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Eat My Catfish: a homegrown rags to fishes’ story

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29 November, 2019

In 2008, Travis Hester was 24 years old, returning home from a short career in finance in the big city of Dallas. When friends and family asked, “what do you plan to do now?” they would always raise an eyebrow when he replied: “I’m going to sell catfish on the side of the road.”

The dream would soon turn into a local favorite Eat My Catfish.

With no money in-hand, Hester took his plans for a side-of-the-road catfish business and asked a good friend, at a local bank, for $30,000 to purchase a used food trailer. Looking back on the situation Hester acknowledges, “I probably wouldn’t have given me the money!”
Hester took the loan and bought a little food trailer with no AC in the middle of a hot Arkansas summer. He didn’t even have a truck to pull it. Setting up shop on Military Road in Benton, Arkansas he sold out of catfish in under an hour on his first day.

“What no one knew at the time was I’d never cooked catfish before in my life!” admitted Hester.
Over the next three and a half years, the food trailer became a local favorite among the folks of Benton. Not too long after, Hester opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, right across the road from his original trailer. The simple 60-seat restaurant was where loyal food truck customers had a cozy place to join new guests.

The following year, Eat My Catfish expanded to Conway. In 2016, they decided to start selling catfish in Little Rock, followed by North Little Rock in the spring of 2018. Most recently, Eat My Catfish ventured to Northwest Arkansas and opened in Fayetteville in the fall of 2019– while continuing to cater to all of Arkansas in the original trailer used on the very first day.

Hester gives credit to his family and friends for where he is today.

“My mom has cooked countless nights, my dad has built every store, and they’ve always encouraged me to chase my dreams,” Hester exclaims. “I grew up on a multi-generational farm in East End. We had cattle and big gardens. Maw Maw made plate dinners every night, and every Friday we had a catfish fry. Everybody thinks their grandma was the best cook, but I’m here to tell you, my Maw Maw holds that title, as the stores still use her recipes every day.”

Hester is thankful for his family instilling the importance of hard work, good food, and respecting everyone – treating them like family, ideals that have created and grown Eat My Catfish. Now with two girls of his own, the traditions have reached another generation.

From the booths, you sit in, to the fishing pictures on the walls, and Maw Maw’s recipes, Hester feels his family values are ingrained in his Eat My Catfish restaurants. Stop by and visit Eat My Catfish, where the customer is the best catch ever, in Fayetteville at 32 W Joyce Blvd and visit them online at eatmycatfish.com.
 

Eat My Catfish has been nominated for Best of Northwest Arkansas.  To vote visit bestnwa.com.  Voting is from December 2 through December 19, 2019.


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