Restaurant: Possible

by Kari Walker

Generations learn from the past to move toward the future in family-owned Lafayette restaurants.

Generations learn from the past to move toward the future in family-owned Lafayette restaurants.

By Kari Walker

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013

Photos by Robin May

Brett, Craig and Michael Dwyer

History is all around Lafayette - sometimes the best lessons are over a plate of rice and gravy. You take a bite, enjoy the flavor, but what is it about the taste you like? It may be a memory of mama's way, but to the hands that prepared the dish, it's a memory rich in family tradition that leads down a career path of success. Local, family-owned and operated restaurants are the backbone of this town - it takes courage and audacity to leap into manning the family business, but for some the dreams of becoming a doctor or lawyer never were as vivid as that of holding their own in the restaurant world.

In 1965, Stanley Dwyer purchased Pop Stinson's and changed the name to Dwyer's Café; then, in 1975, Stanley's son Michael bought the restaurant from his father and continued the popular plate lunch menu items.

Michael worked side by side with his family, just as he did with his dad. Sons Craig and Brett became the third generation of Dwyers to man the helm in January 2013 when they became co-owners. The brothers still work alongside their father with pride of what the family's name has built. "Ever since I could talk I used to tell my dad I wanted to be just like him," recalls Brett about when he knew he wanted to follow into the family business. For Craig, he always knew he wanted to work for himself and had ideas of different industries, but was drawn back to the family restaurant. "It's so much easier when you have an existing [business] and you know what your sales are going to be tomorrow versus starting from scratch," Craig explains on the decision to take over Dwyer's.

The long-standing success is not accidental - both second and third generations agree it's your product and price giving you an edge in the marketplace. "It just comes down to the food I think - food and prices. People want to get what they paid for," says Craig. On a daily basis, customers come through the lunch line recalling when Stanley was the cheerful face greeting them. "I still have older customers who talk about my grandfather serving them plate lunches and then when my dad was serving the lunches and that they are now glad to see us [brothers] serving," Brett says. No doubt the siblings learned lessons on respect and customer service over the years from their successful patriarchs.

As for the future, the fourth generation Dwyers have already been spotted clearing dishes in the dining room this summer. "Somebody in the family will take over," Craig notes. Maybe it will be one of Brett's sons; his 4-year-old already says he wants to cook.

Bloomberg Businessweek released a study in 2007 reporting that around one in four restaurants either closes (or changes ownership) within the first year of business. Even though some restaurants close their doors just as fast as they opened, some foodies take the risk knowing they have something to offer the community - thanks to inspiration from a lineage of restaurateur relatives.

Alex Andrade and John Bienvenu, co-owners of Rusted Rooster on St. Landry Street, began serving breakfast and lunch in October 2012 and

John Bienvenu and Alex Andrade

remain optimistic with the success of their venture approaching its anniversary. The brothers-in-law developed a menu and dining room with memories of Andrade's late grandparents, Galine and "Bootsie" Landry, known for operating a series of successful restaurants during the 1950s until the mid '80s, including The Skunk, Puddy Tat and Galine's. The latter was the last of the Landry grandparents' establishments, made famous by Bootsie's homemade biscuits.

Much of the Rusted Rooster menu items revolve around a foundation of Bootsie's biscuits with breakfast sandwich creations by Andrade and Bienvenu. "I've always been in the kitchen. We would go to my grandparents' house for the holidays ... and I loved working in the kitchen with them," recalls Andrade. "I would not have gotten in this business if it were not for my mom and grandparents. I don't know what I'd be doing," he adds.

As for Bienvenu, he never felt the 9-to-5 desk job was his calling - he was eager to get cooking and use his business background to balance the partnership. "A month before we opened I said, I've got to get working in a kitchen,' so I went to work in his [Andrade] mom's restaurant [Landry's Café] for a couple of weeks and I learned some that way," says Bienvenu.

Patrons who frequent the Rusted Rooster vary along the lifespan and the laid-back establishment they have created, filling a niche in locally owned breakfast options. Sometimes a customer will start a conversation: "I remember your grandparents..." and Andrade knows the deceased Galine and Bootsie are being honored through dishes coming from the kitchen.

There's a picture in the kitchen of Bootsie, and on a busy day Andrade and Bienvenu find themselves looking over their shoulders to her for an encouraging smile that they are doing something right. Rusted Rooster may be new to the scene, but the support from the public affirms the decision was wise. "I see a lot of younger business owners who are doing what they want to do and the community supports them," Bienvenu notes. "It's exciting to be part of that movement."