The BP Effect – Finn’s Island Style Grub

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by September 30, 2010 • 13 comments

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Best fish tacos in PCB.

They said he has the best fish tacos in town.  Knowing the term “best” is relative, depending on who’s using it, the term “best” is relevant to me in my description of them; they are delicious.  But, I’m hardly a fish taco connoisseur.  After countless emails raving about the superb quality of Finn’s Island Style Grubb, located next to Mr. Surf’s Surf Shop on Thomas Drive, I had to check them out.  What I found was amazing, and what owner Justin Buxton does to his fish tacos is inspiring.  His business model is simple: provide excellent quality, unique flavor, keep it small and do it in a laid back atmosphere.  This is what kept him in business over the summer when oil threatened the beaches of Panama City Beach, trashing summer tourism numbers and possibly damaging the perception of Panama City Beach for years to come.

A small, recent beginning.

Finn’s Island Style Grubb opened in June of 2009, greeted by a first summer many small business owners could only dream of.  With continual lines that would last for hours all summer long, Buxton was stoked to have started his new business.  Of course, serving quality food was nothing new for him.  Having been raised in a local family restaurant business, he also had a culinary degree to keep his resume company.  Being raised in Panama City Beach and working charter fishing boats through college after a 4 year tour in the Coast Guard, fish was nothing new to him either.  It only made sense for him to open his own grub-joint at some point – and a food truck (or trailer) was the lowest barrier of entry for him.

He started out real strong.

Winter of 2009 was as good as could be expected during a shoulder season, but when spring break 2010 hit, he was blown away.  Numbers were better during spring break than they were summer of 09 and word was getting out that his fresh bought fish every morning and home made seasoning was the stuff to fill your gully every day.  “We were using spring break numbers to forecast our summer numbers and we started getting really excited,” Justin said.  They had plans of expansion, building a shelter from the elements and a possible relocation to a bigger spot.  When the oil spill hit, they decided to hold off, just to see how it all faired out.

The BP Effect.

Summer numbers were down for 2010, over 2009.  But this doesn’t account for how much of an increase they should have seen given natural growth of a new, high-quality business and the effect of word-of-mouth marketing.  Buxton estimates that he was off between 20 and 40% this summer over summer of 2009.  “I bought an ice cream truck and worked it in the evenings to help get by,” Buxton said, “Our overhead is low so we could always pay our bills and still put some money aside for the future, but we should have done a lot better.”

How they kept up, despite losses.

Finn’s does various forms of organic marketing, such as giving out stickers and selling t-shirts, but probably the most successful aspects of his business growth has to do with the quality of their product.  He shops every morning for fresh fish and only uses fresh ingredients for all of his menu items.  He has a laid back attitude of keeping the customer happy and maintains a huge local following.  “Probably one of the things that helped the most over the summer was the local support,” Justin said, “We have tons of local regulars.”  it was hardest seeing how they were being effected by the threat of oil, he went on to say.  He was less worried about his business and more worried about the environment.  He surf’s, takes his two little kids to the water often and lives a beach lifestyle.

His original plans included closing for a couple months over the winter months to spend time with his family.  But revenue losses over the summer will probably keep him open all winter.  If next spring starts to take off like this spring did, and summer proves to be a winner like this summer was supposed to be, he’ll sell the ice cream truck, work less hours and take advantage of some freed up time to hang with his kids.

Small business mentality, low overhead is king.

Justin was lucky.  His small business mentality kept his overhead low and allowed him to stay in business this summer when others were barely hanging on.  He’s gonna survive to live another summer and his fish tacos will continue to make mouths happy.  He’s still looking around for opportunities for growth and looking into marketing his fish taco seasoning, but without the BP oil spill scare, he’d already be ahead of the game.  The BP Effect changed the second summer of his business, but fortunately it didn’t change his life.

For more information about Finn’s, you can stop by, next to Mr. Surf’s on Thomas Drive or give them a call at 850-249-FINN.  Make sure you tell them you read about them on PCBDaily.com.

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1 T_bob October 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

Some of you people really get to me. The BP effect. This is ridiculous. Why not the Washington Mutual, Morgan Stanley, Chase Bank, Rahm Emmanuel or Barak Obama effect?

Don’t forget that as tragic as the blow out on TransOcean’s rig was very little if any oil hit Florida beaches, yet every Florida Senator, Representative, former Governor etc was on the news crying for days, whoa is me. Don’t you think that the publicity itself ruined your busy season? 5 news networks mis-reporting the news making mountains out of mole hills is what killed this summer.

Unnecessary regulations on commercial & recreational fishing aside, how much oil is on anyone’s property. Very little. The media is what crushed tourism, not the oil industry.

And to boot because of the media this oil worker is looking at possibly loosing my well paying professional job which I’d hoped would allow me to visit the Emerald Coast a bit more often and hopefully move there by Christmas.

If any of you had a brain you’d realize how true Tony Haywards misplaced words about the environmental impact being modest really were. Instead you seem satisfied to put thousands out of work with illfounded claims of grief and whoa.

I’m starting to re-think my plans to move to this area.

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2 John October 5, 2010 at 8:11 am

With that attitude please do re-think your plans to move to this area.

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3 lauren October 5, 2010 at 9:34 am

yes please do re-think moving to the gulf coast !

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4 captgeobob October 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

Some just can’t take criticism very well.

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5 Jason Koertge October 5, 2010 at 10:46 am

So true, it was the media’s reaction to the oil spill that led to the damaged perception that resulted in our devastated summer numbers. BUT, without the oil spill, the media would have had nothing to transform into a mole hill.

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6 GME October 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

@ Jason Koertge – Thank you for shining a light on what is not only a great quick stop for lunch, but also a fantastic group of people who manage that operation. The folks there and at Mr. Surf’s are just wonderful. I can only hope for their continued success. As it happened, I was there the day you were conducting this interview – stopping for a great lunch on my way to catch a flight.

@ T_Buba – Sorry you have chosen to blame the people who reported the problem rather than focus on those who’s compromise on their own policies led to this, and other disasters. Just sayin – there is a pattern here with BP. The only reason oil didn’t hit the beach was because it was dispersed. That wasn’t Dawn Liquid they were injecting into that site. We can only wonder what the effects of oil dispersants will be for future generations of the world. The Oil was broken down into solubles that mixed with the wonderful emerald waters of the Gulf. Such dispersant have been shown to increased toxic hydrocarbon levels in fish by a factor of up to 100.

That said, I can’t really argue with your opening paragraph and their non-response, response. We need the Oil (for now), we don’t need to be sending so much $$ to our enemies, but we need to do everything humanly possible to prevent something like this from ever happening again in the future.

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7 Cathy October 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm

This article was to be about the “Best fish tacos in PCB” but instead it turned into what seems to be a fuss concerning BP Oil situation and the coast.

If I had been the reporter (Jason) I believe I would have tried to separate these two items to give a better light on this eating establishment.

This is stupid to read such comments.

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8 jordan October 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I want a fish taco.Justin,please make me a fish taco….

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9 Sherry L October 6, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Justin does make the BEST FISH TACOS anywhere! I’ll be there next week for five days, see ya soon. I’m having fish tacos everyday; it was the first week in August last time I had one. I’m having withdrawals! Everyone reading this should go get yourself a fish taco. By the way, you can’t eat just one!

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10 Leah October 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm

and dont forget the smooties! 😀

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