It was the episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” in May 2011 that introduced the country to Shawn “Chef Big Shake” Davis and his company CBS Foods Inc., the creator of The Original Shrimp Burger. After months of talking to producers and pitching his concept, he would finally get his chance in front of seven investment sharks that included millionaires Daymond John (founder of FUBU), Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks), and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
Although the sharks on the show decided not to invest in CBS Foods, other investors came forward and as of January 1, 2012, viewers, vegetarians and shrimp lovers alike can find the burgers at over 900 grocery retail outlets that include Roundy’s out of Wisconsin, BJ’s Wholesale Club with stores on the East coast and in the South, Giant Eagle in the Midwest and East coast, and Price Chopper also on the East coast.
But for Davis, it wasn’t as easy as appearing on a show, getting an investor and launching a flagship product in stores; the journey has been long, challenging and tiresome at times. “Nobody cared about the shrimp burger until I got on the Shark Tank.” In fact, since developing the product in 2007, he noted that retailers told him there wasn’t a market for the product and even some friends and family didn’t believe that he had a hit on his hands. But he never gave up.
Born and raised in Long Island, NY, Davis admits to being, as he says, “a bit of a wild child” while growing up and at the age of 13, his mother made arrangements for him to live with an Italian family on Fire Island to avoid the negative influences of their neighborhood. There, Giovanni Palmero took Davis under his wings and taught him all about cooking and running a business; Palmero owned and operated a fine Italian restaurant. “I started out washing dishes. I was 13 and by the time I was 15, I was running the kitchen. He taught me everything from buying to every aspect of the restaurant business. He pretty much changed my life and I owe a whole lot to him.”
After setting out on his own, he enrolled in a restaurant management school at Norfolk State University in Virginia. He left there and actually got out of the industry for about a year and eventually got back into it. He started doing catering and cooking classes for couples and also developed an interest in putting food products into the retail market. That opportunity came four years ago when his daughter, who was 10 at the time, came home from school with a magazine from PETA (People for the Ethically Treatment of Animals) given to her by a classmate and told her father that she wasn’t eating meat anymore.
“I had to incorporate some protein back into her diet, some fish and stuff like that so she agreed to do that. We were eating burgers one evening and I didn’t want to leave her out so I started mixing some shrimp with some different ingredients, making some patties and stuff like that and she started enjoying them. As months progressed, I started getting better and kind of fine-tuned the product.” It was his wife who encouraged him to take the product to the mainstream and from there, his journey began.
Until his appearance on “Shark Tank,” he called numerous retailers who said no and had others tell him that he was wasting his time but he knew deep down inside otherwise. It was deep down that he knew there was someone bigger at work on his behalf. “God has his hands [on me]. He planned this whole thing for me. I struggled early trying to get this thing done and I tried to give up several times but something didn’t let me do it.” He continues by saying,”By faith alone, those doors opened for me. I don’t think it would happen any other way if I didn’t have faith.”
Those doors include starting his company CBS Foods, the product launch of shrimp burger products that includes the The Original Shrimp Burger, Jalapeno Shrimp Burger, Cajun Shrimp Burger, Teriyaki Shrimp Burger and Lobster Sliders, publishing his first book, “Get Your Ass Back in the Kitchen,” and appearing on the “Michael Baisden Show.” Fans can also look forward to the launch of the Lobster Pot Pie and Lobster Mac and Cheese in 2012 as well.
Davis is also making an appearance on January 12 at the Taste Awards in Los Angeles where attendees will be able to enjoy the shrimp burgers as part of the after party.
Looking back, he hasn’t forgotten the mountains he has had to climb and is looking forward to what the rest of the journey has in store. When asked what words of encouragement he would share with someone on a similar journey, he says that it is important to learn the industry that you are about to enter into and lastly, you have to have faith that you can make it happen. “Don’t give up.”