By: Brian Kendall
Isaac Hadley, founder and co-owner of Coco Shrimp Hawaiian Food Truck, wasn’t born near the ocean, but it seems engrained in his soul. Hadley grew up in Fort Worth and left for college at 17 to play tennis at Brigham Young University in Laie, Hawaii. He was quickly bit by the surfing bug and says his love for the ocean distracted him from meeting his full potential as a tennis phenom.
It was at college that he met his wife, Lauren. While she finished school, Hadley began a life as a surfing instructor at a Hawaiian resort. On the side and to make ends meet, he was a shrimp prepper at a North Shore shrimp shack. Not long after, the couple’s first daughter, Mea, was on the way. While they loved their laid-back lifestyle, Hadley decided he needed to do something more for the security of his family. He and his wife moved to Fort Worth, where Hadley’s parents reside, but they couldn’t leave the island life behind. Soon their second daughter, Maili, was born.
For this 28-year-old, adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie that once broke both knees cliff diving and recently dislocated his shoulders making an epic jump on a rope swing, a new lifestyle in his hometown had to be anything but boring. Tapping into the same fearlessness and fortitude as when he sought out the perfect wave, Hadley now chases a dream of making Coco Shrimp a wild success. Not only is Coco Shrimp rolling out food truck No. 2 this year and opening a brick-and-mortar in the Medical District, Isaac and Lauren are expecting daughter No. 3 in March.
Surf, Shrimp and Soul Hadley has done his fair share of prep work in a commercial kitchen. A buddy of his managed a local, casual shrimp eatery, and he gave Hadley the keys to come and go as he pleased. This allowed Hadley the ability to work flexible hours so he could still make it to the beach in the early morning to teach his surf lessons.
“In Hawaii I used to prep about 80 pounds of shrimp a day. It was a tedious, boring and horrible job, but I grew to love it. I recruited my brother and some friends to help me, and while we worked we blasted music and made it a party. In the back at the shrimp shack, the Macadamia and Coconut Crusted Island Shrimp dish would print up just as “Coco Shrimp.” We kind of made a joke about it and said that should be our name. We talked about bringing a simplified version of the food back home to Texas,” Hadley says.
And that’s just what he did. Hadley’s first step was to purchase an old Chevy P30 box van, sight unseen, from Craigslist, and it was in pretty rough shape. Hadley says, “It was about a third of the size of most food trucks. Seriously, it’s really small. I didn’t know much about engines when I bought it, but I sure do now. I had to gut it and put up new walls. I did it all in my parents’ backyard. The day I was going to get it inspected, it threw a cylinder. I had to completely swap out the engine.”
Next Hadley began hashing out the menu. Offerings include various styles of shrimp — think spicy, butter and lemon — served on a bed of seasoned rice and paired with a fresh garden salad and creamy ginger dressing. For dessert, flavors of mochi (a thin, chewy dough filled with gourmet ice cream) are served.
“The menu is simple and pretty much everything I know. I drew from the Hawaiian food trucks I visited on the North Shore. My uncle, who is in the restaurant business, helped us with the perfect consistency of the batter,” Hadley says. Some of his customers have suggested that he provide a chicken option on the menu for those with an aversion to Coco’s crustaceans. To that Hadley says, “I guess my thought is, don’t go to a shrimp truck if you don’t like shrimp.”
Family Driven Today the Coco Shrimp crew consists of Hadley, his wife, sister and brother-in-law. Lauren runs all of the social media. Hadley recruited his sister, Mary, when she was home from college for the summer, and she now handles all the graphic design. Jordan, Hadley’s brother-in-law, left a good-paying corporate job in California to join the crew as a co-owner.
Hadley says, “A lot of people say that you shouldn’t go into business with family, but it’s the combination of our personalities that makes this work. We may disagree, but because we are family, I can be blunt. Like if I don’t agree with what my sister mocks up and posts on Facebook, I can say, ‘Mary … that looks so dumb’ because she’s my sister. I like that I don’t have to dance around it.”
Aside from taking a risk by opening a shrimp truck in a city that loves its beef, Hadley continually seeks thrills anywhere he can. He says that it’s most dangerous when he and his brother get together. “We’ve done stuff like makeshift bungee jumping, and we like to ride the spillway overflow in a dinky raft on local lakes. My father is always trying to talk sense into me. I don’t know how many times he has warned, ‘People die doing this all the time.’ I say, ‘Father, don’t you know that I’m invincible?’ ”
By: Brian Kendall