As a little kid, John “Yuki” Shinoda discovered his passion for tropical fish. The animal and reptile lover won 13 goldfish at his White Rock Elementary School carnival, and he was thrilled with his first pets. The stage was set.
Shinoda cherished a particular tradition he shared with his family when growing up. The ’95 Lake Highlands High School (LH) alumnus recalled how much he loved sitting by the aquarium at Barbec’s, where his family ate often, and gazing at the fish. Afterward, his family always visited the nearby Boutique Pet Shop, where he explored the aquariums and he never wanted to leave. He was fascinated by the under the sea wonders.
While head of the language department and sixth grade Spanish teacher at East Dallas’ Peak Preparatory School, he liked re-living those childhood memories by hanging out at Boutique Pet Shop on his way home from work. He already knew the owners, Boyce and Deloris Petty, very well, and they encouraged and mentored him with their extensive knowledge of fish and aquariums.
The Pettys opened their shop in 1968 at the Garland Road location because the area was very family-oriented, as they learned from their Forest Hills neighborhood.
On one of Shinoda’s visits at the popular, 43-year-old business, the Pettys told him they were planning to retire and close the shop.
The high energy Shinoda didn’t let any kelp grow under his feet before he started making phone calls. On April 3, 2011, Yuki opened the doors to The Aquarium Boutique at 9035 Garland Road.
“We are proud to mentor Yuki,” Deloris Petty said. “Having a fish store has always been his dream, so we feel he will do well with the business. He will be doing what he loves, and that makes a very good match.”
Following the alumnus’ Lake Highlands graduation, the adventurer went backpacking for a few years through North and South Africa, Eastern Europe, Central America, Mexico and Cuba, supporting himself by waiting tables as he traveled.
In 2005, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington. He said that his minor in business entrepreneurship has proven useful.
The boutique owner is proud to be a fourth-generation Japanese-American. The Shinoda family is part of the century-old Shinoda San Lorenzo Nursery Company out of California, with a showroom in the Dallas Design District.
“I have designing and arrangement and composition in my blood,” he said. He added that studying art and photography also helped prepare him to arrange appealing aquarium decoration, known as aqua-scaping. “Owners like to have tanks they can be proud of. Arranging tanks can be a great creative outlet.”
Shinoda explained, “This is where I really want my company to flourish. I want to take this hobby to another level and popularity.”
Shinoda’s brother and sister, Chiyomi and Shoji, are also LH alumni. His dad, aunt and uncle graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School.
Shinoda said he is grateful to the Pettys for sharing so much of their 43 years of experience and wisdom with him. “Mom and pop shops of old have so much effect on their customers over the years. The Pettys fostered so many people like me to appreciate animal life and nature. They taught husbandry and the responsibility of pet ownership.”
He added that the Pettys introduced people to life-long, healthy hobbies of pet care.
“As a teacher, I love to teach life lessons along with the academics. From the store I can still do that.”
Shinoda explained that the aquarium hobby teaches responsibility, care of natural beauty and the cause and effect of environment.
It also imparts how to keep a tank clean and the fish healthy, while practicing patience. Many children’s first pets are fish.
“Sadly, the hobby also teaches about death,” he added.
According to the entrepreneur, many of his customers are young parents getting first pets for their children.
“Also, a lot of people buy aquariums and fish later in life to return to an old hobby.”
Shinoda identified different types of hobbyists. Some have aquariums and fish purely for the beauty. Some enjoy breeding, while others are more into the husbandry and challenge. There are those who love the personalities. Some people want to be hands-off, but others enjoy always tinkering with their tanks. As part of his business, Shinoda makes home consultations.
“I wish I could do it all. I get to learn from all my different clients. This business opportunity is a challenge and an adventure. I am 34 and single. This is a great time to go for my dream,” he said.
“I like that saying, ‘If you love what you do, then you never work a day of your life.’”
Shinoda shares his Lake Highlands home with Roxy, his Terrier-mix, along with his Bluefish Angel and Snowflake Moray Eel.
The Aquarium Boutique by Yuki will celebrate its first year in business with an event in April.
White Rock Lake Weekly raises a fish bowl to congratulate John Yuki Shinoda on his new venture, and to wish him and Roxy the best of success!