By ROBIN MILLER, The Advocate
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Rice & Roux is the place to go if you want a taste of authentic Louisiana food served up quickly.
That’s not saying the food is made in a hurry. The restaurant’s staff starts preparing early in the morning, using the same techniques any good south Louisiana cook would use.
That means stirring up a roux for the gumbo and getting the rice for the jambalaya just right.
Those are the menu favorites at Rice & Roux, which has locations at 2158 O’Neal Lane and 320 Lee Drive.
The Lee Drive store opened in May 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. Owners John and Kara Baquet and Dustin and Shasta Felton knew their venture would be risky.
But their first restaurant, opened on O’Neal in 2006, has a loyal following, and the Lee Drive location has something the one at O’Neal doesn’t — a drive-thru window.
And that proved a blessing.
When the state ordered restaurant dining rooms to close, customers lined up at the drive-thru for some quick, warm Cajun food.
“Our concept is fast, casual,” Kara Baquet said. “You can come here and get some Cajun food, and you can get it quickly.”
“That’s the whole idea behind our name, Rice & Roux,” John Baquet added. “This is something that is ready for them.”
Chicken & Sausage Gumbo is the customer favorite, but the Shrimp & Crab Gumbo comes in a close second. Both are cooked fresh daily in 30-gallon kettles. The Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya also is a winner with diners.
Rice & Roux also offers such daily specials as hamburger steak and lasagna.
“We have people who come every single day just because they want the special on that day,” John Baquet said. “They’ll just kind of mix it up, but one of my big mistakes was taking the lasagna off the menu.”
Baquet’s reasoning was that lasagna is an Italian dish and didn’t belong on a menu of Cajun food.
“So, we came up with a different special, and customers were in an uproar,” he said. “So, lasagna has become a huge staple. Ours isn’t fancy. It’s just something your momma made.
“None of our food is fancy, and it doesn’t look fancy,” he added. “It’s just going to grandma’s house.”
The menu also offers a variety of desserts, including south Louisiana favorites like banana pudding and bread pudding.
The restaurants also cater.
The idea for Rice & Roux developed from a collaboration between the couples. Kara Baquet and Shasta Felton are sisters. The Feltons were working as managers for different Domino’s stores, while the Baquets were working in real estate.
“We were buying real estate rentals, and one of the books we were reading talked about ways to make more money,” John Baquet said. “One of the ways was to get a business.”
Kara Baquet suggested they invest in a restaurant.
“It’s funny, because I said, ‘It’ll be easy,’” she recalled. “And that is what I was thinking, ‘Oh, we can do this.’ And now this has become the focus, and we don’t do rental property anymore.”
The Feltons were able to bring their food service industry skills to the enterprise.
“Domino’s trains their managers to treat their stores as if you’re the owners,” Shasta Felton said. “You learn so much about the business through them. We were trying to have children at the time, and we knew we couldn’t do that with our Domino’s schedules.”
Shasta Felton quit her Domino’s job to help start Rice & Roux, and, when it took off, Dustin Felton joined full time.
John Baquet, who grew up in Ville Platte, had the Cajun food know how.
All four owners made the final decisions on specific recipes.
Most of the ingredients are locally sourced, and now Jordan Dufour and Christina Landry, managers of the O’Neal and Lee Drive stores respectfully, do all of the cooking using the recipes.
At the newer store, the space is light and airy, highlighting the Cajun influence with a wall filled with cast iron skillets and cornbread pans near the counter. With COVID-19 restrictions easing, the business at Lee Drive has picked up at a fast pace.
While Hurricane Ida affected Rice & Roux’s suppliers, the two locations were able to source ingredients from elsewhere to feed utility line crews and its customers.
“We were even busier during that time, because no one had power, and they couldn’t cook,” Dustin Felton said. “They knew they could come in here and get a hot meal and get it fast.”
The couples are now thinking about opening a third location.
“It’s still in the planning stages,” Dustin Felton said. “We haven’t chosen a spot for it yet. We’ve been struggling to get both locations fully staffed, and I think once that’s not as much of an issue, we can focus on another location.”
Both couples agree that working together as a family has made their business model stronger.
“Everyone says never partner with family,” John Baquet said. “You hear that repeatedly on the radio talk shows, but we find a way to make it work. When one of us feels a little bit more passionate about something, the rest of us typically will kind of go along with that person. We say, ‘If you feel that passionate about it, we’ll go there.’ There has been enough give and take that it has never been a strain.”
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