Lake Fork may be the No. 1 trophy bass lake in the state, but fish aren’t the only things biting in the area.
“Fishermen like to eat,” said Andy Johnson, who put the A and the J in A.J.’s Fish House, located on the west side of Lake Fork on FM 17 in Alba — and after eight years, he’s still reeling them in with his all-you-can-eat Southern fried catfish buffet.
According to Andy, fishermen go out and fish all day, and when they get off the lake, they’re hungry.
And he ought to know.
Once an avid fisherman himself, Andy and his wife, Carolyn first started coming to the area in 2000 for their own recreational purposes.
“We had an RV on the lake and spent each weekend up here fishing,” said Carolyn, who went on to explain they lived and worked in the Terrell area but had been on the lookout for a business near Lake Fork that they could settle down and run together.
That opportunity came in 2001 when the Johnsons purchased a business package that included a small family restaurant, nine-acre RV and tent campground, storage facility, laundry mat and fishing pier.
“It combined all the things that we have always enjoyed doing,” said Andy. “We enjoy RV camping, fishing, the water.
“I’ve always loved to cook and you can tell we enjoy eating,” he added with a laugh.
Since that time, the Johnsons moved their restaurant just across the road to a larger facility in 2003 that took them from accommodating 92 customers to a whopping 400.
“At our other building we just didn’t have the room,” said Carolyn, remembering the lines outside the doors on Friday and Saturday nights. “It was a good problem to have, but we had no idea the customers we were missing because they didn’t want to wait.”
With their new facility, they have a huge two-sided buffet that offers a complete salad bar, Southern fried catfish fillets, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, french fries, hushpuppies, potato wedges, okra, chicken strips, corn nuggets, home-cooked pinto beans, as well as baked potatoes.
The buffet also includes a variety of desserts such as peach, blackberry and pecan cobbler topped with ice cream.
The all-you-can-eat buffet prices are $12.95 for adults 55 and under; $10.95 for senior citizens; children’s buffet for age 4-11 is $6.95 and children under 3 eat free.
The restaurant also provides a full-service menu with items such as chicken fried steak, fried oysters and frog legs, just to name a few.
The kitchen often cooks enough food for 500-700 customers on Friday and Saturday nights, according to Carolyn.
“We have a large volume of dedicated, local customers,’ she said. “And, of course, the fishermen are an added bonus.”
In addition to loyal customers, the Johnsons said they also pride themselves on loyal employees.
“We have very little turnover with our help,” Carolyn emphasized.
According to Carolyn, her help know all the aspects of running the restaurant and know a majority of the customers by name.
“They know where certain customers like to sit and will have their drinks on the table for them before they even sit down,”she said.
Regardless of how good the help is, the Johnsons remain active in the business and pride themselves on quality food, great customer service and a genuine appreciation for their customers.
“No matter how good the hired help is, it’s our business and we take great pride in it,” Andy said. “That’s our name out there on the sign. If the customers don’t come back, it’s not anybody’s fault but our own. It’s a reflection of what we’re doing – or not doing.”
A.J.’s also has a private banquet room decorated in a NASCAR theme where parties from 25 to 100 can be hosted. And a new aspect of the business is catering for parties, reunions, meetings and other special occasions.
“We now have a fully equipped 31-foot catering trailer where we can cook and serve on site,” Andy said, adding that they can cater for groups of 50 up to 500. “We’ve got some good food out here. If people come out and try us out, they’ll be back for more.”
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