In Dallas, TJ’s Seafood Market & Grill is doing “OK” largely because the diners who thought the 32-year-old restaurant was a good value pre-COVID are sticking with it now, says owner Jon Alexis.
“We have definitely found that value is the important word,” Alexis says. “What we’ve tried to do is rethink what our product is.”
When TJ’s two locations had empty dining rooms by law—meaning customers no longer got Alexis’s custom playlist or industrial-chic environs with their meal—it wasn’t as simple as plunking a $32 entrée into a to-go box. Rather, Alexis redoubled efforts that ensure the carryout experience felt thoughtful. Did the dish look and smell perfect? Did it come at the right temperature? Was the garnish fresh or should that be separate?
TJ’s streamlined the menu, doing away with all the rotating elements that it used to lean on as a differentiator. Instead, it focused on highlight-reel dishes like fish and chips and jumbo lump crab cakes.
“Pre-COVID, there was our regular menu and then there was, ‘what crazy fish came in today and what are we doing with it?’ Now when people come in, they just want their favorite dish,” Alexis says.
He calls it a leap of faith in customer loyalty that the eatery didn’t cut prices—and the leap paid off. Since reopening at about half capacity, TJ’s has experienced similar volumes as before—albeit with guest visits throughout the day rather than concentrated around traditional peak dining hours.
“We’re in a really unique space in the sense that people come in with a certain price expectation,” he says. “People who’ve been eating cheaper, stick-to-their-ribs food were ready to pay market prices for fresh, light food that felt like a good value.”