Fish City Grill will build a new Fort Smith location on Phoenix Avenue, date uncertain

by Aric Mitchell ( 3,383 views 

Dallas-based Fish City Grill has plans to open a Fort Smith location at 7001 Phoenix Ave. just across from the Holiday Inn Express, according to development plans provided to the city’s building department and discussed at a Tuesday (Aug. 7) planning commission study session.

No owner representatives appeared at the study session, so a clear opening day wasn’t clear as of Tuesday afternoon. Talk Business & Politics has reached out to owner’s representative Tom Miller for more information and will update this story with his response.

The company is the creation of Bill Bayne, who entered the restaurant business in November 1995 when he and a business partner opened Shell’s Oyster Bar and Grill with a simple menu of shrimp, catfish, and oysters. Shell’s was later changed to Half Shells to close out a legal dispute with a larger Florida-based seafood chain. Bayne, wife Lovett, and the former business partner grew their brand with future stores as Rockfish Seafood Grill.

At Rockfish, the company site explains, “Bill was in charge of operations, menu development, and product quality. … Lovett joined the firm as the Chief People Person. The original partner was in charge of real estate, construction, and bookkeeping.”

After five restaurants, the partners decided to “grow in two different directions” with the partner preferring “freestanding stores on highway locations” while Baynes “felt that we had found a great niche to grow with; being a neighborhood seafood joint. Not just any neighborhoods, upscale and/or unique neighborhoods seemed to be the ideal locations.”

The Baynes sold out of Rockfish in 2000, retaining ownership of the original Half Shells. They then started Neighborhood Ventures, Inc., to follow their new mission. They opened a second Half Shells in Plano at Legacy Town Center and then decided to expand the concept. Needing a “trademark-able name,” they chose Fish City Grill. All new restaurants since that time have opened under the Fish City Grill brand.

The Fort Smith location will be entirely new construction, designed by Risley & Associates. It will seat 190, including a 40-person outdoor seating area. Menu items vary by location, but most include oyster nachos, fish tacos, cod, shrimp, rainbow trout, crawfish etouffee, and Bering Sea snow crab. Fish City Grill also serves burgers, sandwiches, beer, wine, mixed drinks, key lime pie, homemade bread pudding, and a wide assortment of side items.

Fish City Grill has 19 stores (two of which are the Texas-based Half Shells). Other stores are located in Florida, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (the Rogers location).