Every day, when Jim Severson gets in his car for the first time, he looks to the sky through his sunroof and thanks God for giving him another day.
The 65-year-old chef/owner of Sevy’s is grateful for his wife Amy, son Erik, daughter-in-law Jessica and their son, Bennett, daughter Jenna, and his wide group of friends, staff, and guests. Jim, or Sevy, as he’s known, was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer 16 years ago and was given three-to-five years to live.
He was diagnosed just when he had celebrated the 10th anniversary of his eponymous Preston Center restaurant, raising teenagers, and playing golf frequently and exceptionally well.
“I’ll fight this as hard as I can,” he said when he heard the news. “It’s gotta catch me.”
Fortunately, it hasn’t.
Sevy’s opened in 1997 and immediately became the social and business hub for Preston Center bankers and brokers who’ve made countless deals over corn chowder, Buzzy’s seafood tacos, and Sevy’s smoked beef tenderloin. The restaurant was an immediate success and investors earned their money back in a mere 19 months.
Today, Sevy’s revenue is back to pre-pandemic levels and investors have earned several times their original investment. That, dear readers, is a notable statistic for a one-unit chef-driven restaurant in Dallas.
On most days, you’ll find Sevy in the restaurant along with his son, Erik who serves in a leadership role, and his culinary team. Sevy introduced me to the cooks prepping for the day, chopping, trimming, and moving gracefully but with intention in the linear kitchen. Jim’s sparkling eyes met every one of theirs; the mutual respect and admiration were clear. Eight have worked there since day one, the rest averaging a 15-year tenure. That explains the high quality and consistency of the food over two-and-a-half decades.
During the pandemic, Sevy took great care of his team, providing cash for groceries and giving them food to feed their families while the restaurant was shut down. He’s clearly proud of his team and what they’ve accomplished. Few, if any of them had formal culinary school training besides “Sevy’s culinary school,” Jim says.
When he’s not at the restaurant, he’s at his beloved Port O’Connor home fishing for redfish.
It wasn’t in his plan to become such an avid fisherman, he says, but after his diagnosis, he couldn’t play golf anymore.
“Richard was the first one to take me to Port O’Connor,” he says of his “Guardian Angel” Chef Richard Chamberlain.
Sevy was shaken by the diagnosis and Richard invited him to go fishing. On the road trip down, Richard and Sevy had a deep spiritual conversation which led to Sevy accepting and embracing his Christian faith in a way he hadn’t before.
“We pulled off the road and just cried for a while,” Chamberlain said.
Sevy is methodical. He started working on the plan for his restaurant two years before it opened, meticulously laying out his vision. A four-page manifesto completed Oct. 1, 1996, still clings to a bulletin board in his tiny office describing the décor, food, demographics, and vibe. Aside from a few cosmetic updates here and there and the addition of a putting green on the patio, the restaurant represents his original vision.
Sevy’s restaurant might be the culmination of his career, but it’s just one in a long line of his successes. Despite dreams of studying sharks for a living, instead, he went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, graduating first in his class after getting the culinary bug while flipping burgers at Mcdonald’s.
He worked in and led some of the most prestigious kitchens of the day including Café Pacific and Dakota’s, where he joined the corporate team, opening Dakota’s steakhouses in Boston and Nashville among other cities.
He continued his corporate gig as the culinary director for Dick Clark’s rock-and-roll-themed restaurants. “He was a nice guy,” he said of Dick Clark. The leadership team meetings would include “the numbers guys talking numbers while he and I talked food.”
Jim was fine walking away from big, “six-figure corporate jobs” to realize his dream of owning a local, high-quality and approachable chef-driven restaurant.
His gamble paid off not just for him and his investors, but for the countless organizations and people he has helped through his profoundly generous fundraising efforts, most notably his long-time involvement with Côtes du Coeur, the American Heart Association’s largest Dallas fundraiser and Cattle Baron’s Ball, where Jim, Richard, and chefs Kent Rathbun, Kevin Garvin, Dean Fearing, Nick Barclay, and David Holben raised $250,000 this year in a matter of minutes with their private dinner auction item.
I’ve met few people who exude as much gratitude as Jim Severson. He’s grateful for his beloved wife Amy, who he calls “my rock,” his family, friends, team members, guests, and, of course, his life; waking up to see a new day, every day.
Sevy’s restaurant isn’t new, obviously. There are many shiny new pennies in Dallas that attract accolades and Instagram posts and that’s great for the city. Don’t forget about Sevy’s in Preston Center, though. Like Sevy himself, it’s warm, comforting, and unfailingly amiable. A classic neighborhood restaurant welcoming all.
Sevy’s Grill 8201 Preston Road at Sherry Lane. www.sevys.com