Will Conley, CEO of Fishbone at the location in Woodland Hills. Shot January 28th, 2023. Photo by David Sprague

Will Conley is the chief executive and president of Fishbone Seafood, an Encino-based restaurant chain with locations throughout Southern California.

Conley launched the business in Tarzana in 2016. Now, the enterprise is approaching 16 locations. Valley-based restaurants include the Tarzana location as well as a recently opened eatery in Woodland Hills. The new restaurant is owned by Darlene Melvin, a long-time resident of the Valley region.

Fishbone Seafood serves fried and grilled shrimp, oysters and fish. Menu items include red snapper, catfish filet po’boy sandwiches and more with dinner items costing around $14.00. According to the chain’s website, the food is meant to evoke memories of the popular Friday Fish Fry that once drew families together throughout the South.

“Every location built brings life to the brand and employees and puts more people in business,” Conley wrote in an email to the Business Journal. “Fishbone Seafood was created to be an affordable franchise to allow people who couldn’t afford it in the past to be able to start a restaurant business.”

According to a Fishbone Seafood franchise info pamphlet provided by Conley, the chain’s licensing program gives potential location owners training, the option of paying to reserve a territory and guidance for necessary paperwork and requirements.

Conley wrote that he enjoys being his own boss, but that it takes discipline. He added that it is a way of “controlling your destiny.”

“The best aspect (of running my own business) is the fear of knowing it’s all on you at the end of the day,” Conley wrote. “You get up every day knowing it’s you that has to make it happen, along with your associates.”

Difficult at times

Darlene Melvin, owner of Fishbone in Woodland Hills. Shot January 28th, 2023. Photo by David Sprague

Conley’s love for his job is a double-edged sword, one of the most challenging aspects being the need to shoulder the weight of mistakes whether they are his own or not. He urges those about to start their own venture to remember that there is no specific way to run your business that will bring it success.

“Just keep moving and build it day to day,” Conley wrote. “Stay focused on the prize.”

The chief executive has kept his focus despite the toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on every part of his business. To Conley, the biggest challenge his business has faced comes down to generating capital. He wrote that in order to stay on top of capital he has looked to creative solutions made in partnership with investors and financiers.

One such example of a partnership comes from 2020, when Fishbone Seafood found success in the form of an equity stake from Grammy award-winning producer Mustard and renowned Compton rapper YG. The native Angelenos became co-owners in seven locations throughout Los Angeles when the stake was first announced. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but that same year, the hip-hop figures partnered with Postmates and Fishbone Seafood to deliver $100,000 worth of meals to South L.A.

Conley believes that being Black does not outright hurt his business. However, he added, “You have higher expectations even though you have less resources. And you’re looked at through a microscope, even from your own ethnicity.”