we became really good friends and like eighth grade, eighth grade high school years. So you two were married before you were married? Yeah, we know a lot about each other. And we have a really good group of friends. Like, eight guys are still really tight.

Delo 02:35
That’s great. Yeah, and you guys are definitely all about relationships. And you can see that even in the local community about how much people love you. And

Hogan 02:43
I think people is why we do this. Yeah, that’s the reason we get up every morning is the people that work for us, the people we get to service every day. It’s really is what drives us. Yeah, it’s definitely what drives me every morning, for sure. And I’ll get Where did you work at before I spent? I spent about 1012 years with Fox restaurant concept, okay, at all, probably five or six different concepts. But I spent the last six years growing true food. So I did some true food openings here ran a couple of stores here locally. Yeah. Opened in Dallas and Houston, Virginia in Atlanta. I came back here and he got my year one day. And I think it took us about a year before I committed to like really commit Did you think it was crazy? Oh, you’re both crazy. Right? I mean, I still tell him he’s crazy. Like, you know, I don’t know about bringing fresh fish to the desert if it’s really worth our time. But we just kept talking about it. Yeah, just didn’t let it die. And I got to the point where I’d kind of felt like I’d done everything I could do with Fox. Okay. And you know, to me I look at it as 12 years of university Yeah, I just learned everything I could I spent as much time studying how they did things, the processes and the systems and it was time to kind of put that to work for what a great university go to Oh yeah. And paid to learn and you know, travel and see different things and you know, get it put into positions where you can make good decisions and and see how it affects business. Yeah, it was it was great

Delo 04:23
when you when you look at all the other markets that you were in is Arizona still kind of your top notch Dude, I

Hogan 04:28
love it. I love Arizona and I moved out I lived on the East Coast or Kimpton hotels for a while. And I found that every time I moved away, I wanted to come back to Arizona. Yeah, and the last time when I lived in Dallas, my wife and I lived there for about a year and it was like you know what? We figured it out we want to be in Arizona that’s great. And it was because the people you know it’s really is where you go Yeah, who you’re surrounded by Yeah, for sure. Well, we miss most was who we were surrounded by. So to Sun Devils. I’m a Sun Devil as well. Okay, so my son’s going to have to go where they

Mandy 05:10
knew that bringing Hogan on was the next step to taking us further into the restaurant world. I have restaurant background, and John’s background was sales. So he kind of took on the wholesale side of it. I was, you know, I, I had our son, two months before we opened our first restaurant. So it’s just a lot going on all at once. And I handled most of the back end, you know, behind the scenes type of work. Well, these guys got everything else up and running. And through that, we attracted some phenomenal talent. That’s when we brought one on. He hired we hired him as a $12 an hour fish cutter, we’re like you are way overqualified for this.

John 05:54
I said, Hey, do you know anybody that’s looking for this type of job? He says, I’ll do it. I said, one. This is not your

Hogan 06:03
school. He was like, I’m getting out of the rest. Yeah. Industry. I just want 20 hours a week. I’m going back to school. Yeah. And then 20 hours turned into 30 hours turned into 40. Turned into 50. Sometimes paid off for everybody loved it. Yeah. And we love Yeah. He’s he really helped elevate us to another level, because he took our food, which Sunday I was working on. And I’m not a chef, right? I can cook but I’m not a chef. There’s a big difference. Yeah. And he took our cooking into the chef’s world and really took it to the next level, which is helped us really grow at the level,

Delo 06:42
he will grow beyond being a wholesaler at a farmers market and a restaurant that people are craving. Yeah,

John 06:48
yeah, I mean, even with the opening of uptown, you know, and bringing on Kyle can and you know, Jade, the food, so I love it like her and I were looking at a picture of the terace plane or the sashimi point, they served you the other day. I looked at I was like, I can’t believe that’s my restaurant. Yeah. I mean, the level of food that’s coming out of their spots,

Mandy 07:08
their culinary geniuses, they do they make magic with our fish. And it’s, you know, they’re, they’re part of the full package. We couldn’t do what we do without them. And

Delo 07:18
well, that’s Yeah, and it’s funny. Has you made that comment? I’m thinking I look at a picture of my wife. And I’m like, I can’t believe that to my wife. You know, it’s like, right, yeah. So I’m getting into employees. And I mean, you three are a family within yourself. But even extending that out, you know, whenever I walk into a location, and I see the same people there, week, after week, month, after month, year after year, I mean, how important is the whole family unit of what you guys have created? Yeah. Yeah.

Hogan 07:50
I mean, if you ask us there, too, yeah, they’re there. You know, they talk about us and our success, and, you know, everybody brings that up, but we have no success without them. It’s not what we do every day that that makes that thing tick. Right. Right, then come in, and really believing in what we want. Yeah. And that was something that was important to us finding the people that really believed in what we were trying to accomplish, which was we wanted to bring seafood to the desert but we wanted to do it in a way that nobody had ever seen before. And we wanted to push the limits of what was possible. Yeah. And that’s not made for everybody. No, no, it’s a lot of work. I have to find the right people who are willing to sacrifice yeah for the greater good. And that’s why we call it the fish fam. Because you got to sacrifice for your family and sacrifice for them and they sacrifice for us. It really has built a symbiotic relationship. Oh

Delo 08:46
well the fish fam is not just the the fam that works there. It’s it’s the multitudes of people that come in day in and day out. I mean, I’d be surprised if Chula tattoos people at this point

Mandy 08:56
in the community the community has been such a like ya know, the community has been you know there for us the entire time You know, that’s what you know from like I said where we started at the market to now we couldn’t do this without the collective of Yeah, everybody. The purveyors the producers, everybody just all the local local people helping us and the passion behind it you know, the

John 09:24
employee appreciation night last night and we were talking this morning like couldn’t believe how lucky we were to work with those people were just like an hour ago. Yeah, office we’re talking about how great it was last night. You like hanging out with them? Yeah. You know, we watched them have like fun and

Mandy 09:39
we closed our restaurants early yesterday to celebrate them and give them appreciation and that’s all it was about. There was nothing else to it just letting them know that they’re crazy your last year right. We’re never quote hard. Yeah. No, I

John 09:54
know. You didn’t really look closer. We didn’t lose any employees. That wasn’t normal turnover. Right. It was pretty, it was pretty. It was a it was a long year. But yeah, it’s an awesome,

Delo 10:04
it’s all it’s all coming back. Let’s talk about let’s talk about San Diego and what goes on over there to kind of give people a picture in their in their head as you’re watching this. What’s the very beginning of like how this process happens, you know, the fishing for the fish in the boat. And

John 10:19
so, so the beginning we were buying mainly local fish from San Diego, we still are as much as possible, but we’ve had to expand because of our wholesale. Now we’re buying fish from all over the world. Yeah. But the bulk of our fish comes from San Diego, my father, my brother in law, my sister, my mother run the operation over there. We have our own store fishbowl specializes in just swordfish. And that’s a seasonal product that runs from like July through December, January. And but in the meantime, we buy fish from Mexico, and it’s all a mass we are in San Diego. We offload tuna boats, we buy local urchin by local rock fish, sheep’s head as much as we can, yeah, from the locals or from you know, up and down the coast, right. And we have acid, they’re all in San Diego, and then we ship most of it on our own trucks. Two to three days a week. Right now my father is driving back and forth my 73 year old father, oh my goodness, that’s what he wants to do.

Mandy 11:17
Yeah, quality control type of things. You know, like us being in charge of the handling from, you know, the boats to the processing to the VA, like the transport. Yeah, all of it. And then we’ve got one up at our processing facility here, who basically is quality control, he touches all the fish and make sure the quality is there before it gets sent out to our restaurants and all the other places. We

Delo 11:41
pervading the valley. How many times a week dude now are there two trucks that go halfway point and then we’ve we used to do that

John 11:48
we’ve gone to where it just the truck is so full, because we used to be able to handle and load it right, just swap the trucks. But now what we do is it just comes over and back. Oh, wow. Yeah. Well, you get to see your dad. Yep, sometimes about seven minutes. It’s kind of not eternal. It’s a night and then he gets over about five o’clock. Oh my God. He was there before I was this morning dawn. They unloaded him. He was there five, he was one of my 520 he’s out the door. That’s in Diego. He used to be for 20 years. 25 years his professionalism. He was a pilot. Okay, long haul like airline pilot. Okay. So you know, sitting in a seat for 12 hours is nothing he likes it.

Delo 12:29
This is what keeps him going. This is his drive his passion and what he had to do and this is what he said he want to drive fish back and forth. Yeah. Yeah. He’s gonna do van and crazy. Yeah, I know that drive very well. Because when I had own pizza jungle out in San Diego, it was I’d get up at three in the morning and drive out there to make sure I could like, you know, serve lunch. Yeah. So okay, so we’ve got that process down in 2015. is when this

John 12:58
started. Yeah, okay. Well to the market. We started selling fish and bagels, like they said, and we started with me opened up. We got a little space over and Roosevelt and we opened up what, four days a week or three days a week in the beginning four days a week. What is the week

Mandy 13:11
end of October 2016 is when we open so yeah, we really just needed to have a place to house the wholesale. And we found Rosie we call to Scottsdale Rosie, it’s on Hayden Roosevelt. Yeah. And we house our entire operation out of there. And which is that’s really kind of where the family mentality started to come into play. Just all of us working so close together in this tiny spot, really just showed, you know, the passion behind all angles of what we were doing. And then in 2019, is when we all split, we took the warehouse up to the air Park, or the wholesale up to the air Park. And then we opened the tool uptown. Love the thought process was though, you know we need to we need a place to house the wholesale.

John 13:59
Yeah, in the beginning, we were just kind of over there and taken straight to the customers. We wanted to control the more so we got that spot. And then the thinking was Let’s sell the excess stuff from the market and do a couple pokey bowls. Yeah. And then it just kind of took off. And you just saw just kind of blow up after a while no one found out

Hogan 14:15
there wasn’t enough extra to keep up with the restaurant. Right? Right.

Delo 14:18
Right. So So who came knocking on your door and said, Hey, I’m gonna put you in Uptown or were you guys out search and at that point,

Hogan 14:25
you’ve been searching for a lot. You know? We we were very close to a deal at 16th Street and Bethany. Yeah. And we were like moments away from signing this deal. When it just wasn’t right. It just didn’t feel right like the right relationship. And that’s when you know, we always said like, sometimes the best deal you make is the deal you don’t make on your person. Yeah, that was that one because what happened what dropped in our lap after we dropped that was a town came calling and say hey, I’ve heard you’ve been looking in our neighborhood. We have something for you. said, Well, I’m not gonna pay your price. You got to pay me. I’m down to my price. Yeah, he’s like we don’t care. We want you. Wow, we made a great deal. Good deal. They were happy with the deal we’re super happy with. Yeah. And it’s a great relationship. And I grew up in that neighborhood speaks

Delo 15:15
volumes for so for us. Both of us. Yeah. He went to Central I went to Brophy say, guys come back home.

Hogan 15:23
Yeah, we probably fell in. We were definitely received very well, at uptown. You know, it felt like instant success to a lot of people but they don’t know that we were working 16 hour days and seeing like four customers in a day. Yeah. Rosie when we started Right, right. Nobody saw those moments now that they’re gone. Sure. Hosting people show up. Somebody is coming in. Hey, can you stand talk for a little bit, right? Yeah. Well, I used to work like he used to be out doing deliveries for wholesale. Yeah, one I really couldn’t fish and I’d be up in the front and be like, Okay, then why don’t we go home in the middle of the day? Cuz he’s working part time, right. I’m like, Okay, I gotta cook. I gotta do the dishes. I got to run the front. lobby like save me. Right. It’s dinnertime was coming.

Delo 16:07
Well, when I first heard about you guys, I started going in there like you were all in there. Yeah. And all just cranking away at the same time. Yeah,

Hogan 16:14
we were open four days a week. But we were in there six days a week. Yeah. Because wholesales always open. I mean, it’s just never, never really closed. We’re closed on Sundays. Yeah, but we do Sunday runs more often than probably any company. Right alley does. Because we care about our customers we really love to deliver on service. Yeah, that’s right. It always goes back to people. For me, it’s like great fish can be had. But great fish with great service and care. Yeah, isn’t everywhere. And we wanted to show that you can be everywhere. And we’re the people that can bring can do

Delo 16:47
it. That’s great. So So Mandy, I see you have the Arizona flag with Chula fish on there. And I want you to just kind of explain what the importance is of Arizona to you know, to you and local ness. And when people walk in, they can see a lot of local vendors that you guys support and sell. Yeah,

Mandy 17:07
you know, I think just kind of more touching on the swordfish side of it. We’re so proud of how we have the sword fish that we pervade from how it’s harvested from the water to how we process it from, from literally from the water to plate is everything is done the right way. And I feel so comfortable and proud of that product. Because I know we’re doing it right. There’s no gray area of what we’re doing. That’s why it feeds into we have the Arizona flag with the swordfish in it instead of the star. Because it’s the star of our of our business. Yeah, it’s kind of you know, what brought us here to this place right now. And we have a local connection to a boat, we’re not just a nother seafood broker. Without a story, like this is our story. We’re passionate about it. So with that being said, you know, bringing the fresh fish over to the desert, we really just saw the local community. And there’s so many local products and purveyors too, that have great seasoning, salts and hot sauces and things that marry well with seafood and, you know, farmers, small farmers and bread companies and all these artisanal products. Yeah, t shirts, everything, you know, and it’s all about the local community it’s hold you from that’s who supported us in the beginning. And to me, I think that it’s such an essential part of our growth. And, you know, we’re more you know, where are the people within our business are super are within our company are super important. But so are everybody else, like our big thing is education. Yeah. So we want to teach the importance along the way of, you know, buying local, supporting local, and really showing where the money’s going to families and back into the Arizona economy. So

Hogan 18:58
it’s very easy to start with local products because, honestly, a lot of those people I went to high school with Yeah, yeah, with in the business. Yeah. So you know, we knew Cuttino Jacobs you know, used to work together to eat food for a while. We use Slava salt seasoning him and I went to high school together. Tiny little chef, her her little brother was one of my best friends. Yeah. So to me it was like I was just calling my friends going you guys got some cool stuff? Yeah, we’re doing cool stuff like we should be in partnership together. And I never really thought about it is like oh, we have to be local. We have to do this just kind of organically became there. Because we wanted to support the people. Yeah, when we like and they’re doing really cool stuff. They are

Mandy 19:45
they are small operations to see us still get that relationship. It’s not you know, a salesperson coming in. It’s you’re buying directly from the owner or the operator and it’s in their products speak for themselves to and just elevate The whole product and north of what we’re doing,

Delo 20:02
it’s so much more fun to work with your friends. Right? I mean, yeah, it’s great. And and, you know, thank you guys for, you know, working with me took some time, but we figured it out. And you know, I’m local as well. It’s cool. And so it says synergistic sort of absolute economy. Future plans, what can you share? What are you guys looking at on the horizon? some

Mandy 20:24
lunch later? What’s coming up? What’s coming? We if, if not, we’re expanding it uptown. Okay. So we’re about, you know, knock down part of the brick wall, at our uptown location and add a bar program and a full patio. So with that being said, that’ll kind of be what tool will look like moving forward, I believe. So, when we search out other locations, that’s kind of what we’re gonna map off map it after? Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. So, you know, we’re

Hogan 21:01
definitely in growth mode and the mindset of, we want to do more, and we’re looking at properties constantly. Yeah, something I actually enjoy doing, and seeing everything that’s out there. And, you know, we have nothing, nothing ain’t at this point. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you know, not too far from here is what comes next.

Delo 21:25
I love it. 30 Thanks. screenshare. Very cool. So I’ve got some rapid fire questions. You can all take them or one of you can take this and that is just a lot of fun. What would you rather do go bird watching or watching Netflix?

So I want to go bird watching with his dad. his dad’s a bird watching okay. I’m not sure that’s what I want to do. But I don’t really want to do Netflix either. You’re looking at birds as long as they’re over the ocean. The birds Where are we? Where are we located? Well, I’m not gonna do again, if you’re not working. What are you doing?

Hogan 22:14
If I’m not working? What am I doing? with my kids? Okay, beautiful. doing homework reading. Yeah, I love to read I read a lot. Okay, um, but I have a nine year old and a six year old that is such an awesome age right now that I really enjoy just being around my kids, whatever they want to do. It’s been awesome.

Delo 22:33
I love that. Um, Cheetos or Doritos. Cheetos. Doritos. Cheetos. I like Cheetos, but the stuff on my hands. Yeah, so it’s a little much a staycation or would you rather travel somewhere? vacation Take me away calgon Early to bed early awake or the opposite.

John 22:55
I’m a night owl. early as possible. And I’m unfortunately I I’m fighting my kids whether I can save later than I can you go to bed now because dads dads were having a problem late in the summer one time. I remember what a couple years ago. She goes. I go I’m going to bed she goes late in the summer shoes. It’s still light outside. Yeah. For a starter I like so my 3530 for me now that

Hogan 23:29
three hours to get my mind straight before I can start right

Delo 23:31
Right. Yeah. Sunrise sunset for my wife and I that’s awesome. I’m Fletcher Beverly Hills Cop. Beverly Hills. Star Wars or Star Trek. Star Wars.

Star Trek what would happen?

Delo 23:59
George the guy’s good. He’s amazing. Yes. All right. Final question. And then I’ll let you guys go. Very important question. What do you believe exist? Is it the Megalodon shark or is it Bigfoot?

John 24:15
But so I don’t but the possibility is the Megalodon shark because you there’s there’s so much undiscovered stuff under the ocean. That I mean, no one knows what. Yeah. Right. Nobody knows. It’s kind of I guess a mega don’t even know. I’m a big, big, like big for a lot.

Mandy 24:35
I don’t know that’s hard. I kind of feel the same way. I think Bigfoot existed at some point or maybe soon does I but I’m the same thing with the ocean, like the oceans just so much bigger than what we can comprehend. And I think there’s just so much in there that we we don’t know about

Hogan 24:52
what’s crazy. They know more about space than they know. Right? You know, and it’s like, we pull stuff out of fish before like I’m sure someone knows what it is, but like memory Oh, yeah, these guys are working on the boats full time. Yeah, we’re taking stuff out of fish constantly. Like, I’ve never seen that thing. I don’t know what that is. What that is the aliens live down in the van. Yeah, we’re talking like clear jellyfish. Yeah. Right. They have shaved. I mean, it’s like a

Mandy 25:20
swordfish or deep water fish. They are down there eating all of the stuff that we don’t see. And then we bring them up and we harvest it. And that’s where we see it. Yeah, that’s

John 25:30
cool stuff. just interested in washing up like an oarfish just watched California. Or more fish? Yeah. The angler fish? In California, that’s very rare. See, I

Delo 25:41
knew this question would get me all like I’m on a huge Discovery Channel. I’ve never seen our captain get in the water. Why? Because you don’t know what’s done. You don’t know what’s out there. Well, where can where Can everybody find you? I know you have social media stuff all over the place. So what’s the

Mandy 25:58
best place? So Instagrams our big one, just at choose seafood. And then we’ve got our wholesale operation. Now that one’s actually running. It’s at Tula wholesale. So you can kind of see the new species coming in. And one just is very passionate and eloquent about the seafood that we have. So it’s fun. It’s a fun account to follow.

Delo 26:20
Great. That’s awesome. Yeah. Thank you guys so much for coming and hanging out. Yeah, it’s been great. So that’s another edition of the bar restaurant podcast, sponsored by myself, bar and restaurant insurance and local for auto. If you get a chance, please give me a five star because all three of them said to do it. And thank you for listening. Until next time. Thank you. Thanks, man.

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