By ROBIN MILLER, The Lawyer
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) – Rice & Roux is the place to go if you want a taste of authentic Louisiana cuisine served quickly.
This does not mean that the food is made in a hurry. Restaurant staff begin cooking early in the morning, using the same techniques any good cook in Southern Louisiana would use.
This means making a roux for the okra and getting the perfect rice for the jambalaya.
These are 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 business would be risky.
But their first restaurant, which opened on O’Neal in 2006, has a loyal following, and the Lee Drive location has something that O’Neal doesn’t: a drive-thru window.
And it turned out to be a blessing.
When the state ordered restaurant dining rooms closed, customers lined up at the drive-thru for quick and hot Cajun fare.
“Our concept is quick, relaxed,” said Kara Baquet. “You can come here and buy Cajun food, and you can get it quickly.”
“That’s the whole idea behind our name, Rice & Roux,” added John Baquet. “It’s something that’s ready for them.”
Chicken & Sausage Gumbo is a customer favorite, but the Shrimp & Crab Gumbo comes in close behind. Both are cooked fresh daily in 30 gallon kettles. The Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya is also a winner with diners.
Rice & Roux also offers daily specials such as burger steak and lasagna.
“We have people who come everyday just because they want the special that day,” said John Baquet. “They’re just going to mix things up, but one of my big mistakes was taking lasagna off the menu.”
Baquet’s reasoning was that lasagna is an Italian dish and does not belong to a Cajun food menu.
“So we came up with a different special offer and the customers were buzzing,” he said. “So lasagna has become a staple. Ours is not fancy. It’s just something your mom did.
“None of our dishes are fancy, and it doesn’t look fancy,” he added. “It’s just to go to Grandma’s.”
The menu also offers a variety of desserts, including southern Louisiana favorites like banana pudding and bread pudding.
Restaurants also welcome.
The idea for Rice & Roux was born from a collaboration between couples. Kara Baquet and Shasta Felton are sisters. The Feltons worked as managers for various Domino’s stores, while the Baquets worked in real estate.
“We were buying real estate rentals and one of the books we were reading was about ways to make more money,” said John Baquet. “One of the ways was to start a business. “
Kara Baquet suggested they invest in a restaurant.
“It’s funny, because I said, ‘It will be easy’,” she recalls. “And that’s what I was thinking, ‘Oh, we can do it.’ And now it’s become the focus, and we don’t do rental real estate anymore.
The Feltons were able to bring their skills in the restaurant industry to the business.
“Domino’s trains their managers to treat their stores like you own them,” said Shasta Felton. “Thanks to them, you learn so much about the company. We were trying to have kids back then, and we knew we couldn’t do it with our Domino’s schedules.
Shasta Felton quit her Domino job to help start Rice & Roux, and, when he took off, Dustin Felton joined full time.
John Baquet, who grew up in Ville Platte, had Cajun cooking skills.
The 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 O’Neal and Lee Drive stores, do all the cooking using the recipes with respect.
In the new store, the space is light and airy, emphasizing the Cajun influence with a wall filled with cast iron pans and cornbread tins near the counter. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, business at Lee Drive has picked up at a rapid pace.
While Hurricane Ida affected Rice & Roux suppliers, the two sites were able to source ingredients from elsewhere to feed distribution line teams and customers.
“We were even busier during that time because no one had electricity and they couldn’t cook,” said Dustin Felton. “They knew they could come here and have a hot meal and have it quickly.”
The couples are now considering opening a third location.
“It’s still in the planning stages,” said Dustin Felton. “We haven’t chosen a location for this yet. We have struggled to have both sites fully staffed, and I think once that is no longer an issue we can focus on another site.
The two couples agree that working together as a family has strengthened their business model.
“Everyone says to never associate with family,” said John Baquet. “You hear this over and over on radio talk shows, but we find a way to make it work. When one of us feels a little more passionate about something, the rest of us will usually follow that person. We say, “If you’re feeling that passionate, we’ll go there. There were enough give and take that it was never a constraint. “
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