When Justin Williams was looking to find his calling in his hometown of Danville, all he had to do was to call upon his wide variety of life experiences, be they in the military, his education, or his family’s legacy in the food service industry.
“I’ve taken a lot of the things I’ve seen and brought them” to Soul of the Sea seafood restaurant on North Main Street in Danville.
Williams is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the Army who has traveled the world from Virginia to South Korea, Afghanistan and back, and he’s brought much of what he has learned back home to create a menu that is as diverse as it is popular.
The name “Soul of the Sea” is no accident. Opened in spring of 2021, the eatery is a mixture of traditional soul food combined with seafood and other home-cooked fare. Williams is no stranger to any of those. His father also managed King of the Sea on Memorial Avenue, which partly inspired the name of Soul of the Sea.
“I took a piece of it and merged it (with my own ideas),” Williams said.
After spending nine years in the military, then getting his degree from St. Leo University in Florida, Williams needed a plan—literally. He relied on his uncle, Bobby James, who runs Seafood & More on South Main Street, for more inspiration.
Williams said his father told him that, “If I didn’t listen to anything else he says,” he needed to set up shop in the same way James had done. “He told me to take his idea and run with it.”
It wasn’t easy, nor was it a quick process.
“I did research on business plans, (and) it took a good year and a half to two years to find a location,” he added. Williams said he had a general idea where he wanted to be, and after seeing the amount of traffic on North Main Street, “it just clicked,” he said.
Another reason Williams chose the North Main Street location, he said, was because he “wanted to give back to the community” and provide a business that was welcoming and warm.
“I wanted to give people something to look forward to,” he said. “We’re here to serve the community.”
That means combining every facet to give the customer the best experience possible. “The ambiance, the scenery inside—we have to continue to strive for excellence,” Williams said. “You also have to give customers memorable flavors and great customer service to that ensure they keep coming back. That also comes from having a passion for excellence.”
“If it’s not cooked with love, you can tell. If you didn’t take your time, you can tell.”
Most of the credit for this belongs to his manager, Dedrick Rodgers, who helped design the interior, and staff of seven employees, Williams noted.
In addition to a variety of seafood dishes and southern favorites like yams, fried chicken, and meat loaf, catering is available. Even with the success of his restaurant business, Williams’ ambitions don’t end there. One future goal he has is to open a skill games cafe in Danville and continue to expand Soul of the Sea. Despite these ambitious plans, Williams said his primary focus is spending time with his family and his daughter, Jadea, and “making su