When it comes to restaurants, Melvin Rodrigue has a voracious appetite – whether he’s eating at one or running it. Plain and simple, he loves this business.
That may not have always been the case – Rodrigue started out as a pre-med student at Tulane University. But, after taking a job at Dickie Brennan’s famous Palace Café in New Orleans, he changed course quickly. At 19 he was a protégé. By 24, he was the CEO of a restaurant company.
Now, nearly 25 years later, Rodrigue, the proud father of four daughters and president and CEO of Louisiana’s renowned Galatoire’s Restaurant Group, will be using his smart, hospitable approach to not only growing his own business, but to advancing our industry as 2020 chair of the National Restaurant Association.
If there’s one thing to know about Melvin, says Wendy Waren, vice president of communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association, it’s that he is always willing to serve. “He is extremely professional; he knows how to take care of people, and how to create great experiences.
To this day, he gets calls for reservations at Galatoire’s, and he takes care of them himself, even though he’s president and CEO. That is who he is, he doesn’t put on any airs. He just makes sure we achieve the desired outcome, taking care of our guests.”
Rodrigue admits he was born to pursue a career as an industry leader. For one thing, he enjoyed every aspect of the learning. He was hungry to know everything and become expert at it. He was so eager to learn, mentors who coached him along the way actively advanced him from one opportunity to the next.
“When people ask what my favorite part of the job is or why I love the restaurant industry, I tell them two things: I get a rush from knowing we’ve all worked hard to create a great experience for our customers, and I love being a mentor to others to help them achieve their own career goals,” he says.
Rodrigue, who just started his year-long tenure as Association chair in January, has worked hard to enhance the reputation of New Orleans and Galatoire’s. As chair, he hopes to help enhance and advance the entire restaurant industry.
“We offer so much opportunity – more than most people might imagine,” he says. “No other businesses allow their people to grow as quickly as ours do. It doesn’t matter if they have high-school educations or master’s degrees. Our industry embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and embodies the American dream. If you have passion, commitment, and a good work ethic, you can go very far.”
It all started at Ralph & Kacoo’s with a temptingly tasty seafood platter served at the end of young Stan Harris’ first shift as a dishwasher.
“Every day since has been an adventure,” says Harris, now president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “I have zero regrets serving all these years in the restaurant business.”
Harris spent 27 years with TJM Restaurant Management, which was the largest franchisee of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, including stints as president and CEO of the firm. He’s also a past president of the Council of State Restaurant Associations and director on the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau board.
Last month, he began serving as the chair of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Board of Trustees, the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association. Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which is comprised of 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and boasts a workforce of 15.3 million employees.
Also this year, Melvin Rodrigue, president and CEO of Galatoire’s Restaurants, is serving as chair of the National Restaurant Association board of directors.
“I’m proud that Louisiana is so well represented,” says Harris. “Our state has 9,500 restaurants, with a restaurant in every parish. We are 1.4% of the nation’s population but we have a huge impact in this industry.”
During his time with Ruth’s Chris, Harris was in charge of 2,300 employees. He says in order to succeed, “You need to put together a team full of cheerful people who can work together, can handle the occasional pressure and who come back to do it again tomorrow.”
He says one of the best things the restaurant industry can offer employees is upward mobility. If someone comes to him saying they’re interested in starting a career in food service he likes to ask them questions geared toward their personality like, “Do you like to smile? Do you have a servant heart? Can you enjoy working when others play? Do you like to count?”
“We are always counting things in this industry — from napkins and cups to steaks and tips,” he says. “To be successful, the formula is relatively simple: you need the right people, a quality product and great execution.”
One of the educational programs in his industry for which Harris expresses pride is ProStart, a two-year program for high school students. From culinary techniques to management skills, the curriculum provides real-world educational opportunities and builds practical skills and a strong foundation.
“It’s a robust program in Louisiana: it’s at 60 high schools across the state,” says Harris. “It can truly jump start their careers in this industry.”
Yvette Green, interim director of UNO’s Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration has high praise for Harris.
“Stan has been a restaurant operator, so he understands the challenges that owners and operators face,” she says. “He understands the restaurant business, and he is an effective advocate for our restaurants at the local, state and national levels. As an educator, I appreciate that Stan understands workforce development and education are important factors to the success of our restaurant industry.”
Harris says he loves that in his job no day is the same and that he is able, on a regular basis, to savor so many culinary delights.
“The other day I had boudin cakes topped with a poached egg and hollandaise over an English muffin at the Roosevelt,” he says. “It was for a national meeting. In New Orleans we live to eat, and I love sharing that with others.”
Rodrigue says he has had the privilege of sharing many great meals across the country with Harris.
“The most memorable, though, was at a seafood shack in Florida where we shared stone crabs at a picnic table,” he says. “We share an affinity for the delicacy, and he managed to find this location after a round of golf. They were giant and spectacular!”
One of the things that Harris hopes people realize is the breadth and scope of his industry’s philanthropic side.
“We are at every charitable event,” he says. “We donate food or offer “Dinner for Two” for auctions at churches, schools and other non-profit fundraising events. Our industry is full of generous people giving back.”
But the thing Harris loves most is the fact that restaurants are a part of their customers’ extended family.
“We celebrate their birthdays and holidays with them,” he says. “And here in Louisiana, we simply celebrate eating another meal.”
On Dec. 20, 2019, the President signed legislation amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and raising the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21.
Effective immediately, retailers must not sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. FDA recognizes that both the agency and some retailers will need to update current practices to implement this new law as FDA will need time to do outreach and education to retailers and update the Agency’s programmatic work to reflect this change in law. During this period of transition, the FDA expects retailers to follow the law and take measures to ensure an individual purchasing a tobacco product is 21 or older, including manually checking IDs when needed. However, during this ramp-up period, FDA will continue to only use minors under the age of 18 in its compliance check program.
FDA has free resources available to assist retailers in calculating the age of customers. Retailers who use FDA’s This is Our Watch digital age verification calendar may update the minimum purchase age on the calendar to 21 years. Instructions on how to update the age on the digital calendar are available on FDA’s website. Retailers who would like a This is Our Watch digital age verification calendar may order one free of charge from FDA's Center for Tobacco Products Exchange Lab. Additionally, retailers who use FDA’s Age Calculator app should update the age limit to 21 years through the app settings. Instructions are provided within the help feature of the app.
FDA’s enforcement of the federal minimum age of purchase for tobacco products is ongoing. To date, the agency has conducted more than 1 million compliance checks of tobacco retailers.
FDA will be updating our website and other materials, including our regulations, in the near future to reflect the change in law.
By: Stacy Hall, LDH Immunization Program Director & Frank J. Welch MD, MSPH – Medical Director OPH-BCP
Louisiana has had an intense flu season, with two strains of the flu, B/Victoria and A(H1N1) being responsible for most reported illnesses in the U.S. In early August, we first started seeing cases of the B/Victoria strain. It was this strain that caused Louisiana to have widespread flu activity for most of the flu season. Now, we are seeing less of that strain, but more of the A (H1N1) strain. This is the case in throughout the U.S. as well as in Louisiana. Therefore, we’re worried that Louisiana may experience another influenza peak.
This season’s vaccine contains these two major circulating strains, so getting vaccinated for the flu offers the best protection. Getting vaccinated reduces the severity of illness and complications. This means there’s less chance a person with flu would be hospitalized, or if hospitalized less chance a person would go to the ICU.
The vaccine also protects those around you, including young children and older adults, who are at higher risk of developing severe flu illness or even death.
Vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older, except those with a medical reason not to be vaccinated. Pregnant women should be vaccinated to protect themselves and their babies. Family and friends should be vaccinated to protect newborn babies.
Vaccines are available at any parish health unit throughout flu season at no cost to the patient. Local pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices and federally qualified (community) health centers also will offer flu shots throughout the season. Check FighttheFlu for a flu shot provider near you.
This season's flu vaccine offers protection against 2 A and 2 B strains of influenza virus. Early data suggests the vaccine has been a very good match with the current A (H1N1). However, it has not been as effective against the B/Victoria strain. Even if the B strain is not well matched this year, it still offers some protection, especially from more serious illness.
The Louisiana Department of Health offers these reminders to help keep people from spreading the flu:
Flu shot facts
A flu vaccine is the first and best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Louisiana Department of Health recommend a yearly flu shot for everyone over 6 months of age who does not have a complicating condition, such as a prior allergic reaction to the flu shot.
As the 2020 Mardi Gras season kicks into full swing later this month, expect increased enforcement measures to be taken by the Fire Marshal to ensure premise capacities are being adhered to and by the ATC to curtail alcohol and tobacco products being sold to individuals under the age of 21. To avoid citations and possible license revocation, please review these friendly reminders for establishments, particularly along parade routes, that are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
Here are some tips from LRA members who've experienced restaurant ownership during Mardi Gras for decades:
If there's a tip we've overlooked that you'd like to share, please email us here.
Have a safe and happy Mardi Gras season!