Drago Cvitanovich, cofounder of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, died peacefully surrounded by his family Saturday, February 4, completing the last chapter of his storied life. He was the son of the late Dragutin and Bara Cvitanovich. He was preceded in death by 10 siblings, two of whom passed away during childbirth, along with sisters Gloria Batinich, Mary Lulich-Marinovich, and Franka Lovic', and brothers David Cvitanovich, Tomislav Cvitanovich, Barisa Cvitanovich, Zivko Cvitanovich, and Fabijan Cvitanovich.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Klara Cvitanovich, and sons Tommy and Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, along with daughters-in-law Leanne Flick Cvitanovich and Heidi Hoffmann Cvitanovich. He is also survived by eight grandchildren, Maddie, Josh, Maya, Carson, Callie, Caroline, Kacie, and Drago. Being a grandfather brought tremendous joy to Drago.
Born in Igrane, Croatia, Drago attended a Franciscan school as a young man, which laid the foundation for a lifetime of faith and service to others. He fled his homeland following World War II to escape the Yugoslav Communist regime. He initially went to Germany, where he joined the U.S. Army Labor Department and served as a military police officer. In the spring of 1958, he took a trip to New Orleans to visit family and experience his first Mardi Gras. It was during that trip he met Klara, a fellow Croatian, who was also visiting her family. Three weeks later, they were married.
Drago and Klara relocated to Canada, where Drago began his career in foodservice. They started a family and loved Canada, but Drago had a lifelong dream of one-day immigrating to the United States. After four years, they were awarded a U.S. entry visa. Drago and Klara reached New Orleans in 1964 with two young sons, two suitcases, a little bit of money, and a lot of dreams. Once in New Orleans, Drago worked for nine years at his sister’s restaurant in Lakeview. In 1968 and 1969, Drago worked at Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. He developed an admiration and respect for the Acme family, which was passed on to his family.
In 1969, Drago and Klara opened Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana. Drago’s, home of the legendary Original Charbroiled Oyster, has grown from humble beginnings to over 450 employees wearing the Drago's logo across three locations. When working at the restaurant, the highlight of Drago's day was to sing "Happy Birzzday" to his guests who were celebrating.
Drago reigned as King for the Krewe of Argus on Mardi Gras Day 1995. In 2013, Drago and Klara Cvitanovich were inducted into the Louisiana Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, in addition to the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation honoring his legacy with the creation of the Drago Cvitanovich Award for Outstanding Philanthropy by an Entrepreneur.
Even more legendary than the oysters is the legacy that Drago leaves behind. The Monument to the Immigrant statue in Woldenberg Park has a inscription that reads, “Drago and Klara Cvitanovich immigrated to the United States with a vision that only hard work and perseverance could make happen. What they gave to their sons and others is an example for generations to follow.”
Relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend a visitation at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124 on Monday, February 6th from 5–9 p.m. Visitation will resume 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, February 7th at St. Clement of Rome Church, 3978 West Esplanade Ave., Metairie, LA 70002 with a funeral mass following at 12:30 p.m. Burial will take place in the Lake Lawn Park Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to: Drago's Foundation, 3232 North Arnoult Road, Metairie, LA 70002. Contributions will be distributed to the Alzheimer's Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Sunshine Kids, Jesuit High School, Mt. Carmel Academy, Christian Brothers School and St. Clement of Rome and Catholic Charities.