The Fascinating Story Behind Forest Gump and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Run, Forrest, run! If you’ve ever wondered about the link between Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and the iconic Tom Hanks film, you’re in good company. The story doesn’t fit a typical restaurant’s story. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been around since 1996, two years after the movie’s release. It’s the only restaurant that has its inception purely in a motion picture. And now, with 34 restaurants worldwide, it’s become a bit of an icon, as well–at tourist destinations from Cali to Tokyo.

The Back Story

Photo Credit by @forrest__gump__official on Instagram

If you haven’t watched Forrest Gump in its entirety, we’ll fill you in on a few key facts. In the movie, Forrest’s best friend Bubba died while serving together in the Vietnam War. Forrest never completely recovered from his buddy’s death, and he decided to open a shrimp restaurant in his honor: Bubba Gump Shrimp. The idea had staying power well beyond the silver screen, and it didn’t take long for it to make its way into investors’ hands to become a reality.

How a Story Became a Restaurant

Photo Credit by @officialbubbagump on Instagram

The first entrepreneur to claim the name “Bubba Gump Shrimp” was Anthony Zolezzi, who purchased the rights to the name from Paramount Pictures with the goal of reinvigorating his struggling seafood business, Meridian Products. He initially packaged shrimp with the Bubba Gump name, and those packets of prepackaged, frozen shrimp made their way onto supermarket shelves all over the U.S. Not long after, one of Zolezzi’s friends in the seafood industry approached him about licensing the name for restaurant use.

The two approached Paramount Pictures and Rusty Pelican Restaurants, and a new star was born: an actual restaurant by the name of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The first location opened in Monterey, California, in 1996. It was staffed by energetic, experienced serving staff and movie aficionados, and the decor featured a plethora of motifs from the filming of the original movie.

The restaurant was an immediate hit, blowing everyone’s expectations out of the water. It didn’t take long for it to become a franchise, with other locations opening in Cali and then around the world. In 2010, the franchise changed hands; Landry’s, Inc. obtained Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for an undisclosed amount, and they moved the restaurant’s headquarters from Hollywood, California to Houston, Texas.

What Sets Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Apart

Meal at Bubba Gump Gatlinburg, TN

The restaurant’s claim to fame goes beyond its connections to the famous movie. Their menu offers a huge variety of (you guessed it!) shrimp dishes, but they also serve an array of Cajun and Southern-style comfort foods that satisfy just about everyone. Bubba Gump sets high standards for their cuisine and consistently earns high reviews.

Thoughtful decor and finishing touches (like “Stop, Forrest, Stop!” signs that guests can hold up to signal servers) add a fun touch, and movie memorabilia and decor creates a fun atmosphere that gives guests interesting features to notice throughout their dining experience. Reasonable prices for a restaurant of its type make this a compelling dinner option, and their family-friendly atmosphere appeals to just about everyone.

Factoids about Bubba Gump Shrimp

Photo Credit by @tomhanksfansite on Instagram

Bubba Gump Shrimp’s impact has spread far and wide–often in unexpected ways. 

  • Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks & Rec star Chris Pratt got his lucky break while working as a waiter at the Bubba Gump location in Maui. He was living out of his car and waiting at his tables at the time, when he served director Rae Dawn Chong, recognized her, and managed to impress her enough that she offered him a role in a short she was working on.
  • Bubba Gump facilitates several volunteer/fundraising efforts, including their own volunteer initiative (called the Shrimpossibles), the Special Olympics, and Read Across America Day
  • The company was sued by a disgruntled former employee in 2013, who claimed that the employee handbook’s social media policy infringed on employees’ right to free speech. A judge with the National Labor Board ruled in favor of the company, saying that their policy was reasonable.
  • Each Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. also has a small storefront where you can find fun Forrest Gump and Bubba Gump memorabilia, from tee shirts to boxes of chocolates. So Shop, Forrest, Shop!
  • The mascot of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has a name. He’s Shrimp Louie, and he has a big personality.

So next time you stop into a Bubba Gump location, you’ll have a little bit of background on the company’s inception. It’s a solid dinner choice for Forrest Gump fans and… well, everyone else. And you might just be surprised at how much you appreciate this unlikely star of a shrimp shop.