Fourteen years ago, Bill Clinton strolled past the Flying Fish in Little Rock, Ark. less than a week after it opened. Bill was there to celebrate the debut of his presidential library down the street.
Standing outside the new restaurant, owner/entrepreneur Shannon Wynne asked the former president if he wanted to come in for a bite. But since Clinton had recently switched to a healthier diet, he politely declined and complemented Wynne on the restaurant.
In the fall, the ninth Flying Fish will open in the Dallas Design District far from its birthplace that Bill and Hillary Clinton visited.
"[Hillary]'s been to the Flying Fish in Little Rock, but in Little Rock, it is an institution like no other," Wynne said. "It is the fried fish capital of Little Rock."
The new addition to Wynne's growing empire is located in the former Purple Onion Restaurant, a longtime Dallas diner that has since moved to downtown. Wynne kept the skeleton of the building intact, but added thematic charm by adorning the walls with Big Mouth Billy Bass and photos of customers hoisting their trophy fish. (Don't worry, the Billy Bass don't sing -- Wynne removed the batteries so patrons don't get burnt out on "Take Me to the River.")
"My family and I go to a place called Caddo Lake," Wynne said. "This is what the catfish houses around Caddo Lake feel like. They try to look nice. They just end up looking funky."
Like Mudhen, Wynne's spot in the Dallas Farmers Market, customers can eat as healthily or unhealthily as they want at Flying Fish. With permanent items such as fried shrimp and grilled tilapia alongside daily specials such as fish tacos, a lack of variety is a nonissue with the menu.
The Flying Fish marks Wynne's third restaurant in the Design District behind craft beer hot spot Meddlesome Moth and burger joint Rodeo Goat. When the serial entrepreneur, who is also behind the nationwide network of Flying Saucer bars, first started opening restaurants in the neighborhood, it was still largely ignored.
"The reason why I believe it had not been touched was because nobody knew how to get there, myself included," Wynne said. "If you didn't know how to get off Wycliff at the Tollway and wind around through those streets, you weren't going to find it."
The creation of the Oak Lawn exit around six years ago enabled easy access to the Design District. Since the world could finally locate it, companies flocked there to set up fashion and art warehouses with the prospect of it transforming into a commercial sector.
Successful ventures like the Moth and Rodeo Goat, along with the extreme growth in the residential and business sections of the district, led Wynne to opening a Flying Fish there, making it the first in Dallas south of Lemmon Avenue.
In recent years, Wynne strategically placed restaurants like the Meddlesome Moth, Mudhen and now the Flying Fish in and around areas that needed revitalization, especially ones that breach Dallas' north-south divide.
At the moment, he doesn't have any plans to open another Flying Fish because he said prefers to open venues gradually. He also mentioned that opening too many restaurants at time takes a toll of his family and his business. While he could open five or 10 a year, he generally prefers to let them develop naturally to let them to flourish without risk of hard times crushing them early on.
The new Flying Fish is set to be ready in late October just weeks before the nation will vote on whether or not another Clinton will be in office.