Chef Frank Brigtsen's namesake eatery, Brigtsen's Restaurant, has lived in the heart of the Uptown Riverbend for 36 years. Opened in 1986, Brigtsen's has become a beloved neighborhood café serving contemporary Creole and Cajun cuisine, drawing diners from across the country.
Chef Brigtsen began his culinary journey while attending Louisiana State University in 1973. He moved on to apprentice under Chef Paul Prudhomme at Commander's Palace Restaurant in 1979. Chef Prudhomme appointed him to be the first Night Chef at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen just a year later, and eventually Chef Brigtsen worked his way to Executive Chef over his seven year tenure. Through Chef Prudhomme's guidance and mentorship, Chef Brigtsen was able to open his own place, Brigtsen's Restaurant. Chef Brigtsen was inducted into the LRA Hall of Fame in 2012. We caught up with Chef Brigtsen as he begins preparations for the Spring season.
LRA: What are you giving up for Lent and why?
Chef Frank Brigtsen: Every year for Lent I give up cottage cheese. (Sorry, it’s a running joke)!
LRA: If you're not working in the kitchen, what are your Easter traditions?
FR: We traditionally do Easter supper at home with Roast Leg of Lamb.
LRA: What is your favorite recipe to cook during the early Spring season?
Chef: Our favorite seasonal Spring dish is Crawfish Egg Rolls w/ Honey Chinese Mustard Sauce, served at Brigtsen’s.
LRA: Where is your favorite place to go when you're not working?
Chef: Our go-to spot is Sidecar Oyster Patio. We also love Le Chat Noir & Bywater American Bistro.
Find Brigtsen's online at @frankbrigtsen
Chef Susan Spicer has been in the culinary industry for over 30 years. This Women's History Month we honor her passion and dedication to the New Orleans culinary industry.
She is the Louisiana Restaurant Association Restaurateur of the year in 2004, the Association's most prestigious award. In 2018, Spicer was the Keynote Speaker for the Louisiana ProStart invitational. Her restaurants showcase her unique, European-inspired palette. Worldly flavors with New Orleans accents are her signature style.
LRA: What is your favorite recipe to cook during the early Spring season?
Chef Susan Spicer: Love asparagus and ramps, if I can get my hands on any.
Ramps are a wild onion plant native to forests of North America. The balance of garlic and onion flavors make this vegetable sought after by food lovers across the globe, they are rare and foraged like truffles. The wide green leaves and deep purple stem set them apart form your basic green onion. After the winter, they are the first vegetable to sprout from defrosting soil. They are known more commonly as leeks. Ramps are great for grilling and make a bright Spring side for your grilled meat of choice.
LRA: Where is your favorite place to go when you’re not working?
SS: We go to Jackson, Mississippi where my husband’s family is. They always get together on Easter.
Find Chef Susan Spicer online at @bayonanola.
Nancy Weinstock McDaniel is the Vice President of Latter Hospitality. The hospitality group owns The Bower, Birdie's and Tujague's Restaurant. Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. Also known as the birthplace of brunch, Tujague's recently celebrated their 165th anniversary. Once the Sales & Marketing Coordinator, McDaniel is now the Vice President and runs day-to-day sales, communications and operations throughout all three restaurants. She is the right hand of CEO, Owner and Operator of Latter Hospitality, Mark Latter.
When The Bower opened in March 2020, it was just five days before the COVID-19 shutdown. McDaniel's role expanded tremendously from that moment. Latter Hospitality has since opened Birdy's and re-branded Claret into Bower Bar. McDaniel opens up to the LRA about her work life, and the female inspirations who have led her down the path to success.
LRA: Who are some of your female culinary heroes, and why?
Nancy McDaniel: I'll start with Nina Compton and Ella Brennan. Before I was in the industry, I learned about Nina Compton from one of my favorite TV shows Top Chef. Her ability to be calm, cool and collected amongst a wide range of personalities continues to impress me. Now, she has two of the most acclaimed restaurants in New Orleans. It’s inspiring how she combines her own background with local ingredients and traditional cuisine of the area.
Ella Brennan is a no-brainer. What she was able to accomplish as a restaurateur during her time is unthinkable. All females in our industry owe a special thanks to her for paving the way. My third culinary hero is a little less well-known. Alex Snodgrass, of The Defined Dish, is a recipe developer, cookbook author and social influencer. I admire her more personally as she went to my alma-mater, TCU. Over the past few years, her business has expanded greatly, and she has become more successful and well-known. Even with this success, she continues to be herself in the most genuine and down to earth way. She is passionate about creating nutritious and fulfilling meals at home for loved ones. It inspires me to do more than order take-out or sauté a chicken breast for dinner at home with my husband!
LRA: What is the best piece of advice that you've ever received?
NM: The best advice I've ever been given is about the importance of grit. There have been times in my life when my type-A personality has taken over, and I've gotten down on myself for not being perfect. Someone close to me explained that it is way more important to have grit than to be the smartest or the best at something. Having the ability to persist in something that you feel passionate about, and to persevere when you face obstacles is far more important. This advice has since stuck with me and was a huge part of what helped me personally in dealing with these past two years. We've all had reasons to want to give up or feel sorry for ourselves throughout the pandemic, but having grit gives us the ability to make it through the tough times and we are all better for it.
LRA: Who has been a female mentor?
NM: My number one mentor in life is my mom. As a full-time attorney, who is on the management committee of her law firm, and a full-time parent to four children, she is always there for everything. It amazes me how she has been able to be the most hands-on mother there is, while also running her law firm and practicing law full-time (among her other obligations and responsibilities in other volunteer positions). My siblings and I like to joke that she overcommits herself, but somehow manages to get it all done and show up for everything. This has taught me that you truly can have it all! There is no reason that women can't have successful careers and raise incredible families. I'm excited for my own future knowing that my mom will be there every step of the way.
LRA: Why is Women’s History Month important to you?
NM: I am lucky enough to live in a time where women run Fortune 500 companies. It's important for me to remember those who paved the way for my generation, and hope that I can one day inspire the next generation of female leaders.
It's funny - when I was in middle school, I always said that I wanted to own and operate my own restaurant. Little did I know that three years in to working for Latter Hospitality, I would be the Vice President and have ownership interests in three of our four concepts. I'm excited about what the future holds and look forward to continue growing with the company!
Eunice Career & Technical Education Center offers Dual Enrollment Opportunities
Two students of the Eunice Career & Technical Education Center (ECTEC) will be the first in the state of Louisiana to graduate high school with a Technical Diploma from the Southern Louisiana Community College (SLCC).
The ECTEC offers the ProStart culinary arts and management program designed to prepare students for the real working world of the restaurant and hospitality industries. The dual enrollment programs at the ECTEC, in partnership with the SLCC, are taught by qualified professionals. Students complete the program over three years and earn college credits through the SLCC to gain a technical degree while still in high school.
“The dual-enrollment nature of the program is a fantastic opportunity from the standpoint of earning college credits while still in high school,” said Erica Janice, ECTEC Facilitator. “But to do so at no cost gives them a tremendous advantage going forward.”
Dylan Fuselier and Baylie Guillory were among the first students to enroll in the program, and they have successfully completed all courses to receive their Technical Degree. They received all their training and education at ECTEC.
“I wanted to be an inventor when I was a little kid, but once I was introduced to cooking, I learned to be creative with that too,” said Fuselier. “The program at ECTEC taught me what I needed to know to get into the restaurant industry but also helped with my self-discipline and work ethic, so it is a well-rounded program.”
The students spend about half of their school day in the commercial kitchen at ECTEC, which has everything necessary to introduce them to typical restaurant industry standards.
“These students will have a real advantage over others as they leave high school,” said Summerlin. “Culinary schools reach out to us, asking for our students because they know they will receive individuals with an intimate knowledge of the restaurant industry.”
As they prepare to graduate, Fuselier and Guillory have their eyes set on their future. Fuselier has dreams to open his own restaurant, while Guillory is hoping to attend the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University.
“I definitely have a better future due to this program and all the opportunities it has presented me,” said Guillory.
Story and quotes from St. Landry Parish Economic Development.
Irish Pubs across the state ready to welcome patrons for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
By Nicole Koster
There is plenty of green beer, luck and revelry to go around on St. Patrick’s Day, but here in New Orleans, and around the state of Louisiana, the celebrations are deeply rooted. The Irish have a historical role in the rich cultural fabric of Southeast Louisiana. When the Irish were fighting British rule, many of them left their homeland and found solace off the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The Irish Channel in New Orleans is rightly named after the Irishmen who worked on the Port and would walk to work from their cottages, many built from barges broken down for building materials. The Irish worked to start banks, built English-speaking churches and served in the military. It was the Irish who worked for only $1 a day to build the New Basin Canal. The Irish evolved into businessmen and professionals of all trades. Their contributions to the food, music and New Orleans spirit are visible every day, like through all the pubs who pride their brand on the spirit of the Irish. Find a place below to celebrate the luck of the Irish today!
Enoch's Irish Pub
Enoch's Irish Pub in Monroe is the place to be in Northern Louisiana, all year round, for Irish spirit. The Irish pub with Louisiana attitude opened on St. Patrick's Day in 1980. The business is still in the family and has become a premier music venue for musicians around the state.
Happy's Irish Pub
This neighborhood pub in Baton Rouge celebrates St. Patrick's Day all week, and all year long. Their happy hour the week of St. Patrick's Day lets revelers partake with 2-for-1 beers and double well drinks. On the 17th of every month, Happy's celebrates 'St. Practice Day' as a way to honor St. Patrick's Day year round. Among many specials, Patrons enjoy their signature green beer, Happy's Hooligan.
A New Orleans institution, Pat O'Brien's has been in business now for 89 years. The bar, which began as a speakeasy on St. Peter Street, bears a classic Irish name. They have a big St. Patrick's Day celebration each year where patrons enjoy sporting Pat O's Irish green bowling hats. You can enjoy festivities in the courtyard, or inside at the famous Piano Bar with dueling pianos.
There will be a St. Patrick's Day parade from the Downtown Irish Club walking through the Marigny, French Quarter and CBD tonight starting at 7 p.m.
By Nicole Koster
Just off the corner from the Orleans Parish Court House is Addis NOLA, an Ethiopian Kitchen celebrating authentic East African cuisine. Founded and owned by Dr. Biruk Alemayehu, she, her husband and son, Dr. Jamie Lobo and Prince Lobo, run the restaurant dedicated to connecting the New Orleans community to Ethiopian culture and cuisine.
Her son Prince mainly handles PR and communications for Addis NOLA, but also acts as a host, runs food and works where ever he is needed in the restaurant. He says while his mother was a student at Southern University of Baton Rouge in 2009, she enjoyed attending international events hosted by the University but it brought to light that Southeast Louisiana was lacking a proper eatery for recognizing her homeland. She would showcase some of her own Ethiopian recipes to share her heritage at the events. It was there she had the idea to open her own restaurant one day. Over the years of managing motherhood and work life, she finally made the dive into the food service industry, and scooped up a location at S. Broad and Tulane Avenue in 2019.
“This is essentially her love letter to New Orleans,” Prince said. “To have a place to showcase the flavors and food from her homeland of Ethiopia.”
Dr. Alemayehu is originally from a region near the Entoto Mountains. She grew up on a military base in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa until she was 14, and then moved to be educated in the Czech Republic after political conflict broke out in her country. Her father, a former royal guard of the then Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, passed away defending his country. She met her now husband, Jamie, there in the Czech Republic, who is from Angola. The couple traveled back to Angola after living in Portugal for some time, where Prince was then born. This rich rooted history of her family is the biggest inspiration for bringing Addis Ababa to New Orleans, thus Addis NOLA.
Prince and his parents are bridging the food culture of Ethiopia to the Southern hospitality of New Orleans. Though halfway across the globe from each other, there are a world of similarities between the two cultures.
“We understand New Orleans to be the culinary and hospitality capital of the nation, and I think the way people live in Ethiopia is directly aligned with that,” Prince said. “The shared aspects of how deep their culture is, and how flavorful the food is, and the overall spirit of the people, I think we are a great bridge between both of those cultures and people.”
Addis NOLA and their team of employees work as a well-oiled machine seven days a week to bring the Ethiopian dining culture to life for hungry guests. Upon walking through the doors, one is immersed in Ethiopian traditions. From the Tej honey wine, to the handwoven wicker mesobs, a breadbasket that is interchangeably used as a communal dining table as well as an injera bread storing utensil, to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, Addis NOLA is a heaping serving of Ethiopia in New Orleans. The coffee ceremony is very close to his heart, says Prince. Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. Making the coffee all in the same moment is an important touch on their dining experience.
“This is a tradition that pays homage to the origins of coffee in the world, how culturally it has impacted the way of life in Ethiopia, and the people who live there,” Prince said. “Whenever we roast the coffee for the house that’s reiterating that essence of welcoming people into our home,” Prince said. “It blesses the spirits of the guests who come, essentially like a sage stick practice, like many people are familiar with.”
There is a strong sense of personal connection in Ethiopian dining, like using your hands with the injera flatbread to eat everything on your plate, shared with your family and friends. Addis NOLA offers a gluten-free injera bread, vegetarian options and meat for all palettes. The menu showcases traditional kitfo, sambusas (lentil, beef or collard green hand pies), tibs and wot, served alongside options like cooked lentils, collards and beets. There is also shrimp, and whole fried red snapper, Prince’s favorite dish. The fusion of traditional and modern flavors honors Ethiopia, and also the Gulf of Mexico and its abundance of fresh seafood.
“My mother holds down the traditional Ethiopian cuisine and I handle pushing more modern, local and sustainable recipes,” said Prince. “We are in New Orleans, so we have to use the gold that we have out here, so we take the Gulf seafood and use traditional Ethiopian cooking processes and incorporate other flavors from other regions of Ethiopia.”
Dr. Alemayehu juggles restaurant life, family life and work life seamlessly her son says. With a strong sense of humbleness and humility instilled in her from a young age, transitioning from professor to food entrepreneur was natural. She spent 12 years as a professor at SUNO, and currently Dr. Alemayehu works for Go Propeller , a non-profit supporting and growing entrepreneurs to tackle social and environmental disparities.
“She loves to harness her inner Oprah, she is very philanthropic in that way,” Prince said. “She harnesses that energy, even kind of that same elegance of Michelle Obama. I see a lot of resemblances between the both of their statures. She is in that class of woman.”
Above all else, Addis NOLA’s top priority is to engage New Orleans with ancient Ethiopian culture and to bring people together regardless of backgrounds, focusing on making a positive change. Prince is proactive in making positive changes in his community by constantly networking and learning from other food professionals in the region. He and his parents regularly patronize local restaurants, and carry a mission of unity for Addis NOLA. You will regularly see Prince pop-up on Facebook and Instagram supporting his industry friends at Froot Orleans (a local fruit parlor), Turkey and the Wolf, Queen Trini Lisa and even Glass Half Full, a local sustainability and glass recycling project from two Tulane University graduates. Here, he recycles all the glass bottles from the restaurant. Networking is key for the Addis NOLA family as Prince mentions their membership with the LRA plays a large role in supporting that factor.
"Especially since the pandemic, one of the most important things for us is to have that connectivity with other restaurant people, and the network of professionals," Prince said. "Just to make sure that you have some support at some degree, and the LRA is a great place for that. "
Dr. Biruk Alemayehu, Dr. Jamie Lobo and Prince all wear many hats working together at Addis NOLA, truly a family affair. Prince is focused on sharing their mission and doing whatever is needed to get through each day, spreading far and wide his mother’s passion for her homeland.
“I fit myself into wherever is necessary,” said Prince. “Everyone has specific roles, but mine is a little more open. Just to make sure everyone hears our story.”
By Wendy Waren
Yulia Zmyzhova Shamas emigrated to the United States 15 years ago from Ukraine—first to California, then followed her sister to New Orleans. Early in her arrival to the Crescent City, she applied for a server position at Bacco, a former concept of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. Fast forward to present day, and Yulia is now a Manager at Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unfolded on the world stage, she agreed to share her experience, “a nightmare,” and all the emotions, unrelenting love and concern for her beloved homeland, family and people.
“My life has been on hold since February 24 when the invasion began,” Yulia explained. “At first it was shock and disbelief. I found myself less attentive to my child and work, and I was simply going through the motions in those first days.”
Yulia’s parents, particularly her father, who at 63 has vivid memories of U.S.S.R. control of his country is adamant about staying. Although her family is located on the Western side of the country near Poland, where nearly a million Ukrainians have fled thus far, she said her father “is ready to pick up a weapon and defend his country.”
Her sister, brother-in-law and three-year-old niece are also of great concern. She was able to convince her sister to leave with her child for Germany. Her brother-in-law is required to stay and fight when the time comes.
“My screen time has been upwards of 10 hours a day since this started, just reading news. Mardi Gras was particularly challenging for Yulia. “I unfortunately could not relate and enjoy the celebration while my people were simultaneously being bombed and killed,” she said. “I felt so helpless.”
What is one of your fondest memories from while in the Ukraine?
We cherish our religious freedom, especially holidays like Christmas and Easter. We celebrate by going to church, wearing our Ukrainian national costumes and making Paska bread—a tradition passed down from grandmother to mother, and mother to daughter. It’s a lot like gumbo because every family has their own recipe. We paint eggs and wear our best clothes beginning Good Friday through Easter Sunday.
What do you most celebrate about being Ukrainian?
It’s the connections we have with each other… it’s warm, welcoming and supportive. For example, I was there in January and had a minor medical issue. My father called a doctor who was a friend of his, and I was able to see him the next day, with no appointment and at no charge. This type of kindness is common among my people. Most times you don’t even have to ask.
What do you want people to know about what’s happening in your homeland?
My people are strong, and they are fighters. I don’t want Russia to take our freedom of speech or religion away, or our decision to join the European Union. Right now, Russia is destroying my country and attempting to steal the future of my parents, my sister, my niece…and our entire nation.
Can you recall an influential woman who mentored or shaped you into the strong woman and mother you are today? When I was at university, I had to write a paper explaining why I deserved one of two scholarships available to study in Germany. I was stalled and losing confidence until an instructor gave me inspiring pep talk and told me I was underestimating myself and to take some time before giving it another try. I wrote the essay and ultimately won one of the scholarships. I went to study in Western Germany and traveled to Luxemburg, Belgium and the Netherlands, paid in full, and had the time of my life. I still recall that instructor as being someone who was fair, compassionate, recognized my successes and encouraged me.
In 2016, Yulia was nominated for the National Restaurant Association’s Faces of Diversity Award. She has also been featured in the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s magazine and as spokeswoman for women in the New Orleans hospitality industry by the city’s tourism promotion and marketing organization—New Orleans & Co.
“Even though I have American citizenship, I am first a Ukrainian,” Yulia said. “I’m so proud of my nation and grateful to the Ukrainian soldiers who are standing up for our freedom and democracy. The American government has made it easier for Ukrainian family members of U.S. citizens to get a visa and take refuge out of harm’s way. I’m grateful for that, too.”
Yulia is married to Brian Shamas and together they have a daughter named Leila.
Local seafood restaurant welcomes back Mardi Gras revelers at St. Charles and Napoleon Avenue
Superior Seafood has spent the past decade offering a fun Mardi Gras experience to diners along the parade route, and they are in full swing of providing that once again. Manager of Superior Seafood John Michael Rowland is delighted to welcome back patrons for Mardi Gras parades.
“Mardi Gras is good for the heart and soul of New Orleans,” Rowland said.
Superior Seafood brought Napoleon and St. Charles Avenue back to life 11 years ago after taking over the formerly abandoned Copeland’s restaurant. They have become friends to people from all around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast area, who have made their Mardi Gras traditions inside Superior Seafood’s dining room, and balcony over-looking the route.
Rowland says Superior Seafood has gained a large footprint being a restaurant on the parade route. No matter what krewe is rolling, this corner attracts an array of parade goers who take full advantage of the amenities and accessibility the turn in the route provides. That means a stop to buy a frozen pomegranate mojito to-go, or a quick break to enjoy the view of floats turning the corner from Napoleon Avenue before they walk deeper into the route. Rowland says companies and families book the tables in the windows far in advance every year, even last year amid heightened restrictions.
“We were pivoting left, pivoting right and making changes, trying to figure out how to make everything work,” Rowland said. “People would get dressed up and they’d call and say they still want their table. It was great because at the time, we were still in the thick of COVID-19 so it was good to see that everyone still had a good attitude towards it all.”
This is a big weekend for restaurants, and Superior Seafood has its staff ready with “Mardi Gras survival packs,” said Rowland. Inside the packs, employees find a Mardi Gras t-shirt, Tylenol, five-hour energy shots and protein packed snacks to cure any oncoming exhaustion.
“We make sure to take care of them so they have enough energy to get through the week,” Rowland says.
Just like when you were a kid, running through the tunnel of team members before your big sports match, Rowland gets the same feeling from parade throws hanging in the oak trees the night before Bacchus. The crowd from Uptown the day before disperses to Mid City for the Krewe of Endymion, and his staff receives some quiet relief, and a good dinner rush. Rowland always drives down St. Charles Avenue after dinner service on Endymion Saturday to prepare himself for the restaurant’s biggest day of Carnival, Bacchus Sunday.
“The stretch between Napoleon and Louisiana has this calm before the storm,” Rowland said. “It’s almost a surreal moment of silence with this fluttering toilet paper from Krewe of Tucks and arch of ladders before the fun and festivities that ensue the next day. It’s very calming taking that drive.”
Rowland and his staff are always looking ahead, and next up on the schedule is Ash Wednesday. Most places will have a breather after Mardi Gras, but not Superior Seafood.
“Being a seafood restaurant in a Catholic town, on a non-meat-eating holiday, we’re very busy,” Rowland said. “That’s followed up by the first Friday in Lent, which is another seafood only holiday. We just keep rolling and rolling through.”
Certainty is beginning to be served to the nation slowly but surely. New Orleans is certainly soaking it all up this Mardi Gras and Rowland is enjoying seeing the city be itself again.
“It’s important for us to get back to being who we are,” said Rowland. “To show the world we have a great time in a responsible manner and throw the best party on Earth.”
Member share stories of finding love in the kitchen & maintaining peace amongst the chaos
Long before the po-boy became a menu staple, even before they were being slung for free from the Martin Brothers to ‘poor boys,’ there was the Peacemaker. Oyster sandwiches, otherwise known as an oyster loaf, were originally marketed for seafood saloons as a “peacemaker” between husband and wife. Upon returning home after a long day of suspected presumptuous behavior, the husband, often arrived with a French bread loaf stuffed with fried oysters in tow to keep the peace between the couple. She didn’t have to worry about dinner; thus, a happy wife. Dating back to 1851, New Orleans newspapers ran ads for seafood saloons, bars, and restaurants selling stuffed oyster loaves, and the original po-boy was born. Today, the modern peacemaker po-boy is typically a combination to satisfy both parties. All’s well that ends well.
At Mahony’s Po-boys and Seafood, the peacemaker is a combination of fried oysters and shrimp topped with bacon and cheddar. If you’re at Acme Oyster House, the po-boy is split in half, one side oysters, one side shrimp with the addition of Tabasco-infused mayo for a spicy kick.
In the fast-paced restaurant industry, things are always changing, but it’s in the kitchen where these hard-working chefs and owners find peace among the chaos. Let’s meet three couples who met and fell in love in their home away from home, the restaurant.
Holly & Eli
Holly and Eli Cure own Antoni’s Italian Cafe in Lafayette. The casual Italian eatery has stood for 25 years, since 1996. It was 17 years later the former owners sold their beloved café to an even more beloved couple, Holly and Eli. The two met while working at the former Blue Dog Café. “We were friends first, and you know,” Holly said as she trailed off in giggles. “The rest is history.”
She left to work at Antoni’s in 2008, and soon after Eli joined her there in the kitchen. When they were offered to buy Antoni’s in 2013, it was a dream.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to own your own place,” said Holly.
Eli works front and back of house, while Holly mas moved on to a 9 to 5 office job, but it was their time working together in the restaurant that remains the binding element of their relationship. “I think we both bring our own strengths to the table, and it sort of fits together like a puzzle piece. I couldn’t do it without him, and he couldn’t do it without me,” Holly said. “To have a constant in the swirling madness is comforting.”
You can find Holly greeting diners on the weekends, and she teaches a wine class to the service staff twice a year.
“I still remain very involved,’ ‘It’s really important for me to be visible to our guests,” said Holly. “They’ve known me forever. A lot of our guests have been coming to Antoni’s since 2008 or before, so they’ve seen the entire trajectory of what we’ve done.”
When they aren’t at Antoni’s, the couple is in their home kitchen making tacos or gumbo!
Chef Aom and Frankie
Chef Aom Srisuk and her husband Frankie Weinberg opened Pomelo together. This boutique restaurant serves Thai comfort food on Magazine Street. Their story of origin, however, is more detailed than just meeting, getting married, and starting a business together. Aom has worked in restaurants her entire life. She was 21 when she met Frankie while waitressing at her family’s restaurant in the small beach town of Cha Am. Frankie, a fresh college graduate, was teaching English in Thailand. He became more enamored with Aom with every visit to the cafe. Once his one-year teaching contract was up, he returned home to Baltimore while staying in touch with Aom.
“I spent every penny I earned to travel to Thailand to see Aom or vice versa,” said Weinberg.
Eventually, the long distance and changing time zones became too much for the couple, but they did remain in touch. Frankie nearly proposed before they parted ways, but Aom was given a great opportunity from her mother to run one of their restaurants in Bangkok. Frankie continued his work as a business professor at Loyola University New Orleans.
“I said to myself ‘I can’t ask her to step away from this.’ So, she didn’t know,” said Weinberg. “And I’m there on the island, ready to propose, with the ring burning a proverbial hole in my pocket for 8 weeks.”
It simply wasn’t the right time. Seventeen years later, Frankie returned to Thailand on sabbatical. The two picked up where they left off, and eventually moved to and married in New Orleans. Pomelo is something the couple has always envisioned for themselves, Frankie even remembers having a sketchbook from his time in Thailand where he would sketch ideas of the interior.
Frankie sticks with his day job as a Professor of Business Management but keeps a presence at Pomelo greeting customers and managing the social media accounts. Aom finds peace seeing Frankie interact with customers, while Frankie is calmed by knowing Aom is building something special in the kitchen.
When Aom and Frankie aren’t at Pomelo, they enjoy being together in their kitchen at home cooking Japanese food, Aom’s favorite cuisine second to Thai. Frankie says they frequent the neighborhood joint Frankie and Johnny’s from time to time for some classic New Orleans comfort food.
Michael and Laura
Michael Boudreaux and his wife Laura have been married just over 20 years. When he was working as a manager at Outback Steakhouse on the Westbank in the 1990s, there was a moment where decided he was done with restaurant management. He returned home to Baton Rouge and started graduate school at Louisiana State University. Boudreaux took on a part-time job at Juban’s Restaurant in the catering department. It was at a Christmas catering event he met Laura Juban, daughter of the owners. She would help with events on occasion, but they didn’t engage much at first.
“I saw her, said ‘hey’ and she just kind of walked off,” said Boudreaux.
Over the course of the next few months, Michael and Laura grew closer. The pair “began to click and work well together,” Boudreaux said. Their affinity for one another continued to grow and ultimately culminated with their marriage in 2000.
A few months later, Boudreaux acquired the family business, renovated the space, and reopened the restaurant on Valentine’s Day 2001. With Laura by his side, it just felt right. Juban’s has since closed due to the pandemic but plans to reopen again in 2022, on April Fool’s Day, no joke!
“Laura is very type A, straight laced, ‘She’s my safety, I’m her excitement.” Boudreaux said.
Excitement would be an understatement when the couple learned Michael was in possession of a winning lottery ticket, unbeknownst to him. He and Laura had switched vehicles for the day, and she discovered a generous stack of tickets beneath the sun visor. Boudreaux owned up but admitted they were purchased “only if he had quarters on hand.”
Upon some sifting and cross referencing numbers, the two realized one was the golden ticket. Boudreaux credits Laura for squirreling away the money until the time was right, and it ultimately helped them survive the financial woes of the pandemic.
By Nicole Koster
Leidenheimer Baking Company Celebrates 125 years
Adapting to technology and listening to customers and employees are main ingredients in their recipe for success
Gumbo, crawfish etouffee, turtle soup, BBQ shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, snowballs, king cakes, pralines, beignets and bananas foster are all traditional New Orleans comfort foods. Add the po-boy to that list, have it ‘dressed’ on Leidenheimer French Bread (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup and mayo) and the list is complete!
Leidenheimer Baking Company celebrated their 125th anniversary last year, standing with only a handful of other New Orleans family-owned businesses who have been in operation for over a century. Current President and owner of Leidenheimer Baking Co., Sandy Whann (Robert J. Whann IV) says this is a anniversary to remember. Baking bread for family-owned restaurants and family dinner tables has always been the Leidenheimer way, a true constant in the lives of New Orleanians. Whann is grateful to the city for allowing his family to make a living, in turn allowing restaurant owners to do the same. This anniversary means everything to him and his family.
“We’ve always valued our relationships with the many restauranteurs and po-boy shop owners in New Orleans and the surrounding areas,” Whann said. “That gave our entire family a great sense of pride, and really a mission. We knew that what we did provided for them to make a living.”
Whann is fourth generation at Leidenheimer. Now his son William and daughter Katie open doors as the fifth generation. Katie runs social media marketing, while William helps with day-to-day operations. Whann’s sister Katherine runs all administrative and back of the house operations, while his brother-in-law is head of operations.
His daughter Katie feels eternally grateful knowing she is part of “New Orleans cultcha.” It is plainly put by famous cartoon embodiments of New Orleans Vic and Nat’ly, created by late local artist Bunny Matthews, vibrantly printed on the side of local Leidenheimer distribution vans.
“We take pride in being a part of something that is so engrained in the culture of this city,” Katie said. “This city means a lot to us. Having the opportunity to be part of something much bigger than just our family.”
It was Sandy’s great grandfather George H. Leidenheimer who founded the bakery in 1896. A baker from Deidesheim, Germany, he traveled to New Orleans to be with cousins who were also bakers. The bakery honored his German roots, but Leidenheimer soon noticed a greater demand for French bread from his customers.
French bread gained its popularity in the 20th century and gave rise to the po-boy sandwich during the streetcar strike of 1929. It was the Martin brothers, Bennie and Clovis, who fed out-of-work streetcar operators for free, as “poor-boys,” from their French Market coffee stand. Leidenheimer passed away in 1918, not living to see the fruition of the “poor-boy” sandwich. Whann believes his great grandfather is looking down upon New Orleans in awe of the evolution of his French bread.
“He would probably be amazed at the technology that we’ve been able to implement, where we’ve remained faithful to the formulas and to the process, but we’ve used technology to make it more consistent,” said Whann. “He’d find it to be, hopefully, the same as when he made it. Of course, he was not making the same exact products that we are today. In the early days, his products were far more European in influence, in terms of heavier, more brown dense breads from his native Germany. As the wonderful melting pot that was, and is New Orleans, it became more the French bread that we enjoy today.”
Whann credits his employees and customers for being the reason Leidenheimer has been able to adapt in challenging times. His bottom line is to always be there for his employees and customers.
“We want to be there for our employees,” Whann said. “They’re here for us, we want to be here for them. You have to listen to your employees, and you have to listen to your customers. And really listen and understand what they need.”
His family bakery has seen New Orleans in tough times, through many global milestones like the Spanish flu and both World Wars, but Leidenheimer has remained resilient. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
“There is a sense in the restaurant industry, particularly in New Orleans, that we’re all in this thing together, and I think COVID-19 has really amplified that,” Whann said. “It has been the dedication of many longtime employees, managers and customers who have been very understanding.”
Another key ingredient to Leidenheimer’s success has been growing a presence on social media. Katie Whann is fifth generation and has taken the bakery to Instagram to meet their audience, aka “fans,” Katie calls them.
“We created an Instagram account and revamped our website at the same time. Doing both of those in tandem opened our eyes to a whole new world which has been really fantastic,” said Katie. “It has given us the opportunity to communicate with restaurants across the country.”
The restaurant scene in New Orleans is very tight knit. That relationship between restauranteurs, restaurants, and their patrons has only strengthened since the start of the pandemic. Whann stands as witness to just how important these restaurants are in the daily lives of New Orleanians, and all around the state of Louisiana.
“Our neighborhood restaurants, our sandwich shops, our wonderful French Quarter white tablecloth restaurants, all play a role in many families’ lives in this city. It is a spiritual relationship here,” says Whann. “There is something that we get from gathering in these restaurants with our friends, our families, our loved ones. These restauranteurs and their employees are like extended parts of our own family.”
Whann is a firm believer that the restaurant community of New Orleans will move past the struggles of COVID-19 and continue to safely provide a space for families to gather and share meals for years to come. It is the city’s historic family-owned restaurants who keep the oil lamps burning with hope.
“If you’re ever at a table and overhear a beloved waitress greeting a regular customer and asking about their family, their grandmother, the new grandchild - it is an uplifting experience that they have kept going through COVID-19,” Whann said. “We all need healing from this thing, and what they provide to me, and to so many others, is invaluable. It’s remarkable what they do, particularly under the circumstances in which they’ve had to do it.”
The circumstances for Leidenheimer haven’t been easy either. During quarantine of 2020, and after Hurricane Ida blew through South Louisiana, the office staff transitioned to remote work, but the bakery is where the magic happens.
“It’s next to impossible to remotely bake bread,” Whann explains. “We can outfit their homes with modems, but we can’t outfit them with tunnel ovens and mixers.”
It was no small feat, but the bakery continued to drop bags of fresh bread to customers and feed frontline workers through partnerships with local vendors and the #loavesoflove campaign. Whann listened and jumped in without hesitation when President of JMH Hospitality Glen Armantrout, which owns Mahony’s Po-boys & Seafood, approached him with the idea for #loavesoflove.
“I called up Leidenheimer, among others including Blue Plate, Tabasco, Chisesi, and rallied the forces,” said Armantrout. “For every tray that someone bought, the second one was delivered free of charge to a front-line location choice. It took off. We ended up preparing nearly 10,000 meals.”
Armantrout attests to how much of a pillar Leidenheimer has been for the New Orleans restaurant community, and the taste of their French bread has been unmatched for decades.
“Leidenheimer bread in simplest terms is ‘perfect,’” Armantrout said. “It’s got that nice crunch on the exterior and a billowy, pillow-like inside. They’ve been consistent with us, and they’re good friends of the restaurant and always have been.”
Paul Rotner, CEO of Acme Oyster House and former board member of the LRAEF, knows his po-boy’s are not complete without being served on the “best French bread in the world.” Acme Oyster House offers a ‘10 napkin roast beef po-boy’ on their menu, and Rotner vows “you need every one, plus 10 more” to enjoy the traditional New Orleans gravy-soaked delicacy on Leidenheimer bread.
Whann was born and raised in New Orleans, and has seen his French bread become a “tasty blank canvas” for chefs all over the country.
“We happen to be in a city with the most talented chefs and restauranteurs in the country,” Whann says, “and to sit back and watch what they do with our product is very rewarding.”
Tujague’s Restaurant has been in business since 1856, celebrating their 165th anniversary last year. Executive Chef Gus Martin loves Leidenheimer bread and has used it as an essential ingredient throughout his culinary career. “Leidenheimer is a staple in New Orleans cooking,” Martin said. “From the beginning of the meal to the end.”
The Leidenheimer influence is clear. With its unmistakable flaky top and light, airy inside, their bread is truly a New Orleans original. Let us not forget either, the famous muffuletta buns they sell, and the ‘pistolet’ dinner loaves that restaurant guests break bear handed while awaiting their meal. You’ll even eat a slice or two served with a side of gumbo, or drenched in rum sauce as bread pudding. Leidenheimer is New Orleans culture you can eat.
“Their bread has influenced so many great dishes of our city. I’ve used their bread throughout the majority of my career,” said Martin. “I love the versatility of their bread in my cooking at Tujague’s.”
Ralph Brennan has been serving guests at his family restaurants for decades, and has “served Leidenheimer bread in our restaurants for a long as I can remember,” he said.
As Brennan’s is celebrating its 75th anniversary, he is grateful to Whann and his family who have “been great supporters of our community and our industry.”
Fifty years from now, Whann hopes Leidenheimer will still be a family-run operation, and that the work he and his family are doing now will pave the way for Leidenheimer’s success.
“I hope were still focused on our customers,” Whann said. “I’m confident, that if we’re in business and successful, we will continue to focus on quality. I hope we’ve been able to create an environment that offers our employees the opportunity to grow, and is a place that our employees would recommend to their friends as a rewarding place to work. If those things are happening 50 years from now, I know we’ll be a successful company.”
It is the bakery’s legacy of quality and customer service that he hopes will remain once it is time to pass the torch, or loaf, if you will.
By Nicole Koster
The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) was established in 1946 to advocate on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industries.