In a world in which social media rules supreme, it is heartening that a restaurant such as Laura’s Two in Lafayette, Louisiana, is still going strong. Between 10am and 3pm each day, over 200 customers pack in for their fill of the best Creole food in town. In this article Kreol takes a look at this unique eatery spanning three generations.
“It’s your family business, stick with it and study it. Study it, so it can grow.”
Those are the words of Madonna Broussard, the current manager of the legendary Laura’s Two restaurant in the Louisiana city of Lafayette. This is the heartland of Creole cuisine, and without a determination to persevere – as well as a seemingly God-given talent for finger-licking cooking – it is unlikely a food establishment could survive this long.
Laura’s Two has been around for over 40 years and comes from very humble beginnings. What Madonna confirms as being the first Creole restaurant in the city began life in the kitchen of Madonna’s grandmother, where recipes were concocted and developed, including the signature stuffed baked turkey wings which are still a customer favourite today. After her grandmother’s house burnt down, the eatery moved to serving from a trailer for a period, before finding its current spiritual home.
It is clear from speaking to Madonna that her grandmother was, and still is, very much an inspiration. The oldest of six siblings, she was charged with the responsibility of doing the cooking, and that’s where the passion for creating meals came from.
Madonna believes she was one of two African American ladies that decided to branch out and start their own restaurants and the entrepreneurial streak has clearly not left the family. Menus at Laura’s Two are carefully designed to meet customer tastes, and Madonna even has visions of expanding into another city after being featured on the Travel Channel.
Early experience in the restaurant business
Madonna highlights the influence the restaurant had as a “playground” in her youth – it was a place where she absorbed much of what she knows about managing a restaurant: “On Sundays, on Saturdays, on Fridays, or summertime, [the restaurant] was really our playground. To be in the restaurant or be at the restaurant, helping out or just, literally, in the way, but watching. We saw everything.”
But the time spent growing up in the old Laura’s did much more than just teach Madonna the basics, it has apparently also equipped her with the motivation to preserve many of the in-house traditions over four decades, from the food to the service style.
Madonna explains: “There’s no changes: Same style, same style of cutting, same style of seasoning, and same mixture of our stuffing, and that has been for about, since probably ’68. My grandmother’s been doing it that way, and that’s how it’s been. If you walked through here 30-40 years ago, you still got the same jargon, that Lafayette jargon of, ‘How you doing Baby?’ or ‘How you doing, Boo?’ That has been with us for over 40 years. That has been almost our slogan.”
Moving with the times: carefully
That’s not to say there has been no evolution at Laura’s over the past 40 years. In terms of the food, there is now more emphasis on giving the customers exactly what they want – perhaps this is no surprise in an era when fast food outlets can serve customers identical meals in seconds.
She elaborates: “On Wednesday in the ’70s and the ’80s, you came to Laura’s Two and you got turkey wings only on a Wednesday. I incorporated those every day here, just since it was a big demand. Now, daily, in the last, say, year, I’ve set the menu just based upon the customers. They’ll ask me, “Okay, when can we have this?” or “When are you going to do this?”
And there is even now a mini marketing operation in place, thanks to Madonna’s digitally focused daughter: “Each generation is coming in and putting us further to getting a better brand, and that is, right now with them – it’s just through social media.”
Economic landscapes: unpredictable
But despite the new opportunities on offer in the modern day, that’s not to say that there aren’t new challenges to address as well. A change in the local economic landscape has meant there has been a dramatic drop in the number of oil field industry jobs – once the staple of the Lafayette worker who would drop in at Laura’s. It means they have to be careful to stay within a pricing range which is acceptable to their core customer base.
Madonna describes the dilemma: “We’ve lost a lot of our working men. Our oil field workers, just people in general that had a budget of basically eating out. Eating out, especially in Lafayette, has become almost a luxury for a lot of working people. It’s a luxury to be able to afford to come in and kind of economise this meal into your budget of everyday eating. That’s our greatest challenge.”
At Laura’s, they like to pack the customers in as much as they pack the plates. This ‘rice n gravy’ style of cooking, also commonly known as soul food, attracts streams of customers for the four or five hours the restaurant is open each day. It does even more business on the weekends, on Sunday, when worshippers make it part of their Sunday ritual to attend after church.
Passion and the genetic DNA
Like many other successful people, it is clear that there is an underlying passion which motivates Madonna – the cooking bug has certainly been passed down through the generations!
Describing her affection for what she does, Madonna concludes: “Our culture, that Creole, soul food culture, that is cooked with a lot of love. We start off every morning with the same items, the same textures, the same flavours, the same everything and that also comes from our heart.”