By Lauren Sage Reinlie
The run-down, double-wide trailer had been a restaurant, but was abandoned, seemingly mid-shift.
Fish had been left to rot in an unplugged refrigerator. The place was dirty with dust engrained in the ceiling and a kitchen in shambles.
Regardless, Jimmy Hasser and Adam Yellin scooped the property up. Five years ago, the 30-year-olds were chasing a dream — opening their own restaurant and bar in the beachside town of South Walton, Florida. They were broke, but hopeful and willing to put in the work.
They knew the odds. Nearly 60 percent of restaurants fail within their first year. 80 percent shut down within five.
Jimmy and Adam have beat those odds. This weekend, they’re celebrating the fifth year of Local Catch, which has become one of the most-popular spots in the area, drawing loyal crowds all year long.
In November 2011, when they bought their building in Blue Mountain Beach, Jimmy and Adam spent every day together for four months, cleaning the place up themselves. Power washing. Laying down fresh paint. Redesigning the kitchen.
They worked around the clock. When one man looked like he couldn’t take it anymore, the other would send him home to sleep for a bit. Then they would trade. They bought a foot massager.
Sitting in the restaurant recently, Hasser and Yellin recalled debating at the time whether they could even afford to spend the $450 to get the floors cleaned. They didn’t have investors or any kind of safety net to fall back on.
“It was all or nothing,” Jimmy said.
The tale of the honey mustard
Jimmy and Adam met in college at the University of Alabama. When summertime came around, neither one wanted to go home, so they both stayed as the crowds thinned out and Tuscaloosa became a small town again. Jimmy would spend afternoons hanging out at Adam’s place. After college, they went different ways, with no idea how close they would become in the years to come.
“It’s really like being married,” Jimmy said. “Or having a twin brother.”
Adam runs the kitchen. Jimmy is front-of-the-house. Reminiscing, the two traded stories recently, poking fun at each other’s weaknesses, but strongly touting each other’s strengths. They balance each other out.
Adam’s more of a perfectionist, hard-headed and precise, and he’s more sensitive to criticism. Jimmy is a more laid-back and fearless, and he’s very good with people.
When it came time to open the restaurant for business, they were both under a lot of pressure, pinching pennies but wanting to present the best experience they could for their first customers. Adam had been perfecting the menu, working tirelessly to make sure every detail was handled. Jimmy was run ragged, trying to get people in the door. He hadn’t even tasted the food yet.
Adam remembers on one of the first days they were open, he was hounding Jimmy to try some of the menu items. They were serving ceviche as a special for their first guests. Jimmy decided, ok, he’ll try it.
Adam came running out of the kitchen, angry. “What are you doing?!? Yes, try the food, but not the most expensive thing on the menu!”
They laugh about it today.
They both have a tendency towards hot-headedness, but Jimmy says that’s actually a plus. “You need someone who can go toe-to-toe with you,” he said.
Since Local Catch opened, Adam has been doggedly persistent on maintaining their policy of making everything fresh in house. (The only items they order from outside the restaurant are french fries and bread.)
Jimmy, working out in the dining room, kept getting complaints from customers about not having honey mustard as a condiment. They didn’t make it in house, so Adam wasn’t about to let it be served.
But then he went out of town.
“No two-year-old is going to care if their honey mustard was made in house,” Jimmy recalled. Thinking Adam was going overboard, he bought a bottle of honey mustard and stashed it in the fridge.
When Adam returned, he discovered the intruder.
Adam’s face went fire-engine-red. He wanted to yell but couldn’t because the customers would hear.
“I slam-dunked that thing in the trash can,” Adam recalled. “I was so mad and everyone knew it.”
It led to a heated argument. But Adam’s dedication to the quality of the menu won out.
Now they make their own honey mustard.
A time to celebrate
“I never thought we would be here in five years,” Adam admitted.
But here they are. Jimmy has had two children in two years, his youngest was born in February. Adam just got married. In fact, his wedding was held the weekend of Local Catch’s official five-year anniversary, which they are marking with a big Crawfish Boil and party on Sunday March 5.
And yes, Adam will be there.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.
Jimmy and Adam have worked side by side almost every day for five years and through that time they’ve had their moments. They’ll have to take a break, walk away. But then 30 minutes later one will think they need to call the other to talk about something. It doesn’t last.
Even when they do have time away from the restaurant, they still meet up for a beer. They play golf on Fridays when they can.
They’ve become like family.
“This was our one shot,” Jimmy said. “And then for it to work for these two young guys who have put their heart and soul in into it …”
Adam finished the sentence.
“It’s kind of like the American dream.”