Since 1989, TJ’s Seafood Market & Grill has been a staple of the Dallas’ dining scene. So how did the restaurant, which currently has locations on Preston Royal and Oak Lawn, celebrate its 30th birthday? With its busiest year in history.
Jon and Natalie Alexis have owned the family-owned business since 2009, after Jon bought it from his parents who had purchased the neighborhood fish market from original owners, Tom and Jim (hence the name), in 1999.
“My family were customers of the original TJ’s,” Jon tells PaperCity. “We moved from the East Coast and it opened the same year we moved here.”
After a tenure in political advertising (where he and Natalie met), all while helping his parents modernize the restaurant, the couple decided to go into seafood full-time. “I grew up eating seafood three times a day,” Jon says. Not a chef or cook, he’s mainly interested in learning and educating about the coastal cuisine.
“When Jon becomes interested in something, he really goes all in,” says Natalie. “Like the music on this playlist,” she references an instrumental song playing while the three of us chat in one of the Preston Royal location‘s booths. “He could tell you who is in this song, what they play, all of it.”
On TJ’s Ongoing Success
“We’ve grown every year for 30 years,” Jon says. He attributes that success to figuring out a new way to change things up each year, without tampering with the neighborhood atmosphere people love. “One year, we did an Alaskan seafood tour. We also started doing meal prep with power bowls,” he says. They’re all just little ways to teach more people a bit more about seafood, which is where Jon’s passion really lies.
Discover De Beers
In 2017, the couple teamed up with chef Matt McCallister (Homewood and Commons Club) to launch Malibu Poke in 2017 in Oak Lawn and has since expanded the concept to three locations (two in Dallas, one in Austin). “We want to keep coming up with some sort of new TJ’s experience,” Jon says.
As for how the Alexis’ have seen the Dallas seafood scene change over the years, Jon says that it’s all about the diner. “People finally believe,” says Jon. “People used to say you can’t get fresh seafood in Dallas, but more seafood flies through DFW [Airport]. All you have to do is grab it off the bottom of the plane.”
On the Dallas Tornado Aftermath
“We have a strange survivor’s guilt,” says Jon about the October tornados in Dallas. The entire south side of Preston Royal was destroyed (Interabang Books included), and even part of the northwest corner, but TJ’s Seafood was barely missed.
“We closed for two weeks. when we reopened, we had a 45-minute wait for a table.” Jon says that they had people come in who had lost their homes and were asking them how TJ’s was doing. “They didn’t have a roof anymore, but wanted to make sure we were OK,” Jon says in disbelief. He says that people told him that coming back in for their usual meal at TJ’s just made them feel a sense of normalcy again.
On Seafood Education & Omega 3s
“I consider myself an apostle of seafood,” says Jon. “I feel strongly that seafood is this cool, magical, mysterious thing.” He often infiltrates Texas’ BBQ world with his coastal-centric teachings, setting up booths at the annual Meat Fight (with a sign that says “Fish Is Meat Too”) and collaborating with Matt Pittman (Meat Church BBQ) on an event called Sea to Smoker.
There’s also the health conscious aspect of it all, Natalie notes. “Seafood is the most nutritionally dense food,” says Jon. “It has the best protein to fat ratio, the most vitamins, and Omega 3 cleanses out your arteries. It’s a true superfood.”
On What’s Next
“Since we’ve been around for so long, we can afford to think outside of the box,” Jon says. “We can be picky and choose new, exciting projects in the right neighborhoods.” The St. Mark’s and Southern Methodist University graduate enjoys bringing his concepts to the areas he grew up in.
“It’s like there’s a college reunion every day,” he says. “All four of our restaurants are within four miles of each other.”
And as for how the couple views being restauranteurs, while parenting two young daughters, they say it’s a team effort. “My wife loves food and music, but in a less nerdy way,” Jon laughs. “She’s passionate about enjoying these things.”