By Eva D. Coleman
Businessman James Price sat at the opposite end of the long table in the private dining room of his latest establishment, socially-distanced for this I Messenger Media one-on-one interview. His name is synonymous with “social scene,” and his longevity in the entertainment industry in Dallas-Fort Worth is near top-of-mind for almost anyone who has canvassed area nightclubs over the years. Price recalled the opening of his first club. “The name of the club was Savoy, S-A-V-O-Y, and the opening date was December 19, 1989,” Price said
The day was busy; however, there was one goal in mind. “Get open,” the Dallas native said. “Just all the things that went with it; scrambling around town getting liquor, food and just…last minute decorating and all that stuff, just frantic. That’s all.” From opening Savoy over 30 years ago, to Vu Cu Rae Comedy Club and the original Park Avenue, Phenomenon, Truth, Vinetti’s, Jamie’s Rhythm and so many others in between, Price has witnessed and been a major player in nightclub evolution.
SKIN IN THE GAME
“When I got into the business, man, you had to put skin in the game,” he said. “You had to empty the bank account. Now people are able to lightly dabble in the business of entertainment, but back then, it was pretty much go-for broke.” “You know, everything brings about a change,” he added. “That doesn’t mean people are less committed than they used to be, but we were ‘all-in’ back in the day.”
The business acumen Price has acquired over the years was developed by others he greatly admires. He credits his first business partner, Alvin Scott, for teaching him so much. Then there’s Charles Bush from Houston, TX, whom he says was the first person he’d met that was a multi-club owner like himself and showed him the ropes. And lastly, the late Charles Bailey, who inspired him the most. “With every relationship, just about, you take a little something; be it good or bad,” Price said. “So, I try to learn with every relationship that I’ve had. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for some older people that put a hand out to take a brother with them and show them the way.”
As an entrepreneur, of all the lessons he’s learned over the years, being actively present proved most valuable. “You need to be involved in every aspect of your business,” he said. “If you can’t do it, you need to learn it; and the beauty of mine, I was able to learn from my first business because it was a success right from day one.” Price says that involvement taught him that he could live and learn at the same time. “Make sure the plan is tight, and go in with both feet. And you gotta learn. You’ve gotta go to school all over again,” he said.
With over three decades of answering to himself as the owner of restaurants and nightlife escapes, Price has withstood many tests and feels that while they’re unavoidable, one thing withstands them all. “My advice is always do something that you love and that you’re going to be passionate about because you’re going to get tested,” he said. “And you’re going to get tested again, and again. So, unless that passion is there, you’re gonna quit because it’s hard to keep going.”
Over the years, many notables have gotten their start, remain as standing acts, or have come through the doors of Price’s establishments. From Steve Harvey as host at the Vu Cu Rae Comedy Club, Spinderella of Salt-N-Pepa fame as an often-featured deejay, or Don Diego Jazz as the resident house band, concerts featuring popular and classic artists are the norm. Price laughed at what he says is his one regret.
“When I had Steve Harvey at the Vu Cu Rae that I didn’t make him sign a piece of paper that was blank,” he said. “If I’d had him sign that blank piece of paper, I don’t know, it’d be a different world.” Price shared that multi-award winning artist Erykah Badu worked at the Vu Cu Rae as well. “She was actually a waitress, and Steve Harvey gave her a chance to sing when he built his club down the street from Vu Cu Rae,” Price said. “So he let her sing. The rest is history. I bet he wishes he would have had her sign that piece of paper too!”
As present owner and operator of Vinetti’s, South Dallas Café, DJ’s Steakhouse, and Jamie’s Rhythm, with eyes for a sports bar in his purview, the father of six now leaves the overnight duties he’s maintained for so long to his children, and said he is happy to give up the late hours. “I was 25 then, I’m a little older now,” he laughed. “So those five or six o’clock in the morning situations are not good for me anymore. I’ll dabble in it a little bit just to guide them, but I want to be at home in the bed at a reasonable hour now.”
While he once considered expanding The Price Group brand beyond Dallas, he quickly realized the importance of remaining where he’s seen the best outcomes. “I learned to stay in my own back yard; that’s where I have my most success. I’m from here. I was born here. So, this is home,” Price said. “So, when it comes to business and my exposure financially, I like to bet on me, and as sure [a] thing as I can, so I’ve learned to keep it close to home.”
A KNIFE AND FORK IN THE ROAD
In addition to clubs that offer food, Price has opened standalone eateries along the way. His culinary success was crafted in the back of his venues. “Just about all of my clubs back in the day had kitchens,” Price said. “But back then, we didn’t know how to operate a kitchen; we didn’t know what to do.” Price credits a visionary, who has since passed away, for the foresight. “I had a guy…the late Garcia Williams was with me,” Price said. “He used to do all the kitchens. He said, ‘Hey man let me make some money in that kitchen.’ And we would talk, talk, talk and talk. He said ‘You need to get in the food business, something that’s stable, something that you can depend on.’”
Price’s first restaurant was the South Dallas Café in South Dallas on Grand Avenue—later changed to Al Lipscomb Way. And 22 years later, still standing as the soul food haven that attracts customers from afar, it’s currently located in the Red Bird area of Dallas on the corner of the southbound side of Marvin D. Love Freeway and Camp Wisdom Road. Price has ventured into other cuisines, once owning a barbecue restaurant as well as a seafood restaurant, Catfish Blues, in Downtown Dallas. Many of his clubs over the years were made famous for brunches and lavish buffets, easily transitioning patrons from nighttime to daytime escapes. Price categorizes his currently open club in Addison, TX as a place for pasta. “We mainly do pastas, catfish, and chicken there too,” he said of Vinetti’s. “I’m trying to lean more towards the restaurants than the bars.”
His most recent restaurant venture, DJ’s Steakhouse, has a menu that rivals popular ones for those seeking an upscale experience. Price says he hopes DJ’s attracts some of everyone, especially those who’ve gone to other places and felt “‘I like Pappadeaux but…I like Perry’s but…a little something is missing,’” he said. “And I hope we fill that void of what was missing through the music, the food, the drinks, the atmosphere. We just fill the void and you say, ‘That’s what was missing… a little soul.’ We say DJ’s Steakhouse with a little soul.” Price spoke highly about his soulmate and restaurant’s co-namesake.
“It stands for Deanna and James,” he said. “Deanna is my wife and she’s been by my side for 24 years and counting.” The husband-and-wife duo were determined to open DJ’s Steakhouse in the former Jaxx Cafe spot with history dating back to 1992. As Addison residents, they’d visited Jaxx numerous times. Price says that although they secured the location in January 2020, the 40 days in March and April spent inside gave him and Deanna the fortitude to continue with their dream that originated before COVID-19.
“I could have easily just took the keys back and said, ‘Hey, not gon’ be able to do it,’” he said. “But we decided to press forward because I think this is something that is needed, something that is long overdue. A high-end restaurant, for us, by us.” No matter the venture, Price maintains his all-in approach. Creating the luxurious interior was somewhat of an escape during pandemic times. “We got it painted and did all the little artwork that you see here,” he said. “And it would be me and her, that was just our little getaway during all the corona stuff. We had a TV on, music playing, and just come in here and do little projects until you see what you see today.”
The restaurant even features a flower-covered wall in which Price takes pride in having placed each flower individually. He has also taken into consideration the drinks his customers will appreciate. Price says that many fine steakhouses don’t cater to the spirits enjoyed by African American women and men, however, DJ’s will change that by featuring Moscato, Hennessey, and Cognacs. “Everybody’s welcome, but we’re gonna cater to us,” he said. “Down to the collard greens, candied yams and maybe even I could be talking some hot water cornbread.”
As Price further reflects on the words of the late Garcia Williams and the longevity of the South Dallas Café, he hopes for a similar future and possible expansion of DJ’s Steakhouse. “Through recessions, no matter what, pandemics… it’s still going,” he said. “So, food did prove to be a winning item.” DJ’s Steakhouse is located at 14925 Midway Road in Addison. To make reservations or for more information, visit djssteakhouse.com.