Jon Alexis — founder of Dallas-based hospitality group Imperial Fizz — might raise some eyebrows when he says he wants to change the world through his restaurants.
But after growing his initial concept — longstanding TJ’s Seafood Market & Grill, which he bought from his parents in 2009 after they took over the Dallas institution a decade earlier — he might be on to something. At the time, TJ’s was a humble neighborhood seafood shop, but Alexis had big plans and took on the role of educator, teaching customers about wild versus farmed fish, the health benefits of Omega-3s, and how to properly cook seafood.
Since then, Alexis has grown the concept into two thriving locations, with a hybrid model that combines a restaurant, market, and catering business. And for eight years, he was solely focused on TJ’s.
“It took me that long before my to-do list was done,” he said.
Now, he’s off and running. In 2017, Alexis opened Malibu Poke, now has three stores in its portfolio-- two in Dallas and one in Austin. In Nov. 2022, he opened Escondido, a Tex-Mex spot in the Preston Royal neighborhood, and in March of this year, he debuted Ramble Room, a classic American grill/restaurant in the historic Snider Plaza shopping center.
While most restaurants open with an idea first, and then find a location to fit that concept, Alexis took the opposite route. He first decided where he wanted to operate, and then he identified what that specific neighborhood was missing.
“We found incredible locations in neighborhoods where we have family and friends, and we decided to give them a place to gather,” Alexis said. “We figured out what they didn’t have, and then we gave it to them.”
In the case of Escondido, that meant bringing Tex-Mex back to a busy intersection that lost a Cantina Laredo after two decades of operation. First it was ravaged by a tornado in the fall of 2019, and then the COVID pandemic hit less than one year later, and the restaurant closed for good.
“We decided to bring Tex-Mex back to the neighborhood,” Alexis said. “But we knew we had to do it right, so we ate at every Tex-Mex place in town, found our favorite version of every dish, and did our best to make it as good or better.”
Alexis believes that it’s in our DNA to break bread together, so he sees feeding people as more than just a business. When the world reopened after the pandemic, diners didn’t rush back to $100 per plate restaurants or book 20-course tasting menus: they returned to their favorite local haunts.
“Society fell apart for a couple years, and when we put it back together, we saw what’s truly important,” he said. “Neighborhood restaurants mean something. They don’t just serve a community; they become an anchor for that community.”
As Escondido was welcoming local diners in droves, Alexis and his team were putting the finishing touches on Ramble Room. The handsome restaurant serves fan-favorites, like steak, lamb chops, chicken, fish, and homemade pasta, and also has built-in bars and places for groups to gather, both of which are missing from Snider Plaza. The bar seats 25, and the mezzanine doubles as a private event space.
“This is the restaurant I always wanted to own,” he said. “It’s a comfortable neighborhood spot, where the menu requires no explanation and there’s no dress code. Just come as you are.”
With so much in the works, Alexis recently founded Imperial Fizz, the hospitality group overseeing each project. He assembled his ideal fantasy draft of chefs and operators to keep the wheels turning smoothly, including culinary director Stan Rodrigues, whose resume includes time with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, as well as local outfits like Nick & Sam’s, Front Burner (Sixty Vines, Whiskey Cake) and Flavor Hook (Neighborhood Services, National Anthem).
The group is already working on its next concept, a family-friendly restaurant and bar with a 10,000-square-foot patio that has taken over an old Luby’s location in East Dallas. Imperial Fizz owns the property, and Alexis said he wants to build something that will anchor the neighborhood for decades.
Once again, the focus is on giving locals something they’re currently missing. In East Dallas, a neighborhood that already sports outdoor amenities like a lake, bike trails and pickleball courts, the missing piece is an Austin-style beer garden where families can congregate after weekend soccer games, or couples can sneak away for a weeknight drink.
“I’m sure there are better ways to make money, but we just want to build what people need,” Alexis said. “We want to open neighborhood restaurants that serve neighborhoods. Everything can be mission driven if you have a mission, and I truly believe that we can make the world a better place one meal at a time. Sit down, have a good time, and let life make sense for a couple hours.”