Eat My Catfish celebrates 9 years of satisfying taste palettes with crispy fish and all the fixin’s. What started in a food truck in Benton has grown into a favorite dining destination for people throughout central Arkansas.
When owner Travis Hester left his corporate job in Dallas to move back home and pursue his dream, he hadn’t cooked catfish a day in his life, but he grew up in an “iconic Southern family with good meals and vegetables from the garden.” It was 2008 when the 24-year-old Hester opened a food truck on Military Road in Benton. An hour later he was sold out of fish. Savory recipes passed down through his family, coupled with determination and grit, have catapulted the restaurant to success, with four brick-and-mortar locations now open.
Three years after the Eat My Catfish food truck took off, it became a local sensation among Benton residents. Every day, people would stop by to visit with Hester, fill up on fish and try their luck with the spiciest crawfish around. This popularity is what prompted Hester to open a dine-in option.
In January 2012, Eat My Catfish opened its first doors right across the street from the original food truck. Conway was the next lucky community to enjoy the delectable menu when the business opened its second location just a year and a half later. Little Rock became the site for the third location. And the fourth location in North Little Rock recently celebrated its grand opening.
Eat My Catfish now operates its dine-in restaurants and has two on-site catering trailers as well. Last year alone, the business catered more than 500 events and sold more live and cooked crawfish than anyone in the region.
In addition to the traditional catfish fare, the menu comprises everything from boiled shrimp and fried pickle chips for appetizers to po’boys and boneless chicken wings. The fish is never frozen and chicken comes from a free-range farm in Arkansas. Offering the freshest food possible has been Hester’s goal from day one.
Whatever he and his staff do, Hester reminds them to have a positive attitude with an urge to get better. “We want to develop leaders, so we hire people to help them and encourage them to be leaders in the community.”
The laidback days of the food truck work may have been replaced by lively nights in the restaurant, but Hester says he always makes time to chat with his valued customers, both the loyal ones from the early days and newcomers to the Eat My Catfish world.