Thos Carson, Founder and Owner of Bear Flag Fish Co. | RUHM Podcast
On this episode of RUHM Podcast, Tim Smith dives in with business Founder & Owner, Thos Carson, to discuss the grassroots beginnings and rise of Bear Flag Fish Company. With a unique exposure to the local surf-mecca entrepreneurial landscape growing up, combined with childhood fishing expeditions that developed an appreciation for locally sourced seafood, and the inspiration he found from mentors along the way - Thos shares how he took these experiences to create a business that is loved by all, and more-importantly, gives back to the coastal Orange County community.
Thos and Tim tackle the key skills entrepreneurs need to succeed. Listen-in as they unpack the significance of having an appetite for learning, gaining knowledge through experience, finding your angles in business, and perfecting your craft. If you’re good at you do, you can’t fail. Finally, they touch on the idea of adding a spoke to your wheel instead of re-inventing it, and the must-have quality of every savvy entrepreneur: adaptability in an ever-changing world.
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Tim Smith 0:05
Tim Smith of The Smith group here at CineNewport to present our podcast RUHM where we're here to highlight and share the stories, the people, the places and the properties of Southern California to the world today. I have one of my favorite people Thos Carson, Founder of Bear Flag here to share with you his story. Can't wait. Thanks for joining us.
Thos Carson 0:29
Tim, thanks for having me.
Tim Smith 0:32
So we're gonna start - you grew up in Newport.
Thos Carson 0:34
So I grew up in Newport Beach .
Tim Smith 0:36
Where in Newport?
Thos Carson 0:37
So I grew up in Newport Heights.
Tim Smith 0:38
Okay. And still live in Newport heights.
Thos Carson 0:43
Yeah, family still lives in Newport Heights. You know, Costa Mesa, where we are basically right now was kind of the grassroots of, of everything growing up - the surfing industry, my dad's business..
Tim Smith 0:56
Yeah. This used to be like, the mecca of like.... yeah
Thos Carson 1:01
I mean, if you wanted something done, you go to Costa Mesa, you can get anything done. You can get a boat built. You get, you know, parts. You build a house, you could do anything in Costa Mesa.
Tim Smith 1:11
Well, technically, we're in Newport right here. And this is technically, if you really think about logistically, it's probably a better part of Newport. You don't have the planes. You're closer to the beach, right?
Thos Carson 1:19
Yeah. Well, this building here where we are right now in Costa Mesa was actually where my grandfather's first business was Cadillac-Gage.
Tim Smith 1:29
It was Cadillac-Gage?
Thos Carson 1:32
It was called Cadillac-Gage, and it was Eugene Stoner and Howard Carson. And they were partners, and they designed and manufactured the M-16 machine gun. And they did power steering for airplanes. They did a lot of gauges.
Tim Smith 1:44
So your grandfather went to MIT.
Thos Carson 1:46
He went to MIT.
Tim Smith 1:47
He was an engineer.
Thos Carson 1:48
He was an aeronautical engineer.
Tim Smith 1:49
And so isn't it interesting that you're like, the most handy guy I know? Like, when it comes to like, if you want furniture built, you're building it. You want to refinish a boat, you want to make a boat, but you'll do it all, right? Is that a dad trade or?
Thos Carson 2:04
Well, I think it stems from my dad, honestly, because I never met my grandfather. I wish I did. But you know, my dad was an only child, and, you know, I don't think he got along with his dad very well. But they you know, back in the day, it was a different kind of love. It was tough love - the same kind of love, I think you and I grew up with, which was more of like a handshake than a hug from your dad, you know?
Tim Smith 2:28
I was more like, I was like a free-range kid. Like, literally like I'm Brixton is gonna turn 10 next week, and at 10 years old, I was down - we grew up in Salt Lake - I was down at the Salt Palace till 11/12 at night on school nights, scalping tickets. And I still am thinking, that's got to be wrong, but I'm doing the math, and I'm like, Brixtons has never been out of my sight. Right?
Thos Carson 2:53
Yeah. And the same thing. Well, we just got - we went down in Mexico for Thanksgiving. And, you know, we go down to Punta Mitan and they have The Pescador, which is one of the best spots down there, and we're sitting on the beach and there's these little, you know, 10-year-old kids hustling, selling stuffed animals on the beach. So I looked at my kids, and I'm like, Hey, and normally I'm gonna bargain with them try to get a better deal. But at this point, I realized like, I mean, look how hard they're working, you know?
Tim Smith 3:22
You're like, well my kids are on vacation at The Four Seasons, so I'm not gonna grind them.
Thos Carson 3:27
I still bargain with them, but I give them extra at the end just to see how far it could go, you know, more of a lesson learned. But anyway, it made their day.
Tim Smith 3:36
Okay, so let's talk about growing up here because we're going to talk about the business and your story. And I absolutely love this story. And the biggest theme of like, the podcast is the people and their stories, and I love your story, which we'll get to. So what was the day in the life, like, what were you doing growing up?
Thos Carson 3:51
So the thing was that I felt like I was really lucky, and timing is everything in life. I feel like timing, like, is - anything you do, timing has something to do with it. So I grew up during, like the mecca of Quiksilver, Volcom, Hurley - all these companies that were in Costa Mesa, right here. And the way I learn is, I learn from watching and actually more hands on, like, I don't learn from reading a book. That's not the way I learn. I learn from watching people and actually like more hands-on style and seeing how people do stuff. And I got an insight on like, some of the best entrepreneurs there are, you know.
Tim Smith 4:37
Like give me some examples.
Thos Carson 4:38
Richard Woolcott, the owner of Volcom - for an example of those guys. So it was Richard, Matt Patterson, Troy Eckert, they skateboarded by my house in the Heights. I had a bunch of ramps growing up, you know, we were all skateboarding out front and they threw me a hat and a patch and told my mom to sew it and told me to have my mom sew The Volcom stone on the hat.
Tim Smith 4:38
before they even were doing it
Thos Carson 4:39
This was when they were, you know, and then they moved to a little muffler garage over here where there was a curtain with a muffler garage behind it. And they had a skate ramp and like, you know, you got Chet Thomas and you got, you know, basically all the boys - Tucker Hall - over there and and you're learning from these guys on how to run a business.
Tim Smith 4:39
But it's almost like you're learning like you have different like neighborhoods like - the gang neighborhoods -you're in this area where everybody's like entrepreneuring like the surf industry stuff. Wooly, Eckert.
Thos Carson 5:37
Yeah. At the same time, this neighborhood had everything. I mean, this was like, you know, you go down the street and you got Shalimar, where they had to close off. You know, I grew up, wen to Carden Hall, which is right down the street.
Tim Smith 5:52
You went to Carden Hall.
Thos Carson 5:53
I went to Carden Hall.
Tim Smith 5:53
And now your kids go to Carden Hall, that's amazing.
Thos Carson 5:56
But so, at sixth grade I knew that Carden Hall was not my vibe, you know. All my friends were going to Ensign, and I was like, I need to break out of this place. You know, I wasn't asked back. I never got kicked out. But it was just bizarre back then, I mean, it was a different kind of school then. We had Mr. Jones, who was our principal, he was a Navy SEAL, and you get paddled.
Tim Smith 6:21
Thos Carson 6:23
But it was almost just creepy, like, you know. It only happened to me one time but there's other people that got paddled like every day. I could name names, I'm not gonna name names. But anyway, I just knew that school, that I wasn't going to survive another two years there. So basically, what happened was, because I decided to, told my mom I'm going to Ensign, and my mom was a teacher at Carden Hall so it was, it was hard to part ways but I was like, okay. And my brother at the same time, he wanted out too, and he was a grade younger. And so I was in sixth, and he was in fifth. And so we went to Ensign. And when we started at Ensign and this is right, when Volcom was taking off. So Quiksilver was already a thing, you know, growing up, and then Volcom came into play and it was like, you know, I mean, for me growing up, we were surfers, skaters, and like, you know, wearing baggy shorts and vision streetwear and launch ramps all over the street. I mean, that's how we grew up. But you know, we were throwing footballs and doing all that too. It was, it was all the above. And I grew up on a block with 17 kids, 17 boys varying ages. And literally every single one, one of them is a Navy SEAL, ones a helicopter pilot, anther ones an architect, like, they all turned out pretty well. I don't know how but it was definitely a fun childhood growing up in the Heights. Growing up in the Heights, it was it was the best time ever. I mean, like, you know, the "Indian Trails" is what we call it, but it was the Cliff Drive Park now. But we called it the Indian Trails, and so the Indian Trails back in the day, didn't have the slides. It had a basketball court but like, it was all overgrown, and it was just like, you know, like, like the ENC or like, a green belt to us. And we literally get up at 7am, go down to the park, and we'd be home at 7pm and we just stay down there all day. You know, we had army paint on our faces. We were doing all sorts of stuff, you know, building tree houses, just messing around. And, anyway, growing up in the Heights was the like the best.
Tim Smith 8:37
Do you find it interesting, you're back in the Heights, raising a family or no? It's just like...
Thos Carson 8:41
You know, I never wanted to leave honestly because, it's like, I have so many like memories and roots there. And plus I have my family there. Like, my dad lives down the street and my brother lives down the street. It's just like, you know, and it's just so central I feel, like, to Newport Beach. Like if you want to go check the waves. Living down on the beach is cool, but it's like the warzone.
Tim Smith 8:41
Yeah, it's changing a bit, but yeah, it's like totally..
Thos Carson 8:54
Yeah, it's definitely changing, but everything's changing around here. I mean, you kind of gotta roll with it. But the Heights was fun growing up.
Tim Smith 9:19
Do you like the change, that it's changing?
Thos Carson 9:22
Well, I mean, property value wise, yeah. I mean, property value, yeah. But it's hard when you start getting into you got big developers come in, and you got to choose sides and stuff like that, because you got the environmental side, and really, like I try to stay out of it and let things evolve, because, really, I mean, my business is evolving with what's going on around.
Tim Smith 9:49
So before we get to your business, I want so ask you some questions. So like, being so local, I don't think I've had anybody yet on the podcast that grew up and still lives in Newport, which I love. So if you're gonna surf, where do you like to surf? First spot.
I mean, growing up surfing in Newport, it totally depends on the time of year. So yo you got West swell in the winter, which is Blackies. And you have the river jetties and you got the point. I'm not really a Wedge surfer. I like going down to watch people surf The Wedge. I got a lot of friends that surf The Wedge. I've surfed The Wedge, but I'm regular foot and going back-side on that Wedge is not my.... But honestly, I would say the best wave that we have in Newport is th?
18th Street right?
Thos Carson 10:38
When the point brakes and it's breaking good, it is one of the best.
Tim Smith 10:42
So you weren't going to like, I mean, you're not going.. like when you were a kid, we're going down to South County, Trestles, Trails, Churches?
Thos Carson 10:50
Of course, but so when I was a kid growing up, we all met at 32nd Street. 32nd Street was the spot. That was like, when you were 16 years old, and you know, you got your first girlfriend and you're hanging out on the beach. We were at 32nd Street. And the waves are always good there, like it's kind of right in between 54th and Blackies, where you got a left off the jetty, you'vev got a little right. You know, it's super fun and you just basically hang out at the beach all day. The sand. You got the boardwalk right there. We had a bunch of friends that grew up on the beach, like kind of all in that area where we kept our surfboards. And it was just, you know, a party, party time. It was fun.
Tim Smith 11:36
Were you, did you do the Junior Guards at all growing up?
Thos Carson 11:39
Yea, so I did Junior Guards. I was a sailor too. So I did any twice an evening at Newport Harbor Yacht Club and then I would do Junior Guards in the afternoon. So I did that for a couple years. I did sailing for a lot longer. I sailed from when I was probably in second grade till about I would say seventh grade.
Tim Smith 12:01
And then now you're back at, you're back at Newport Harbor Club.
Thos Carson 12:05
Well, I never really left Harbor Yacht Club.
Tim Smith 12:09
Because your parents were members, and then you became a member. We'll talk about that for a second because there's a lot of yacht clubs.
Thos Carson 12:16
I'll talk about Junior Guards really quick. So what I used to do at Junior Guards was, the first year was, you know, back in the day Junior Guards, I mean, dude, you got in trouble, you're doing 100 push-ups. It was more like bootcamp. So what I would do was I'd ride my bike up from the pier, like towards The Wedge, and I lock it up to one of the street signs, I forget which one but like, you know, up towards like, 8th Street. And so we'd have to do the Wedge run right when we got there and we'd run to The Wedge and back to the pier. And so I would get right in the middle, right, so I wouldn't drive through the fastest, but I would be in front of the slowest people. And then I'd hide behind the trash can and then they'd all pass me and then I got on my bike with my surfboard, and I'd go down to 32nd Street. And that was the last year I did Junior Guards. But really, like, I think the teacher at the last day didn't even know my name. She's like, really, are you in our class?
Tim Smith 13:20
Were you doing the monster mile?
Thos Carson 13:23
All my friends were surfing at 32nd street and it was like, you know, I'm not gonna, I'm sailing all day and now I gotta go to boot camp. It's like, Dude, I want to go hang out my friends at 32nd street. So and it was one of the best summers ever. Because it's just kind of like a cycle in Newport always, like some summers are better than others. You get those, like, South swells, and the surf is super good and you're sitting there at Junior Guards, you know, doing push ups and it's like, I want to be at the beach.
Tim Smith 13:55
So going now that you're - we're not going to get into your business yet - but, your dad was a fisherman.
Thos Carson 14:02
So my dad actually was not a fishermna. My dad is a metal fabricator. He's a boat builder. So he has a shop over on 19th or 18th and Monrovia.
Tim Smith 14:13
So literally right here.
Thos Carson 14:14
He's right here on 18th and Monrovia and so he has a big metal shop and a woodshop. And so in 1979 he built the original Bear Flag, which was the original one, which is like a 70-foot aluminum sportfisher, um, kind of like a Jones Goodell style, if somebody knows boating, they would know. But it was designed by a guy named Linson Orn. And my dad built it basically, you know, he cut the, the aluminum sheet metal with a skill saw and built the whole boat right at Marine fabricators right over here in Costa Mesa. And that's what Costa Mesa was, it was the boat building Mecca. And so really, I was born in 1979, so like I was, it took him four years to build it. So he started building it in, I think 2000 or 1978. And he finished it in, I think 1980. So I was two years old. So there's pictures of me like, going through the boat looking through the portholes while it's still all metal at the shop. And what happened was, is there was a boat called the Don Juan, if you see it in the bay, you know, a lot of people know the boat, the Don Juan.
Tim Smith 15:32
Yea you've showed it to me, I've seen that.
Thos Carson 15:33
It's parked ay the Bay Club. And so there was a contract that this aerospace company had to build the Don Juan for John Lennon, who is a big I think oil guy, developer, and anyway, legend around here, honestly. But so what happened was, is he was gonna have this boat built by this aerospace company. And then they got a big military contract. I think something happened. I don't know what but then the aerospace company is like, hey, we can't build this boat anymore, we're gonna we're gonna just get out of the contract. And so they took it to Elliot, and Elliot builds a lot of boats around here. Like there's a lot of famous boats that are built by Elliott in Newport. They're one of the most sought after boats, I would say, in Newport. And so, but they don't build aluminum boats so the aerospace company went to Elliot and said, Hey, we have all the bones of the boat, for you ready to go. And they're like, well, we don't know how to do aluminum. We do fiberglass. So they're like, well figure out what to do with it. You know, they bought out the contract. And so what they did was they knew my dad was building a boat, and they called my dad. And they said, Hey, we have all this aluminum. We heard you're building a boat. You want to buy it? And my dad's like, sure, you know, buy it. And so it was all aerospace aluminum, like the highest grade aluminum that you could buy.
Tim Smith 16:59
This is the original Bear Flag boat.
Thos Carson 17:03
And they sold him all the I-beams and everything for $10,000.
Tim Smith 17:07
No way. They're just trying to dump it.
Thos Carson 17:08
They're dumping it. So my dad then it was on for my dad. He's like, Okay, I got all the you know, the the bones of the boat, now I just gotta put it together. So, and he had the shop to do it. And so he has a metal fabrication shop and that's what he did. You know, and it's one of the best boats honestly.
Tim Smith 17:29
Where is the original Bear Flag?
Thos Carson 17:31
It's in Lido Yacht Anchorage.
Tim Smith 17:33
And who - is it your dad's boat still?
Thos Carson 17:33
It's my dad's boat.
Tim Smith 17:35
Does he use it?
Thos Carson 17:36
He uses it, but like, we're actually redoing it for him right now. Like, I mean, this goes into a whole other story that my dad he's not doing well, right now. Just you know, pandemic related, and senior related, to be honest with you. But we're - my brother and I are redoing the boat right now for him. But like, if you ask Gary Hill, what's his favorite boat in the whole bay? He would say Bear Flag.
Tim Smith 18:00
Okay. Well, you gotta tell - who's Gary Hill? Obviously, we all know who he is.
Thos Carson 18:03
Yeah, so so Gary Hill is the Hill's Fuel Dock, right.
Tim Smith 18:03
But a little like, Gary Hill, the great thing is, is this guy knows every single boat that comes through this harbor, and he knows every person on this harbor, and I don't see him down there anymore. Now he's just, but when you sit down and chat with him, there is not one person that guy didn't know. And he had a fuel dock.
Thos Carson 18:26
And so the funny thing about Gary Hill is, you know, like, I'm good friends with the guy. And he saw me when I was growing up because I worked on fishing boats growing up, so..
Tim Smith 18:36
So that was your taste for the fishing boat.
Thos Carson 18:39
So I grew up on - so my dad obviously launched this boat - you know, 1982 or 84. I forget exactly the day, the date. But I was a little kid. Yeah. And I went all through Mexico on it. So the boat..
Tim Smith 18:53
So technically it was a fishing boat. You guys use it..
Thos Carson 18:57
It's a cruiser - It's a fishing boat - I mean, it has a huge fish hull on it but it's a 70-foot yacht cruiser.
Tim Smith 19:04
So you're like taking it down to the Sea of Cortez in the summer which is epic.
Thos Carson 19:09
We you know, we spent every weekend in Catalina on the thing, and you know.
Tim Smith 19:14
And did you love it or was it just something he did?
Thos Carson 19:16
It was the best time of my whole life.
Tim Smith 19:17
And did your brother love it?
Thos Carson 19:18
Everybody loved it. So we would go down to Cabo and this was when Cabo was when, Donald - or Don Cole, I mean, just developed Palmilla and all of those. So you know, so like, when you go down there where The Office is right now, the beach was like 300 yards up to get a Pepsi. And now there's umbrellas all the way to the water. It was a whole different thing. And so we spent a lot of time every you know, every fall we'd go down to Mexico.
Tim Smith 19:49
Did your mom love the boat?
Thos Carson 19:50
Yeah. And so, the boat, the way it was designed, it has 3800 gallon fuel tanks, Detroit Diesels so you could go to Cabo. And you could go all the way up the Sea of Cortez without even fuelling up. I mean, it's a very efficient boat. And it has everything on it, you know, that you can imagine and it had a big fish hold on it and whenever I got out of the line, my dad would go alright, you need to go chill out. He'd lock me down in the fish hold for a little bit until I was freezing. I'm like, okay, dad let me out.
Tim Smith 20:23
Wait, so tell the people what's the fish hold?
Thos Carson 20:26
So tgethe fish hold is just, you know, like a basically a deck hatch that you use for all storing seafood fish that you caught. So a lot of people use it. It's like a giant walk-in under the deck. But it's usually like 32 degrees. It's very cold, it's where my dad kept all the beer. But like when you go on a long trip, you know, you got crates, so you got your lettuce and you got meat and you got everything. You know, you got all your supplies because when you're going down to Mexico back in the day, I mean, you're bringing Playboys to get out of trouble, the hand-off to like the Federales. And you know, and beer,
Tim Smith 21:06
It's just the bartering system.
Thos Carson 21:07
And then you have all your, you know, your food because you don't know - there's no there's no place to restock. Like, the boat was designed to do it. And then we you know, we'd go up the Sea of Cortez.
Tim Smith 21:18
Was that like a dream of his, that he wanted to build a boat?
Thos Carson 21:21
I think it was. I mean, the original story behind the whole thing, I'll do, this is how it all unfolded. So my dad wanted to buy a tugboat in San Francisco. So the tugboat was called Bear Flag. It was like an 80-foot tugboat, kinda like the William B. And so it was a steel tugboat. My dad just liked the boat, like, and the guy, it was for sale. And so my dad went to the owner and said, Hey, I want to buy the boat, you know, and it was supposedly a good deal at the time. And so they got down to like brass tacks. And the guy was like, well, the only thing is, is I'm gonna have to cut the boat in half and then weld it back together because of competition, because the tugboat competition. If you have a boat that's cut in half and welded back together, it can't hold the stress of being a tugboat. So my dad was like, hell no, I'm not gonna buy it.
Tim Smith 22:16
Is that a legit thing?
Thos Carson 22:17
Yeah, they do it all the time, supposedly. So anyway, before the conversation ended with the guy, my dad aked him. So I'm just curious. I really liked the name of the boat. Why is it named Bear Flag? And he's like, well, have you ever read the book Cannery Row by Steinbeck? And my dad's like, Yeah, I think so. Yeah, of course I have. And so he's like, Well, the Bear Flag was the brothel, where all the Marines used ot hang out at. And my dad was like, really? That's kind of cool, like, and so anyway, that was kind of in the back of his mind and then when the guy cut the tugboat in half...
Tim Smith 22:56
But it's amazing though that like the Bear Flag name, just that's the legacy bro.
Thos Carson 23:02
That's where, that's how it all started. And so, anyway, I wasn't old enough, you know, until, obviously, later in my life, I found that part out. And when I did find out and when he did tell him, and I did read the book again, cover to cover, like, holy shit, they relay to the Bear Flag the whole time in the book. It's like, and the Marines are going down to the Bear Flag to hang out. And actually, the building still exists in Monterrey right down from the aquarium. There's, I think Captain Jack's seafood is there. And it was just a place where like a bar where all the Marines hung out. Yeah, there was a, like a Camp Pendleton down the way. And so anyway, my dad, he decided, like, Hey, I'm not gonna buy this tugboat, but I'm just gonna build my own boat. And so that's when he decided to build his own boat.
Tim Smith 23:47
Got it. And did he have boats all before that? He was always a boater?
Thos Carson 23:51
Well, so my grandfather, he had he, like, so Gary Hill's dad was my grandfather's best friend. And not because they were best friends. It was because he bought so much fuel on the company card from Cadillac-Gage, because he was working for the military. So he had military company card. And so he was out there just burnin. He had two 454 engines and like an old Marlineer, and he was out there just fishing for marlin and tuna. And just messin' you know, messing around off the coast of California. And so Gary Hill always would tell me like, hey, you know, Peter B, and Howard. Howard was was Peter B's favorite, favorite, like customer?
Tim Smith 24:34
He because was coming in there and fueling up there all the time.
Thos Carson 24:37
And I guess he had two engines sitting up here. So when he'd blow one engine, he would just have a new engine ready to go. And he just would be maxing those things out, you know, off of California.
Tim Smith 24:46
So when you were that age, when you're doing like, going through this, did you ever dream that someday you would own Bear Flag, that you would be a fisherman?
Thos Carson 24:57
So this is kind of how that whole thing unfolded. So there's a guy named Fred Duckett.
Tim Smith 25:02
Okay. Fred Duckett.
Thos Carson 25:04
Fred Duckett and he own the boat called The Pilikia. And he owns The Fish Market restaurant. And he is, his daughter owns Blue Water Grill. And so Fred Duckett was a legend. I mean, dude, this guy.
Tim Smith 25:22
Do we have a picture of Fred? Still living?
Thos Carson 25:24
No Fred's passed away. He passed away probably, I don't know, 10 years ago or something like that.
Tim Smith 25:29
Just a legend.
Thos Carson 25:31
So I took a flight with Pat Wood's, dad.
Tim Smith 25:36
Thos Carson 25:36
Jim Wood. So Jim, we got on a flight from Sun Valley to Newport. And I was sitting down talking to him, I hadn't really met him before, you know, obviously, I knew Pat really well. And so I was just talking to him about, you know, my dad and whatnot and growing up. And I mentioned Fred Duckett, and he's like, Fred Duckett was the frickin genius. So he was a developer. And so he was the first one to do, like, people would, he was a master at at flow of traffic and path of path of travel and all that. So people would literally go to Fred Duckett and go hey, I'm building this development, please help me figure out how the cars are getting in and out and all this - he was a master at it. He was a big-time developer. But he loved sword fishing. The guy was like, and so, he rented my dad's shop. After my dad built the Bear Flag boat, he rented out my dad's woodshop. And he basically was like the John Wayne of my time. Like my dad grew up with John Wayne here in Newport Beach. And he looked up to John Wayne. I grew up with Fred Duckett. Fred Duckett was like a John Wayne. I mean, that guy had a roll of hundreds peeling off all the time. You know what I mean? So what happened was, he ran in my dad's shop. And I grew up hanging out at my dad's shop all the time, you know, building go-karts and bicycles and doing all sorts of stuff. And so anyway, I got to kind of witness that whole era of what was going on. And so yeah, he built all the Fish Markets out of Hawaii, the guy, put it this way, he...
Tim Smith 27:20
So he had the fish market down..
Thos Carson 27:22
Del Mar. The one downtown was the original one. And then Del Mar, but he was really a developer. Big time developer.
Tim Smith 27:22
But he didn't have the Fish Market - the -
Thos Carson 27:24
Tim Smith 27:24
Were down by the pier.
Thos Carson 27:26
No, no, no, no, this is the Fish Market. One up in like - so so basically what he did is, he saw the Crab Cooker and he paid scientists to go in and copy the recipes of their clam chowder and everything that he could and just just and he opened the Fish Market. And so he got in a lawsuit with the Crab Cooker because his sign was similar to the Crab Cooker, but the Crab Cooker was the staple of Newport. Like, that was like where everybody hung out back in the day. They were the number one Heineken distributor, they they sold more kegs of Heineken beer than anybody in the world at the time of the Crab Cooker. So I mean...
Tim Smith 28:24
This is like the rich history of Newport.
Thos Carson 28:26
Yeah, I know it. And so, Fred Duckett and John Freis is another guy. They, John Freis was the restaurant guy. And Fred Duckett was kind of the developer boat guy. And so he had a boat called The Pilikia, which was like, looked exactly like my dad's boat. My dad actually built the tower on it, but it was just a little bit bigger. It was an 80-footer, my dad's was a 70-footer. And so my dad, he like, swordfishing back in the day was like the, like, what you would call like the, the, the, what do you say --
The mecca of fishing?
Yeah, like this is the top tier. Harpoon swordfishing.
Tim Smith 29:06
Don't you think it still is?
Thos Carson 29:07
It still is, but nobody's doing it. But back in the day, that was the shit. Like Harpoon swordfish was like the most fun, the most adrenaline. Like, and, you know, there were, there was a ton of swordfish off the coast of California. And it was a business too, so you're like, Fred Duckett was a businessman, that's for sure. And so I worked for him eventually down the road, but he worked for - so my dad rented the shop to him and he built all the Fish Market restaurants. All the woodworking out of my dad's shop. So I grew up watching him and I'm like, Dude, this guy is the coolest dude. You know?
Tim Smith 29:48
It's funny though, you go back and you start, like, the seeds of entrepreneur between like, Wooly between Eckert, then you go to Duckett and you start seeing, and then I want to get to your business because that's my favorite part of it. So, but it's amazing how you start seeing it, and then it becomes a vision of what you're doing.
Thos Carson 30:08
Yeah. Well, the thing is, is like, you get, like, I was lucky to grow up with a hands-on experience of just being able to like, witness it firsthand and not like seeing it from far away.
Tim Smith 30:22
But did you ever, like, when you were going through starting your business and doing that, did you like, go back to those thoughts? You're like, dude, if that guy can do it, I can do it. Like, I'm gonna do it. Like..
Thos Carson 30:31
Yea, and not really, to tell you the truth, what I found was like, Hey, I'm super passionate about what I'm doing. But the angles that, like anything, like boxing, it's all about angles. And you see these guys work in these angles, and how they conduct business, and the way they do it, and what works. And it's like, if the wheels not broken, why would you fix it? Like, why don't I try to like, do what these guys are doing, but just, you know, a little different angle.
Tim Smith 31:05
So let's, let's fast forward. So I remember you telling me, so you're in college down in San Diego, and you wanted to get a server job and you're like nah...
Thos Carson 31:13
So so I grew up working on boats out of Newport. So I worked on Bongos which was, it's still running right now. They got three boats. And, you know, I went, I used to ride my bike down to where the Alley Restaurant is, off Bayside side, right? Yeah. I used to ride my bike down every day and go, Hey, are you guys hiring? They'd be like, nope, come back tomorrow. And I'm like, you know, 15/16 years old? No, yeah. I didn't have a license. I was like, 14/15. And they're like, yeah, come back tomorrow. And then finally.
Tim Smith 31:46
Then you came back tomorrow. And the next day.
Thos Carson 31:47
Well, I kept coming back for, like, three weeks. And then finally, a guy didn't show up. And they're like, Hey, be here tomorrow at 4am. And I was like, dude, okay, this is it. And so I got on the boat, you know, and I work with the owner, Joe Bongos who is very, very particular, like the most strict guy I've ever met in my whole life. And so like, if there was a scale on the bait tank, dude, you're scrubbing for another hour. But it was El Nino. So we went out fishing and this when albacore was around. And that's what I'm saying like Newport is, it's a cycle. It's always changing. But it's always, it's not getting worse or better. It's just changing.
Tim Smith 32:33
It's albacore. It's bluefin. It's swordfish. The swells are changing.
Thos Carson 32:38
It's amazing to see like, you know, how the ocean impacts and the weather and everything, the cycle of life, really. And so anyway, we're working on boats. It was El Nino and I had to cut like, I mean, we would be 60 albacore, we'd catch a day. 60 yellowfin, 60 Dorado 60 yellowtail. And like, you know, that was the limit, like, so like, you can't catch any more because it's 10 per person. And they want to catch more. And I'm just like, dude, there is no - every cooler is -- there is nothing, there is no more fish we could put on this.
Tim Smith 33:16
And when you're working, you're actually taking the fish off, you're putting bait on, you're cutting the -
Thos Carson 33:21
Hook in hand. Well, that was the fun part about it. Because basically, nobody that went out on the boat really knew how to fish. So you're casting the bait and you're getting hooked up and you're setting the gear and you're hooking them. And that's the best part about fishing is hooking the fishing.
Tim Smith 33:36
Not reeling it in. You're like, give me the electric reel!
Thos Carson 33:44
So, but anyway, I got good at cutting fish because of that. And honestly, like..
Tim Smith 33:50
Why did you want to do that?
Thos Carson 33:52
Well, the reason I wanted to do it was because I grew up on boats. And it's like, when you're a kid
Tim Smith 33:56
And you liked it? Or you wanted to make the money?
Thos Carson 33:59
It was a trade that I knew. You go after what you know.
Tim Smith 34:03
Yeah, for sure.
Thos Carson 34:04
When you're 15 and 14 years old, and you have an opportunity to go.
Tim Smith 34:07
I mean, did you need the money?
Thos Carson 34:09
I mean, yeah, you always need money, right?
Tim Smith 34:11
Yea I mean, don't know. I mean, it's a different world. My kids don't need money but I did. Like. if I were doing..
Thos Carson 34:16
Yea I mean it definitely was money-related. And also independence. And also getting out there on the ocean, I honestly, like, looked at these older guys and I'm like, Dude, I want to be out there fishing with like... Learning. And it's more I would say learning than anything, like that's what it is all about like, and if you don't do it yourself, you're never gonna learn it - unless you - like tying a knot.
Tim Smith 34:44
Just a couple of principles. Number one, you're seeing examples like mentors doing their own businesses, right? That's number one. Number two, like it takes hours and days to learn a trade and you want to do it and you want learn from those like mentors, and you're grinding it out at a young age. Okay, so continue so..
Thos Carson 35:05
So so so anyway worked for for Bongos and I worked for Fin Fever, I worked for Hi-Count and worked for Limitless. They were like a sisterships. And so I did that till I was in college, basically. And then I, you know, I actually lived in Mammoth. When I went to Ensign. I moved to Mammoth and I got really into snowboarding. So I ended up going to Colorado State for a little bit. I graduated college. I mean, I graduated high school I went to went to Colorado State, but I wasn't really snowboarding. I was just in a fraternity hanging out at parties. So I'm like, I gotta get out of here. So I moved to San Diego. And when I moved to San Diego, there's fish places everywhere. So I was like, Okay, I need to get a job. You know, I needed to get some extra money going. And so anyway, I went to the Fish Market Del Mar, because I knew Fred Duckett.
Tim Smith 35:05
Yeah. And he's still owned it.
Thos Carson 35:10
And he's still owned it at the time. And so I filled out an application, and they called me and they're like, Yeah, you're hired, you know, like, come in the next day. And so I was working in, I wanted to be a waiter but -
Tim Smith 36:15
Yeah, so you applied to be a server or waiter.
Thos Carson 36:18
And they put me in the fish market. Because they had like a fish market, kinda like Bear Flag, you know. So I got and that was my first fish market experience, you know? And so the first thing the guy...
Tim Smith 36:27
Were you bummed that you were in the fish market?
Thos Carson 36:29
No wasn't bummed at all. I actually was kind of stoked to just..
Tim Smith 36:32
I want to be a server because I want to make those tips, right?
Thos Carson 36:34
But I was like, you know, I'm just happy to have a job. Like, you know what I mean, you're stuck and working on the fish market in Del Mar, it's cool. And so I remember this kid, Josh, first day, he's like, okay, laid out the ground rules for me. He's like, so here's the deal. We, we don't pull tips here. You get tip, you pocket your tip. Like, you know, he's laying out all the ground rules. Like he's been there for like four or five years already. And I'm like, okay, cool, whatever, you know, I'm not making the rules. And then in walks Duckett, you know, and he's like, Tom Jr. Hey, how you doing? And the guy who's got a real deep voice, you know, when it comes over a big guy like that your size 6'4", 6'5". But he has a big presence, you know, and the guy orders a Caesar salad. And I'm like, yeah, I'll help you out. You know, he wanted me to help him. Like, it was my first day on the job, like, so I go, okay. I'm like, trying to figure out how to do a Caesar salad for the guy. And it had nothing to do with fish, you know. And so anyway, I got him a Caesar salad. And he tipped me 100 bucks, peeled off 100 bucks. And the guy Josh looks to me, and he's like, you didn't tell me you knew Fred.
Tim Smith 36:50
We're pulling those tips!
Thos Carson 37:03
And, you know, he came in every single day after that in order to Caesar salad and gave me $100. No way. Josh, every time he came in, he's like, ----- mother ---.
Tim Smith 37:58
He's like, I should have said we're pulling tips.
Thos Carson 38:01
So anyway, from there, I worked at a place called El Pescador in La Jolla that was very similar to Bear Flag, and Sean Shannon and was the owner and he was very hands-on. So you're like working side-by-side with the owner. And it was just like, dude, right up my alley. Like, I was like, Dude, this is like, something that's attainable. Like, when you're working at like a fancier restaurant, you're like, I'm not gonna be able to, like, be able to open something like this. But at the same time, at this point, I already was planning on opening a restaurant.
Tim Smith 38:36
So you were finished - were you finished with college? Or you were finishing college?
Thos Carson 38:39
Oh no, I was going through college. But this was a plan like, kinda like before even going into college like, how do I open like something? Like a seafood spot or something to do with fishing for a living?
Tim Smith 38:51
Did you talk to your dad or other mentors about like, I want to own, like, I want to open a fish restaurant. And what would they say?
Thos Carson 38:59
Dude, I got shut fricken down. Hey, what happened was, is I thought, you know, Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to tell my dad and the family like what was going on because I'm like, there's no way I'm gonna get shut-down with everybody here. You know? And so my sister went to USC. She was valedictorian, USC. DG sorority. And went to UCLA Anderson business school. And, you know, was a top executive at Toyota.
Tim Smith 39:31
That's a perfect Newport path, right? You go from Carden Hall to Newport Harbor to USC.
Thos Carson 39:36
Which she was never gonna be in her life. I knew I was smart. But I didn't want to be at home reading books. I want to be doing shit. So anyway, I had the conversation about you know, hey, I signed this lease on this place, and...
Tim Smith 39:57
Oh, so you already were going through it.
Thos Carson 39:59
So it was right at the beginning, grassroots. So what happened was..
Tim Smith 40:04
So you're out of college, you're back in Newport, you signed a lease.
Thos Carson 40:08
So I was working at El Pescador for a little while and then I got a job at this place Zenbu. And Zenbu was a sushi restaurant. And they put me right at, right away on, on basically a fish case, being a sushi chef, because I knew how to cut fish and took a little while to like, you know, I was definitely the grunt doing everything for a while. But that place was like the party spot for USD. So that was just like a super fun job. And so I'd work at El Pescador in the morning, and then I go work at Zenbu and I get out at like, one o'clock, at you know, A.M. and then have like, one hour to go to the bar and have a couple of drinks. And so I did that for I don't know, 2-3, two years. And I was like, Okay, I gotta get out of San Diego. So I finally graduated. And Erika actually beat me to the punch on the graduation, even though she's a year younger than me. So I had one more semester that I had to complete.
Tim Smith 41:04
And you guys are just dating, you're not married yet, you're not engaged.
Thos Carson 41:08
And so then when I moved home, I'm like, I gotta get out of San Diego. There's no way to do have a career down here. It's too spread out. There's way too much partying going on, like, you know, I gotta move home. So we moved back to Newport. I got a job at Bristol Farms. And I was running everything at Bristol Farms. I was doing meat department. I was doing seafood department. I was doing the deli department. I was doing the sushi department. I got hired in the sushi originally, but I could do everything. So, and they realize that but you know, back then I'm making $7.25 an hour and my wife is working as a mortgage broker,
Tim Smith 41:45
Was she your wife at the time?
Thos Carson 41:46
I mean, my girlfriend at the time. She was doing, you know, commercial mortgage broker for Bank of America. And Wells Fargo so like, you know, that whole side of it actually comes together for starting the business wise.
Tim Smith 42:04
So she's killing it you're making $7.25 an hour just killing yourself at Bristol Farms.
Thos Carson 42:09
So so but she knows my plan to open this fish restaurant.
Tim Smith 42:13
And she believes in it, right?
Thos Carson 42:14
She believes in it. She knew that I could do it. And then so really..
Tim Smith 42:18
Which is pretty epic dude, it's pretty epic. Because you're like, you bring your girlfriend, you guys are working together. You go pitch the parents on Thanksgiving. How did the pitch go?
Thos Carson 42:28
So the pitch went like this. I told them.
Tim Smith 42:31
Wait, what year was this was?
Thos Carson 42:32
This is 2007.
Tim Smith 42:34
Okay, so right when we're like, right before the Great Recession.
Thos Carson 42:38
This is bad timing.
Tim Smith 42:40
This is like the peak.
Thos Carson 42:41
But the thing is, it was the best timing for me and for what I was doing. So, when I pitched the idea, my sister shot me down so quick and said, "The mom and pop shops are out. The Home Depots, the Walmarts, the Costcos, are taking over the world. Nobody's gonna go shop at your little shop." And basically like..
Tim Smith 43:06
Because your plan was I'm gonna have a fish market slash restaurant slash bar.
Thos Carson 43:13
Like well, but at that point, it wasn't even a bar. It was just a fish market and restaurant. Like, I'm starting as small as I can, like, zero money. Zip. We had just bought a house together. So we just chipped in money together. Which we were lucky. Erika and I were lucky to -
Tim Smith 43:32
Where was the house?
Thos Carson 43:33
House is on Cabrillo Street. So the fact that she was in the mortgage business, and she knew everything was crashing. And so I went to my parents, and my dad's like, "I'll buy you one piece of restaurant equipment, whatever pieces you want, but that's it. I'm not investing in restaurants."
Tim Smith 43:50
Was the plan to ask them for money to invest and you'd pay him back?
Thos Carson 43:53
The plan was to do that. So then the next step was Erika's Dad. And so my dad it didn't go - he told me he'd buy me one piece of restaurant equipment. So I'm like, Okay, well, I'll take it. I'm not gonna shut that down, whatever. And then, so I go to Erika's dad, and you know, I had my business plan, which was, you know, probably like three pages of business plan. And at the end of it, he told me, he's, like, you know, Thos, I don't know anything about the restaurant business. He's like, if I were you, I'd get into the real estate business. He told me that I should get into commercial real estate and I go, Okay, well, but then at the end, he did say, but he said, "You know, I know this is your dream, and, you know, I want you to follow your dreams, but" like, at the same time, I'm marrying his daughter, so I'm sure he was thinking about other things besides, you know, my dreams. More like, hey...
Tim Smith 44:52
How are you gonna take care of my daughter?
Thos Carson 44:54
So, anyway, that didn't go very well. And so I basically went to Erika and was like, Hey, we got shut-down. I don't really know what to do. But she's like, well, we need to take a loan on our house right away, like, and this was like 2007 mortgage. So we took a $50,000 loan on our house. And basically we put $100,000 down on the house. So we're taking half of it and, putting it into a restaurant that nobody thinks is gonna work. And so the landlord kicked in $30,000. This was the original place where Wild Taco was, or is right now. And so it was old VW mechanic garage.
Tim Smith 45:41
But it's crazy because you were at the peak of the market going into the Great Recession. Your mom and dad said no, Erika's mom and dad said no.
Thos Carson 45:49
Shut me down.
Tim Smith 45:50
But like, at that time, were you thinking, "Alright, I'll just --- it. I'll go get a job."
Thos Carson 45:54
Well, the thing was, is Bristol Farms when I quit, they told me, they wanted me. They're like, we want you. Because I gave them two weeks. You know? I'm like, Hey, you guys haven't give me a raise. I know I do everything here, like, and really it was like a learning curve for me on what I don't want. Because there's so much waste involved in like a big grocery store like that. The amount of food that goes in the trash and the amount of stuff that sits on shelves that just gets wasted. It's just inefficient. And when you see inefficient, and in my mind, I'm thinking efficiency. Like, hey, I wanted to try to come up with something that is like a well-oiled machine, not something that is, you know, wasteful. You don't make money throwing things in the trash. But anyway...
So you like had that model. You were like, Oh, that's not - I don't want it and I don't care. I'm gonna go for this.
Yeah, I at that point, I was I already had signed the lease and so Darrin Wilson, who is a badass. I mean, that guy helped me out big time. So he was managing, like, the Cannery Village down there and he was managing a bunch of different properties.
Was it, was that was the Cannery - that was before the Pardons came in and did everything right?
The Cannery Village is like, where the old, what was it called? The Cannery Villages is where Alta is. What was it called where everybody used to get in fights that they shut down? What was it called?
Tim Smith 47:24
You're talking about the club? That was..
Thos Carson 47:26
Not the club, it was called, dude what was it called? I'll think of the name. I'll think of the name. But the Cannery Village is basically where all the lofts are.
Tim Smith 47:38
Yeah. Yeah. Where Kevin Weeda did all that.
Thos Carson 47:40
Yea Kevin Weeda, to the Cannery, to where Rudy's was.
Tim Smith 47:48
That's where you had your first Wild Tacos.
Thos Carson 47:51
And so when I was in the Cannery Village, I was thinking like, hey, Cannery Row, like the book. Bear flag. I'm like, I gotta call it Bear Flag.
What did your dad think when you said you're gonna call Bear Flag? Did he like that?
You know, there really wasn't much input. My dad's really cut and dry. Like, you know, I think he it's more tough love than anything. And really, I think, later on, obviously, he was really proud and happy but at the time, like, I don't think that it really meant too much to him. But the thing that I did know was I already had a big 70-foot commercial looking boat sitting out front that said, Bear Flag on it, so you know.
Tim Smith 48:33
Thos Carson 48:34
So I'm thinking free advertising, I'm trying to use any angle I can.
Tim Smith 48:37
I love it. The boxing thing. I love what you said about boxing. In boxing, you're always looking for the angle. And in life, you're always looking for the angle, right? I love it. And that's like the crux and the cornerstone of entrepreneurship. Like, what's my angle? What angle can I get? Okay, so you open the first shop. Then we go into the Great Recession.
Thos Carson 48:58
So so what happened was basically the landlord Darrin Wilson kicked-in some money for TI. Which helped me out. So the first place we opened. We opened for $90,000. Like, I mean, the place I'm building at Crystal Cove right now is costing 1.5 million. Like the difference, like what happened? Like, it's 10 years.
Tim Smith 49:21
I guess it's like..
Thos Carson 49:23
What's going on? So but anyway, I'm learning how to do it right now. You know, that was the first shop and it was piecing it together buying used equipment making it work. And I opened up as a catering company because it was the zoning was not zoned for a restaurant where I was, but they were rezoning that whole area. And that's where Darren Wilson came in and was like, Hey, dude, in two years, they're gonna have this all rezoned for restaurant use and everything. So just open up as a catering company. So we had to do, we definitely had some hurdles to overcome, like as opening Bear Flag. We had no tables to start out. So we opened up as a catering company.
Tim Smith 50:02
I remember that. Yeah.
Thos Carson 50:04
And so people would pull up with like their pickup trucks after surfing and literally have lunch on their tailgate in the car. And then when we built the place we built concrete benches outside which now are there forever. Because like, they're solid concrete. But really like we did that just so that we had some sort of seating there that the city couldn't they weren't considered chairs. Yeah. Yeah. And so it was originally opened up as a catering company and it evolved, and finally, you know, we got tables because the zoning change, and so just slowly and slowly, but really, you know..
But when did, what was the day when the thing started hitting because I remember like, it was 2008/2009 where like, you go to Bear Flag. You couldn't find a parking spot. There was a line out the door.
So really, I mean, what happened was when the mortgage business busted and all the French 75's and the fine dining and all that is took a nose-dive because those mortgage guys were usually out spending money wining and dining and like, and, and really everybody wanted good food, but they didn't want to go spend hundreds of dollars because nobody knew what was going on. It was like the first real recession that we've seen in you know, decades. So anyway, timing wise, it worked out really well because we had high quality food, we had fresh fish. And it was more on like that kind of chill vibe where it wasn't fancy. And you could go in there with no shoes on and sand on your feet. And really, when it took off was when I realized is when you see like the old guy walking up with a cane with his wife at you know, 11am right when we open coming to get fish because they're trying to be healthy, you know? And then you got the junior lifeguards coming home from junior lifeguards parking their bike outside and you know, eating tacos. And then you got like the yoga moms coming down. Then you got the suits guys coming in and I was like, we pretty much got the full angle.
Was there a day that you can actually remember, you're like shit, it worked.
The day was, was when the line was all the way through the alley to Rudy's parking lot. And I was on the grill. And I remember I went back and I dropped the spatula on the ground and I cracked a Bud Light and I sat in my seat and I'm like, you guys are grilling now dude, I'm done.
Tim Smith 52:42
So that's amazing. That's like one of those moments.
Thos Carson 52:45
Like a microphone.
Tim Smith 52:47
Drop the spatch.
Thos Carson 52:48
I'm like, I'm like looking outside. I'm like, I there's no way I'm going to be able to do this. Like dude, you guys step-up?
Tim Smith 52:55
Yeah, it's time. And was that when the time came when you're like, all right, I can do this. I'm scaling this.
Thos Carson 53:02
Well. Really, I mean, the thing was, is the original plan behind it was like I wanted to do it for the community. Because like I worked on - working on boats and all the fresh fish that I have, like I'd always bring bags of fish to all my neighbors.
Tim Smith 53:16
Okay so but we didn't talk about this. So at the time when you open the restaurant, did you also fish? Were you bringing all your own fish in?
Thos Carson 53:25
Yeah, we were fishing but you know, obviously when I started the restaurant, I'm I had a commercial license and, and landing license where I could buy fresh fish rolls. So yeah, that was out of the gate what was the plan. Because growing up fishing, I knew how much like quality sea resources that we had, yeah, that we're just going to, you know, Ziploc bags in the freezer, and somebody's freezer that they never were even going to use and really like, the the idea behind it was just like, hey, I've experienced what fresh seafood tastes like. You go to the grocery store and you bring it home and it's not good. You know, it's terrible. Nobody likes fish, because of what the options are. So the whole goal behind it was, how do I bring this Pacific Ocean to Newport Beach.
Tim Smith 54:21
It's like sea to table. Ocean to table, right?
Thos Carson 54:24
I'm like, How do I do that? And really, like because I was a fisherman and because I am a fisherman, I have a lot of the connections out there on the ocean. And that's the reason that I am still fishing and I have active, you know, boats out there fishing is really for the network of still having those connections. We're knowing when people are catching fish, who has what, and that way it gives me kind of a little bit of the inside trade on it. Buying fresh seafood and I'm not like saving money by doing it. But what I'm doing is I'm supporting the local fishermen. Yeah. I mean, these guys are all filling up a Gary Hills fuel dock and Dana Point or whatever, you know. And these guys are all, have families and whatnot that they're and they're out there grinding. It's not easy out there in the water and I knew right away that I did not want to make my living off fishing by itself. Its hard work, it is such hard work.
Tim Smith 55:25
Okay, so give me a snapshot. That was 2007/2008 .What is the Bear Flag look like now? How many stores?
Thos Carson 55:34
So basically what happened was we had our original store and we got maxed out. It got too busy. So Lido Village whole area over there. There was the Regatta cafe and they used to sing opera. And so that place was just super rundown. The Lido theater was super rundown. The Pavilions had just left and West Marine was moving in but they hadn't even really moved in yet. They were on the coast highway. Well, is it Lido Village? Marina was a ghost town.
Tim Smith 56:12
There was just one bad bar or club after another.
Thos Carson 56:15
So anyway, it was kind of a dead zone. And so when I, I saw the place and it said for lease, and I was like, Dude, you know what, I found out that it had a liquor license that came with it. And I was like, let me call and see. And so I had, Erika's dad, and at this point, Erika's dad and my dad, they saw that it works. Now they're on on my team. So anyway, he's a real estate guy and very successful in the real estate business. And so he called and you know, hinted that, hey, you know, we were looking at, you know, an opportunity to open a restaurant here where the Regatta Cafe is. And the girl was like, well, we're very, very particular on who we're going to have come in here. And he's like, Well, what do you think about a place called bear Flag? And she was like, oh, Bear Flag. Well, actually, the owner of Fritz Duda said that he wanted a restaurant like Bear Flag in here so. So it just like pieces came together like that.
But you think timing wise because now with the renaissance of the peninsula, Lido Village, you got, you know, the Lido House Hotel? It's like everything, like you were like, the first anchor.
It was ghost town right there and everybody thought I was crazy for opening up right there. But the thing is, it was I'm from Newport. I remember as a kid going down to buzz - there was a club. And I was sneaking in there. And I remember that whole area, and like, you know, obviously, you got Lido Island right there. And that whole area was just like, oh, yeah, the bar I was talking about was Snug Harbor. Snug Harbor was just a breakfast spot but like literally like at night, I mean, that was like, the freakin sailor bar. There'd be a fight out there every single night. They finally had to shut it down. But literally, I just remember that area growing up as a kid
Tim Smith 58:16
But you thought it was awesome, right?
Thos Carson 58:18
And I'm like, Hey, I'm like, everybody's like, Dude, why would you move like you got it so successful where you are? And I just the zoning and all that stuff that I was dealing with at the time, just was such a headache. You know what I mean? And I was like, Dude, I need to start over from scratch. And so that's when we moved to Lido or Fritz Duda's center right there. And literally, the first day it was.. took off. I mean, we obviously had to remodel the whole thing. The Regatta Cafe wasn't even cooking food there at the time. They had another location that they were sending in like a hot truck. And they were storing the food. I mean, the place was just thrashed. It was disgusting. So we went in, and we demoed the whole thing, built that place up. And that that's kind of like our flagship location now.
Tim Smith 59:17
Okay, so a couple of questions. We got to wrap up pretty soon. So opening a restaurant - 90% of restaurants fail in the first year, right? Isn't that this? This is like 85 to 90%
Thos Carson 59:26
I wasn't looking at them.
Tim Smith 59:27
I know but what was like in your opinion, like, you know, both your parents, Erika's parents like we're not backing you. What do you think like your secret sauce was? Like, what was the reason that not only the first one worked, the second one, and now you have how many stores?
Thos Carson 59:44
Six store now.
Tim Smith 59:45
Six stores and then you also have Circle Hook. Right? Is that part of it?
Thos Carson 59:49
Yeah, that's part of it. It's part of Wild Taco.
Tim Smith 59:51
And so what would you say like, what's the secret sauce for you?
Thos Carson 59:54
Well I mean, honestly, the what it is, is if you're so good at what you do. You can't fail. You know what I mean? And I know that's how you work, Tim. I know how good you are, at what you do. You already know in your mind that you can't fail. If you go into something thinking that you're gonna fail, you're gonna lose every time.
Tim Smith 1:00:13
Well, it's kind of like the m&m thing. Failure is not an option.
Thos Carson 1:00:16
It's not an option.
Tim Smith 1:00:17
And the funny thing is, if the first one didn't work out, you would have figured out another one, because what you got, and it's funny, because I know, I just hear rumors around. But I know there's people chasing, have been chasing you to buy your whole business. And I know you'll never sell it because like, that's your baby. And like, I love to hear that it's like part of the community, like you want to be part of the community, you're delivering something that doesn't, you found the opportunity and timing which other people haven't, which is amazing.
Thos Carson 1:00:45
Yeah, the goal is not to reinvent the wheel is to make the wheel spin better.
Tim Smith 1:00:51
Thos Carson 1:00:52
Efficiency. Add a spoke to the wheel, that is something that gives to the community. And honestly, like, you know, as we grew, you know, we opened Crystal Cove, we opened Huntington. And really, I want to keep it tight knit. And the reason I did it is you know, Huntington was more for DJM, and that whole community, like, you know what they said they were going to do down there, which was like, they were going to have this whole like, kinda like Slanted Door like ferry boat district near San Francisco. It kind of changed a little bit.
Tim Smith 1:01:26
But it's still killer though.
Thos Carson 1:01:27
It is is awesome. Yeah, the fact that people can sit at the bar and look out at the beach and you got the US Open. And like that Huntington was always connected to me growing up like, we partied in Huntington, partied in Laguna, we hung out with everybody from Huntington Beach High School, to Laguna Beach High School, as a kid growing up. And so I feel like that is part of my community. And I'm not sure you know, people want me to open up in LA, people want me to open up San Clemente all these other places. So really, I don't know what the future plans are right now but I'm focusing on here still. I just want to focus on trying to adapt and make my business better for the community and better for the time, you know, everything's changing all the time. So you gotta be on your toes. It's like a little tap dance.
Tim Smith 1:02:18
Yeah, for sure. So a couple of last questions. Is there any quotes or thoughts that you've always lived by? Like a mantra, something that you've always lived by?
Thos Carson 1:02:27
I wish you would give me the heads up on this one. You only live once? I don't know. I'm trying to think.
Tim Smith 1:02:37
No, but that's a good one. The funny thing is as I get older, and as I like, raise kids, and you go through all this stuff, and like you go, you start realizing and you know, having Amber's mom pass away, it's like, very sudden, and very young, you start realizing like, did you really do only live once and like, it doesn't matter, you can't take your money with you. You can't do the things with you. If that's what you're hyper focused on, you're missing a lot of shit. You know what I mean?
Thos Carson 1:03:02
100% and I mean, honestly, love makes the world go round. Like, you know, there you could you could honestly get mad and hate people and like, you know, have all that but like, that never fixes anything. Like you realize that like, you know, love is what makes the world go round. So I mean, that's kind of the motto I live by and yeah, I mean, you only live once so you got to make the best of it every day.
Tim Smith 1:03:34
Well, so thanks for coming. And one of the things that Chris my partner he says, can you just get us an invite to have Thos take us swordfishing the way that used to do it? We've never done that before. Appreciate it brother.