AVALON — Residents in Ellis County and surrounding areas don’t have to go far to enjoy a Texas-style fish dinner with a little touch of Cajun – it’s just about a mile east of downtown Avalon.

The place is called “Just Fish” and the proprietor, Matilda Jerry-Williams, offers catfish, tilapia and shrimp, with what she refers to as a La-Tex flavor – a Louisiana and Texas blend. And she has developed her own special marinade sauce and seasoning.

Williams, who hails from Monroe, La., said she is living out a dream she has had since the ninth grade.

“It’s just a dream come true,” she said. “And it was just simply the results of stepping out on faith – in fact, it was more of a leap of faith.”

Matilda married Avalon native, Lorenzo Williams. And her restaurant, a new metal building with rustic “fish” décor, is situated on land that has been in his family.

Lorenzo, who for 12 years has been employed as a truck driver for Wal-Mart, had some serious reservations about his wife’s new venture.

“He told me that I was crazy to even think of such a thing – and he added about the only things I could feed out here were the cows and the chickens,” she said with a chuckle. “But I told him that I had always heard the saying, ‘if you build it, they’ll come.’ ”

Matilda opened her restaurant March 8, 2008, and she has been pleasantly surprised by the response not only from the residents of Avalon, but surrounding areas.

“God has really been good to us here. We’ve had people come from all over – Bardwell, Blooming Grove, Navarro Mills, Hillsboro and we’ve even had some to come from Fort Worth,” she said.

While she uses any means of advertising possible, Matilda believes nothing is as effective as “word of mouth” and notes that lots of people who patronize her establishment are people that live hundreds of miles away and are weekend visitors of relatives. 

She cites the economic downturn as a factor that makes her restaurant crowd unpredictable.

“Saturday night used to be our big night – and then it became Friday, but now, Thursday night seems to be our biggest night,” she said.

Matilda said she’s been surprised at how far reaching the information about her restaurant has traveled.

“We’ve had some people in here from San Antonio,” she said. “And my girlfriend that helps me run the place had a friend that managed to get a press release about us in an Oklahoma newspaper – and then somehow it ended up in the Houston paper. A fellow called us from Houston one day and wanted to come try our place, but he thought we were in the edge of Houston. I told him that we were just south of Dallas, but if he left right then, he could get here in plenty of time.”

Williams wants her restaurant to be more than just a place where fine food is served – and she works hard to ensure customers feel comfortable.

“I make sure that we’re considerate of all our customers and we want them to enjoy the environment,” she said. “Sometimes people come in here and are down, and I just want them to leave here with a word of encouragement and feeling better. On certain days, it’s just me in here doing the cooking and running the place – but people have been very understanding and content to just relax and visit with each other while they wait for their food.”

Matilda is emphatic about the fact her business was built on faith.

“Our motto is spelled out in an acronym for ‘Just Fish,’ ” she said. “ ‘Just us serving them’ with ‘faith, inspiration, service and hope.’ ”

Williams spent several years in the business world before she became an educator, teaching in Mesquite and Ennis and, for four years, she taught adult education at Navarro College.

“We have karoake every Thursday and Friday night, with all kinds of music,” she said. “People can get up and sing country, rock or gospel.”

She noted that the restaurant would occasionally have live entertainment whenever a soloist or group is in the area and wants to showcase their talent.

“There is also a new church group starting up and they use our place to meet,” she said. “We just want to open ourselves up to the community and we are glad to help any faith-based group.”

Just Fish is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays, from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays.

“We call this place ‘Just Fish 1’ and we’re looking to one day have a ‘Just Fish 2’ and a ‘Just Fish 3,’ ” Matilda said.

For further information, contact Williams, owner and CEO, or Shermaletha Alexander-Watson, chief operations officer, at 972-627-3667 or 972-977-9452 (cell). Visit the Web site at www.justfish1.com.

E-mail Paul at paul.gauntt@wninews.com