Food News

Amid Boundless Grief, a Restaurateur's Son Carries on Cajun Tradition

David C. Wilson Sr. was more than a restaurateur. For residents of Cedar Hill, the owner and operator of David’s Seafood Grill was also a respected civic leader.

“He talked service and he lived service,” his son Shawn says. “It isn’t just service as in your customers; it’s service to your community. He was very active, on four different boards in the Cedar Hill area … and I am following that.”

Shawn, along with his brothers Jason and David, now operate the Cajun-themed restaurant after their father died in February after battling heart disease. Shawn, 49, lives in the area and operates the restaurant, while his brothers lend support while living out of state.

“Upon his passing, he left the business to his three sons. In his will he did ask me to run his baby, but listen to my two brothers,” Shawn says. “We had our meeting of what is the best thing to do for everybody. We concluded that the best thing was to continue his legacy.”

The three brothers grew up in New Orleans, which is where David Sr.’s career started, having worked at companies there and in Dallas, including Brennan’s and Spaghetti Warehouse. His Cedar Hill location started as a Rockfish Seafood Grill restaurant, for which he helped develop locations in the Dallas area. David’s Seafood Grill officially opened in 2006.

“Nothing has really changed,” Shawn says. “We’ve updated some things, and we’ve added some things, we’ve updated the website, we’ve added a couple of dishes. The blackboards give us the opportunity to do special things.”

And it’s those specials where Shawn feels he can continue in his father’s footsteps.

”There’s other dishes that we’re working on, and in kind of following in our father’s tradition, we’re using our guests as our R and D: We make something and see what they like,” he says.

All the while, he feels the presence of his father.

“Sometimes it’s hard because it affects me," he says. "I have a public grieving, not really a private grieving. Sometimes it’s a shot in the arm: He took care of [the customers], and now I’m taking care of them."

Being local, Shawn says he did have time with his father, taking him to doctor’s appointments, being able “to say our goodbyes,” but, of course, it still hit hard.

“There has definitely been some time or some grieving that hasn’t been accomplished because I’ve had to jump back in [to work],” he says. “You go from preparing for it, it happens, and then you don’t really feel it after. And to a large part, because I did jump in, I haven’t felt it as much as I should have.”

Shawn says he’s striving to serve just as his father did, with “good food and good friends” — one of the restaurant's slogans.

He’s on a local board (“Just one,” he says of the Cedar Hill ISD Education Foundation) and is working closely with the customers who come in to the restaurant.

“Growing up, we would make something called nuts and boils: It’s a basic Chex Mix that’s roasted and covered in a sauce — the base of the sauce is four pounds of butter,” he says. “Once we moved out of state, we stopped making it. It was my grandmother’s recipe. So I made it Sunday and brought it to the restaurant.”

This was in place of the “lagniappe” (a Cajun word meaning "a little something extra," akin to an amuse bouche) normally sent to the tables.

“It was to kind of share the family with the community,” he says. “His philosophy was good food and good friends.”

As for the future, there are plans to bring the “bulky, four-page menu” down to a two-page spread, and possibly open for lunch. But “signature touches aren’t going to change,” Shawn says.

“We’re not going anywhere. Our intent is to keep his legacy going.”

David’s Seafood Grill, 350 E. FM 1382, Cedar Hill
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.