By June Naylor

Two guys who had a good idea for a great seafood restaurant nearly a dozen years ago in landlocked Austin just found themselves $59 million richer this week.

Guy Villavaso and Larry Foles, experienced restaurateurs when they opened the original Eddie V’s in Texas’ capital city in 2000, sold a big chunk of their restaurant group to Darden Restaurants of Orlando on Wednesday. The deal includes eight Eddie V’s and three Wildfish Seafood Grille stores, but not the company’s Roaring Fork brand.

It appears as though nobody looks to fix what’s not broken, so Eddie V’s devoted fans in Dallas and Fort Worth probably have no reason for concern: Villavaso and Foles will serve as consultants for two years, and the existing general managers and chefs will stay on, as well, working under Eddie V’s President Jim VanDercook and Executive Chef/Partner John Carver, who will continue with day-to-day operations under the new ownership.
“The qualities most important to the brands – the uniqueness of the restaurants and the consistent excellence of our employees and our dining experience will not change,” Villavaso said in a statement Wednesday.

Darden, meanwhile, broadens its base considerably in Texas and the Southwest. The company’s specialty restaurant group includes Capital Grille locations in Dallas, Plano, Houston, Scottsdale and Phoenix and Seasons 52 restaurants in Phoenix and Plano. The new deal gives their company Eddie V’s in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Scottsdale and San Diego and Wildfish locations in San Antonio, Scottsdale and Newport Beach.

We can assume that this means Eddie V’s will see significant growth, of course; Capital Grille has nearly four dozen locations in 18 states, after all. That’s well and good for the company (which also owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden), but dedicated clientele don’t want to see the things that made Eddie V’s special lose their luster.

If we might be so bold, we’ll give Darden a list of things they’d better not change.
1. A great happy-hour menu that includes $1 Texas Gulf oysters; Crispy Cashew Calamari for $7; Maine Lobster and Shrimp Bisque for $6; and Mark West Pinot Noir for $5 per glass.
2. An appetizer menu that includes Jonah crab claws for $15 and charred prime steak carpaccio for $15.
3. A divine Gulf snapper Meuniere on the dinner menu.
4. Live music nightly in the bar.
5. Smart, seasoned servers who treat their customers with care and their own job like the time-honored profession it is.

Keep these elements in place and there won’t be any trouble. We hope.

June Naylor is a food writer in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who loves making dinner of the Eddie V’s appetizer menu.