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What's in Store: Rex appeal
Restaurant sales key to seafood market's business
By Christine Blank
May 01, 2010
Ever since Rex's Seafood Market in Dallas expanded its retail operation to include a full-scale lunch menu two years ago, owner Rex Bellomy cannot fit enough seats in the 3,000-square-foot building.
"It is amazing how it took off last year. Restaurant sales have tripled," says Bellomy. Around three years ago, Rex's first dabbled in foodservice with made-to-order sandwiches for takeout, a concept that didn't take off. "My common sense told me this is not what people in this area wanted," says Bellomy.
So Bellomy rearranged the front of the house to include fewer shelves and more table settings. He started out with three tables two years ago, and has since expanded to 17. "I can seat close to 60 people for lunch, and am on a wait every day," says Bellomy. There is such a demand for the food - including Pan Seared Swordfish and Ginger Miso Chilean Sea Bass - that Bellomy plans to add dinner service sometime in the near future.
The secret to the eatery's success is simple, says Bellomy: Area residents don't have many fresh seafood restaurants to choose from.
"The higher-end restaurants have a piece of fish on the menu, but their focus is not on seafood. I have 18 or 20 varieties of fresh fish in my case that customers can have for lunch," says Bellomy.
Plus, the restaurant-quality entrées come at a fraction of the price, ranging from $14 to $20 each. "They are getting a wonderful seafood meal here, but not at a four-star or
five-star price," says Bellomy.
Consumers' increasing interest in health has also benefited restaurant sales, Bellomy believes.
"We don't fry here - everything is grilled or baked - and we serve fresh vegetables on the side," says Bellomy.
Rex's restaurant business has grown primarily by word of mouth, e-mail marketing and some advertising. A professional, experienced foodservice staff is also a key to its success. Bellomy employs two full-time chefs, one of whom is assistant manager, four full-time wait staff and eight back-of-the-house staff. The employees work for the fish market too, and have learned how to portion seafood and wait on retail customers.
The retail side of the business is also a big draw for locals, evidenced by its 30 percent average sales growth annually since it opened more than four years ago. The market's draw is fresh seafood and variety, sporting around 20 different items daily from the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.
"I get fabulous tuna, swordfish, mahimahi and other fish from Hawaiian Fresh Seafood in Honolulu," says Bellomy. He also sources crawfish, redfish, Gulf shrimp and other popular southern seafood species from two local distributors. "Right now, we're hitting a good part of the crawfish season, and we will be doing a lot of crawfish boils."
Oysters from East Dennis Oyster Farm on Cape Cod, Mass., are a customer favorite. "A lady brought me one to try, and it was unbelievable. It is now my signature oyster, and I have gotten such a following on them," says Bellomy.
The store's homemade soups, packed in 1-quart containers in the freezer case, are also a big draw. "During the winter, we are making soup every day to keep up with the demand," he says. Lobster bisque, New England clam chowder and gumbo sell for $10.99 to $13.99 per quart.
While the retail side of the business is strong, the restaurant continues to expand as more customers request catering. "During the last holiday season, from November through Christmas, we did quite a bit of catering," says Bellomy. Catering jobs - averaging one or two a week - have grown by word of mouth. "On the restaurant side, people recognize our food capabilities, which has fed the catering and vice versa."
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.