From “Chopped” to “Feed the Frontlines”: Meet Shannen, a Houston chef who got creative to save his business while supporting his community.
For Chef Shannen, food has always been a family affair. As a toddler, he began helping his mom in the kitchen. By eight, he was cooking dinners for his family. He looked up to his grandmother, who whipped up biscuits, fried chicken, pies—even wedding cakes—by instinct, without measuring ingredients.
For seventeen years, Shannen worked as a hotel chef. In September 2015, when he was seriously considering starting his own business, he was invited to be a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped cooking competition.
On Chopped, Shannen’s entrée challenge was to put a creative spin on Cornish game hens. Immediately, Shannen thought of his grandmother’s fried chicken. His entrée met rave reviews and he became the first Texan chef to win Chopped.
When Shannen’s episode of Chopped aired, the media attention helped catapult his food truck, Craft Burger, into success. Craft Burger serves all-natural, never-frozen beef on freshly-baked buns, as well as a chicken sandwich inspired by Shannen’s grandmother. When Shannen was ready to expand from food trucks to a brick-and-mortar location, he relied on an Accion Opportunity Fund loan to finance his first restaurant in Houston.
When COVID struck, Shannen closed down his businesses for six weeks. “I think my saving grace was that I didn’t panic,” Shannen recalls. He explored creative ways to keep his business afloat, starting an entirely delivery-based cloud kitchen, developing a healthy meal prep service, and exploring branding opportunities with other companies. Shannen also joined Feed the Frontlines, providing meals to first responders.
For Shannen, family was the driving force behind his entrepreneurship. As a hotel chef, “I used to have to work every weekend, every holiday—that typical chef grind. I kept thinking, ‘My son’s about to be a teenager, and I know that he’s going to need me now more than ever.’”
Now, Shannen enjoys the flexibility of spending more quality time with his two children and wife, a fellow chef and business owner in her own right: “Both of my children want to be entrepreneurs. I’m really proud of that.”