Wednesday, September 27, 2023 Sep 27, 2023
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Food & Drink

Aw Shucks Celebrates 40 Years of Oysters, Fried Fish, Cold Beer, and Lower Greenville

The divey little seafood shack has grown into a regional institution over the last four decades. Not that founder Bob Peterson could have ever seen that coming.
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Aw Shucks in the 1980s. Courtesy of Aw Shucks

At the bar of the Greenville Avenue location of Aw Shucks, Nick Peterson sits on a stool bolted to the ground, swiveling slightly from side to side as he looks to the kitchen. In front of him is a silver tray of freshly shucked oysters on ice, a shrimp cocktail, a plastic cup filled with beer, and a small bowl of lime wedges.

He calls out to the crew behind the bar, asking several how long they’ve worked there. The employees sound off over the clanging sounds of pots and pans and a fizzy soda machine: 21 years! Sixteen! Twelve! Thirty-one, Nick!

Peterson is the CEO of Peterson Management Group, the hospitality group that owns Blue Goose Cantina and Aw Shucks Oyster Bar. His dad, Bob Peterson, opened Aw Shucks on Greenville Avenue in 1983 with his business partner, Scott Holyfield. It was a humble operation that served catfish, shrimp, oysters, and every combination of the three. Blue Goose opened a year later in 1984.

This month, Dallas’ well-loved oyster bar turns 40 years old, and it is celebrating with a major 1980s-themed blowout. That’s quite a feat for a restaurant group that started in an 800-square-foot shack. And it’s more impressive considering Bob was, well, Bob.

“He didn’t have a five, 10-year, 20-year plan. He didn’t really have a five-day plan,” Nick says. “It was: Everyone’s having fun and we’re pumping out good seafood, the rest will take care of itself.”

CEO Nick Peterson with the Aw Shucks team on Lower Greenville. Nataly Keomoungkhoun

In the early days of Aw Shucks, the restaurant became a physical representation of Bob’s mind. When Bob and Scott first purchased the property, they put their life savings into the building, which was formerly an Orange Julius. That meant they also had very little money to make repairs, so Bob attempted to fix a lot of things around the Greenville Avenue location on his own.

Using the term “fixer-upper” to describe his dad was generous, Nick says. He was up in the middle of the night jackhammering the floors to lay PVC pipe. He couldn’t afford contractors, let alone permits.

“As the years have gone and we’ve become larger, we’ve gotten more qualified plumbers and contractors out,” Nick says. “Every time they go through, they’re like, ‘I don’t know who did it, but that’s an interesting way of doing it.’”

Bob knew Lower Greenville like the back of his hand, Nick says. Long before cell phones, if someone at the Blue Goose or Aw Shucks offices needed to get ahold of him, they would reference a call sheet with bars around East Dallas: Milo Butterfingers, Lakewood’s First and 10, the Flying Burro.  

For decades, paying for food was based on the honor system. Customers would order at the counter, pick up their food, and then tell someone at the cash register what they ordered before paying. Nick says he once asked Bob if the restaurant ever lost money based on the system. The answer was always the same: not enough.

“The restaurant was doing great, the bottom line was good,” Nick says. “The sales were through the roof.”

The restaurant and its other five North Texas locations pulled away from the honor system during the pandemic when restrictions called for fewer person-to-person interactions. But the charm of Aw Shucks lives through its divey feel and fresh seafood menu. It was loud and rough around the edges, like Bob.  

“That was who Lower Greenville was—and still is—and that’s who my dad was,” Nick says. “He wanted to bring that energy and that vibe to a little seafood shack.”

Bob Peterson (middle) with Nick (far right) and his brother Eric. Courtesy of Aw Shucks

In a photo from the 80s, the restaurant’s pole is painted bright blue, and it holds up a letterboard sign that says, “OYSTER BAR NOW OPEN.” Bob stands in front of the brick building in a white button-down and jeans, surrounded by roped-off wooden picnic tables. On the ground are bleached oyster shells. To the right of the photo is a 2-year-old Nick, sitting at a table with his brother Eric.

Nick worked at the Lower Greenville location during the summer starting at 15 years old. He bussed tables, shucked oysters, and took orders at the counter. Nick and Bob struck a deal that said Nick could go back to Florida, where he was living with his mom, if he earned a certain amount of money each summer. He initially hated working at Aw Shucks; he often worked double shifts at the restaurant and nearby Blue Goose to meet his goal. But when he turned 21, he met his now-wife Catherine, who was a hostess at Blue Goose.

“That summer I didn’t make much money,” Nick says. “And I stayed the whole summer.”

During Nick’s senior year at Jacksonville University in 2003, Bob got sick. He died during finals week. Nick’s mom Jill took over as CEO. A manager position opened up at the Greenville location, so he gave it a shot. He loved it, and he later managed the Mockingbird Lane and Richardson locations. He grew into a regional manager for Aw Shucks, and he took over as CEO for both Shucks and Blue Goose in 2018.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, all Aw Shucks and Big Shucks locations are throwing an 80s-themed bash on September 28—the day Aw Shucks Greenville opened in 1983. Expect live music and prizes, and customers are encouraged to dress up.

There will also be food and drink specials: $19.83 for a dozen oysters or a platter of seafood, free key lime pie slices for folks born in 1983, $2.83 draft beer, a $3.83 “Dirty Bob” (pineapple juice, peach liqueur, Jägermeister, and a slice of peach over ice), and $3.83 margaritas. Learn more about the party here.

Those margaritas, by the way, have a legendary story. In the mid-80s, the manufacturer who made the margarita mix was going out of business, so Bob and Scott went to South Texas to see if they could buy the operation. While the owner was giving the pair a tour of the place (which ended up being a barn), Bob noticed a sign tacked to the wall that read: “Aw Shucks Margarita Recipe.”

Scott distracted the owner while Bob frantically wrote down the recipe on a sheet of paper. They left, went to a nearby bar to celebrate their heist, and accidentally left it there. When they returned, they found it in the parking lot.

“That’s still the recipe today,” Nick says.

Aw Shucks and Big Shucks Oyster Bar, multiple locations.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Nick Peterson attended the University of Florida, not Jacksonville University.


Nataly Keomoungkhoun

Nataly Keomoungkhoun

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Nataly Keomoungkhoun joined D Magazine as the online dining editor in 2022. She previously worked at the Dallas Morning News,…

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