Brother’s Dwight Culbreath and Robert Walker, Jr are lifelong entrepreneurs with multiple business ventures around the Chicagoland Area. They recently teamed up to open Surf’s, Up-Chicago Ridge. A casual seafood chain, Surf’s Up is known for seafood cuisine. Founded and franchised by Eric and Denise Roy, the black-owned establishment has several Surf’s Up locations around Chicago.
On the city’s southwest side, Dwight and Robert recently opened in Chicago Ridge Mall and are the only black-owned restaurant in the bustling food court. Serving Louisiana Style Cajun and Creole seafood, shrimp, fish, and more, the new establishment is a taste of something different while enjoying a day of shopping or before catching a movie in the shopping mall.
The ambitious duo decided to expand their businesses during the pandemic and have no plans of slowing down. The Chicago Defender spoke with these two entrepreneurs about their latest venture, the challenges of being a small business owner, and why there is no time like the present to grow and expand the Surf’s Up brand.
Chicago Defender: What is Surf’s Up?
Dwight: Two friends, Eric and Denise Roy started Surf’s Up about seven years ago. They knew I was in the food business and asked me to partner with them and open a franchise. So my wife and I opened our first Surf’s up in Maywood in 2000.
Chicago Defender: What is on the menu at Surf’s Up?
Dwight: We serve chicken and seafood, lobster, crab legs, and shrimp. Everything is hand-breaded. Nothing is frozen. With our food, you enjoy fresh products. That’s what separates us from the competition. We also have plenty of sides like mac and cheese, greens, French fries, and more. We do a bit of everything.
Robert: Surf’s Up also caters to large groups, corporate events, and parties.
Chicago Defender: What made you want to open a location in Chicago Ridge, specifically within the shopping mall?
Dwight: Our goal was to bring fresh chicken and seafood to the mall. I noticed there was a lack of anything like this in local shopping malls. By bringing our business to Chicago Ridge, we believe mall patrons and employees have more choices when it comes to dining.
Chicago Defender: What made you choose Entrepreneurship?
Dwight: I desired financial freedom. While entrepreneurship involves much work, time, and dedication, the rewards allow me a quality of life that I would not have if I worked for someone.
Robert: Entrepreneurship is all I know. It is a family tradition. Our parents raised us to think like entrepreneurs and to desire ownership.
Chicago Defender: Not many entrepreneurs were expanding during a pandemic. What were the challenges of growing over the past year?
Dwight: At times, it was difficult, but I also believe challenging times force you to go even harder. Despite it all, there are many opportunities to take advantage of. So my brother and I decided to take the bull by the horns and make it happen.
Chicago Defender: People often say, “don’t do business with family.” How do you balance the working partnership with the fact you are brothers?
Robert: My brother and I have always been entrepreneurs. While Dwight has worked in the food business for a while, this is a new venture for me. I saw what he was doing, and it made sense for us to partner together right now. We’ve always enjoyed a friendly, brotherly type of competition, so I’m glad we are doing this together.
Chicago Defender: You have to be careful when you pick a partner to go into business with. Is there a certain level of security and trust going into business with family?
Dwight: Yes, absolutely. Trust is everything, and like Robert was saying, it’s even better when you have a good family you can trust. We’ve been in different business ventures together for a long time, so we wanted to get together and do something on a bigger scale. God made it happen, so we both said, let’s do it.
Chicago Defender: What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur and business owner?
Robert: I’ve learned you have to keep evolving. You are only as good as you were yesterday.
Dwight: You have to be consistent with your business practices and always think big.
Chicago Defender: Do you both plan to expand to other locations?
Dwight: Yeah, absolutely. We plan to be in plenty of locations around the Midwest. It is coming soon.
Chicago Defender: What do you believe are the keys to success when building a new business?
Robert: It’s about doing business correctly and having impeccable customer service. Our goal is to sell a great product with excellent service. If you do that, I believe the people will come and continue to return.
Surf’s Up Chicago Ridge is located in the food court at Chicago Ridge Mall on 95th and Ridgeland Avenue.