AIKEN — Aiken Fish House and Oyster Bar will hold its grand opening Friday.
The restaurant, which bills itself as a “Fish House Built by a Family of Fishermen,” is located at 1376 Whiskey Road, the former location of Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-B-Q. It will be open seven days a week, beginning at 11 a.m.
“We’re fresh seafood. Everything that’s coming in is fresh, not frozen. It’s all domestic caught,” said Damian Blevins, operator and co-owner of the new restaurant with his wife, Rachael.
The two owned Willie Jewell’s, which closed Feb. 24. They remain co-owners of a Willie Jewell’s on River Watch Parkway in Martinez.
“The barbecue, it never did what we really wanted it to,” Blevins said of the Aiken Willie Jewell’s. “It’s (the Martinez location) doing very well. It’s not going anywhere.”
The concept for the fish house is similar to OP Fish House and Oyster Bar in Orange Park, Fla., a suburb of Jacksonville.
Blevins is friends with Nathan Stuart, who owns the Florida restaurant with his wife, Margo, and is a small partner in the Aiken restaurant.
Stuart’s grandfather, Louis, owned and operated one of the first fresh seafood markets in Jacksonville, and his father, Russell, bought Seafood Kitchen in Atlantic Beach, Fla., in 1985, which the father-son duo have transformed into a local staple.
“We met through friends and just kind of hit it off,” Blevins said of Stuart. “I’d been talking about the seafood here for a quite awhile. In just talking to Nathan, he was like ‘why don’t we do a fish and oyster bar there’, and so we just talked more and more, and that’s kind of how it got started.
“He has been a real help,” Blevins said of Stuart. “Nathan, his wife, Margo, and his team that’s come up here to help us, they’re a blessing. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
The decor includes fish mounted on the wall, including 82-inch marlin, while the atmosphere is “definitely casual, definitely laid-back,” Blevins said. “This is where the family comes.”
The menu features three different types of oysters, shrimp, scallops, trigger fish, clam strips, catfish, grouper, flounder, soft shell crab, snapper, swordfish, mahi-mahi, tuna steak and soft shell crab.
“The thing that we’re most excited about is we give the guest almost complete freedom on the menu. They can get it blackened, they can get it broiled, they can get it fried on almost every item,” Blevins said. “It’s just the need. Aiken doesn’t have that type of seafood available. That was the big thing for us, is what can we bring to town that is needed.”
Crab legs, lobster, shrimp cocktail, shrimp and grits and low country boil are also on the menu along with the “Seafood Kitchen” combination, which includes East Coast shrimp, Virginia oysters, cold water scallops, fresh fish and homemade stuffed deviled crab. Steak, chicken, a 3/4-pound cheddar angus beef burger and tacos (fish, shrimp and local fish of the day) are also on the menu.
Side items include baked potato, sweet potato, coleslaw, french fries, sweet potato fries, steamed broccoli, bacon collard greens and cheese grits.
In addition to soft drinks, tea and coffee (ground in house), beer, wine and cocktails are also available.