Sept. 15, 2014 10:30 AM
Dustin Aguillard and Karen Dean
Photo by Robin May

When Karen Dean and Dustin Aguillard were brainstorming for a food truck idea, they decided to bring a taste of home to customers. So, they came up with the ultimate comfort food combo - grilled cheese and tomato soup. "Everybody loves grilled cheese," Dean explains. "It brings back memories of when you were a kid, that whole feeling of mom making you a grilled cheese sandwich." That was the genesis of Acadiana Grilled Cheese Co., which just converted from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar location.

Church Point native Dean and Gold Dust-based Aguillard first met as teenagers through mutual friends. Both moved to Lafayette to attend UL. Dean worked as a waitress and bartender for 20 years, while Aguillard ventured off to the oil and gas industry. Two and a half years ago, the two reconnected and became a couple.

In 2012, the partners launched Acadiana Grilled Cheese Co. Dean brings her service industry know-how to the table, while Aguillard helms the culinary side. "I‘m passionate about food, and it seemed like a good way to work for myself," Aguillard says of the food truck.

Growing up in the Ville Platte area, Aguillard learned to cook authentic Cajun cuisine, serving as inspiration for the sandwiches.

Dean contributed her family‘s recipes, including her mother‘s pork roast. "We want to just be an eclectic sandwich shop," Dean explains.

Once the food truck officially took off in January 2013, Acadiana Grilled Cheese garnered a loyal following. Almost immediately, the couple started searching for a restaurant location. "People loved it," Dean recalls. "We were so busy, and we couldn‘t do all of the things that we wanted to do. So, we thought, Let‘s make it a restaurant.‘"

The two finally found the perfect location at the Uptown Lofts at 519 South Pierce St. "We are excited to be Downtown," Dean says. "The neighborhoods are growing in this area, people are moving to this area. We are in a good spot and in a good time to be down here."

On Aug. 4, Acadiana Grilled Cheese opened in a 2,600-square-foot ground floor space with 18 tables inside and five outside seating 100. Already, the restaurant has more than 5,000 followers on Facebook. Before opening, Acadiana Grilled Cheese did a T-shirt giveaway, reaching 27,000 people. "It‘s been going well," Dean reports.
Aguillard describes the simple décor as "swamp/industrial" with concrete floors, wall hardware and local art. Among the restaurant‘s artifacts are skulls of a 13-foot-plus alligator nabbed by Aguillard and his dad, a wild boar and a 100-pound snapping turtle. Donning the walls are paintings by local artist Amanda Holt Robicheaux. In the back is an artists‘ corner featuring locally made products including pottery, clothing, jewelry, bread and pickles.

On the menu are unique grilled cheese combinations such as cast iron cochon (cheddar, provolone, pulled pork shoulder), red bean smear, choucroute (seasoned vinegar slaw) and dipping jus and duck and tasso (gruyere, baby swiss, pulled confit duck thigh, shaved tasso, bacon, caramelized onions and apple butter), along with straight up (house blend of cheeses with a cup of tomato bisque). For the Peaux Dogs, a poboy/hotdog hybrid, Aguillard created elk (served with dark cherry ketchup), wild boar (dressed with pineapple/jalapeno salsa) and jackalope (rabbit and antelope dressed with fig and onion chutney) sausages served on a French petite loaf or atop mixed berry and cobb salads. "I did a lot of culinary research on what flavors complement each other, and made something a little eccentric," Aguillard says.

The bar offers locally brewed beers on tap from Parish Brewing Co., Bayou Teche Biere, NOLA Brewing and the Abita Brewing Company; boutique wines and mixed drinks such as mimosas and Bloody Marys. "We wanted it to be a hangout, where high school kids can have a grilled cheese sandwich and do homework with our free Wi-Fi," Dean explains. "But, we also want to cater to the older crowd, so they can come relax, enjoy the game and have a beer with a sandwich."

Eventually, the couple plans to add fried oddities, such as fried bacon-wrapped, pancake-battered Snickers and fried pecan pie, then segue into "ridiculous" oversized sandwiches and superhot sauces. "There‘s a lot of stuff that we want to do," Aguillard says. "Eventually, we hope to add more locations."

Adds Dean, "It‘s fun to work here. It‘s fun to come here. People leave here full and happy."

Acadiana Grilled Cheese Co. is open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; phone number is (337) 889-3806.

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