When Jon Alexis was 9 and eating crabs cooked in the sand on Virginia Beach with his grandparents, he didn’t imagine that he would live within walking distance of a restaurant that he nurtures as a neighborhood safe haven.
TJ’s Seafood Market and Grill in the Preston Royal Shopping Center has been in business for 30 years. Jon and his wife, Natalie, have run the family owned business since 2009, after Jon bought it from his parents. Original owners Tom Haden and Jim Kearnen sold the business to Jon’s parents in 1999.
Since then, the couple has made it their own.
“My wife and I really wanted this to be the neighborhood restaurant that we wanted to eat at,” he says. “We wanted to have the kind of neighborhood bar we wanted. Want to have a good neighborhood restaurant? Live in the neighborhood.”
The interior of the restaurant is designed by Hatsumi Kuzuu, whose resume includes FT33 and Tei-An. The couple’s 5- and 3-year-old children, both girls, attend Preston Hollow Presbyterian School.
Jon, who went to St. Mark’s School of Texas and Highland Park High School, says he is conscientious about pleasing customers who are nostalgic for the past while satisfying new tastes. TJ’s has everything from caviar and lobster to hush puppies.
“It took us a couple of years to figure out, ‘What do y’all want this to be? Is this your fine-dining, fancy-pants restaurant? Is this a fish tacos kind of place?’ We knew the answer was ‘yes’ to all of it.”
Popular dishes include fish tacos, some coconut fried on a flour tortilla and others grilled on lettuce wraps. The crab cakes are made from Jon’s grandma’s recipe. (If you crave Maryland-style crab cakes, but can’t find them, they’re here!)
Jon is so passionate about his profession that he has conducted a seafood tour of Alaska, heart-healthy seafood lectures with the American Heart Association and a daddy-daughter poke-making class.
While Jon acknowledges his favorite dishes — king crab legs off the boat, a perfectly cooked cocktail shrimp and anything with fresh tuna — he can also focus on picky eaters like his children, who prefer salmon.
“They see no difference between chicken tenders on Monday and salmon on Tuesday,” he says.
DID YOU KNOW?
TJ’s offers to-go curbside pickups. Order at tjsseafood.com. When you arrive, call the restaurant at 214-691-2369 and staff will bring you your order. Food is also available via DoorDash.
The restaurant’s brunch dishes include migas with grilled shrimp, challah French toast and lump crab frittata. Don’t forget TJ’s white mimosa with cranberry. Non-seafood dishes, such as the burger and roast chicken, are a treat.
“My mother-in-law will tell you it’s her favorite roast chicken in the city, and she’s super picky about roast chicken,” Jon says.
In addition to beer and wine, TJ’s stocks its own barrel-aged Texas-made Herman Marshall whiskey. The restaurant’s catering division serves everyone from the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Symphony to corporate events and high-profile parties.
Jon savors the fact that he serves multiple generations. Customers tell him they remember when his mom, Caren Alexis, helped them with a school project, whether it was saving crab shells or allowing them to learn math by using the cash register.
He gets teary remembering how customers checked on him after the Oct. 20 tornado. Jon remembers asking, “You lost your house, and you care about what happened to this restaurant?” The guest told him, “I feel normal again when I come here.” Jon says, “For us to be a part of somebody’s normal is the nicest compliment you could ever get.”
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