Monday, July 23, 2012

Family at the core of many Louisiana restaurants

The summer edition of the Louisiana Restaurant Association's quarterly magazine, A La Carte, will hit mailboxes this week. On the cover is Keith and Nealy Frentz, owners of Lola Restaurant in Covington, who will be representing Louisiana in the Great American Seafood Cookoff on Saturday, August 11 at the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO in New Orleans at the Convention Center. Their story leads the feature article, "Couples in the Kitchen."

Many restaurants in Louisiana are owned and operated entirely or, in part by, members of a family. While these restaurants are common in our state with nearly 80 percent being family owned, it’s almost the exact opposite from the other 49 states.
“Family restaurant businesses are a significant part of the cultural and culinary fabric of Louisiana, where family recipes are passed down, younger  generations can make their mark and the legacy and history of a lineage is carried on,” said Stan Harris, President/CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

Meet Keith and Nealy Frentz
Keith and Nealy Frentz own Lola Restaurant in
Covington, La. and will represent Louisiana
in the Great American Seafood Cookoff
at the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO
Saturday, August 11 in New Orleans.
On the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain in the downtown area of Covington, sits a historic Old Train Depot made of brick. Since 2007, Keith and Nealy Frentz have operated a quaint 32-seat restaurant named Lola in a section of the depot, where they serve, on average, 160 guests a day during lunch and will do two turns of the dining room during dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Uniquely, the kitchen is positioned parallel to the dining room and is inside an old caboose.

The couple, both graduates of Johnson and Wales—he at the Charleston campus and she in Rhode Island—found their way to the Northshore following Hurricane Katrina where they stayed with Keith’s parents. Keith, who is from Covington, took a part-time job at Dakota Restaurant while they awaited their fate at Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street where both had worked for several years prior to the storm. They met on the line in that famous kitchen.

For the Frentz’s, fate would intervene as the two were destined to run Lola and start their family North of New Orleans.
“A family friend owns the building and had lost their tenant,” said Keith. “The timing was perfect and we made the leap and opened our first place.”

During lunch on weekdays, the restaurant is very casual and guests order at the counter.  The two split kitchen duty—he handles the specials and she does the baking and sandwiches. The baking recipes that Nealy uses are those of her grandmother, who she said was an excellent baker. Nealy has also assumed most of the front and back of the house administrative responsibilities.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the restaurant takes on a fine dining persona and becomes one of Covington’s more notable establishments for cuisine that isn’t easy to come by in the area.

“We could have a much more adventurous menu if our restaurant was in New Orleans,” said Nealy. “The lunch service is quick and diners are in and out in about 45-minutes. During weekend dinner service they tend to want the same turnaround time, which isn’t as practical as the menu is more complex and time consuming.”
Of all the challenges they’ve encountered, balancing work and family presents the biggest. Their daughter was born in 2008 and as a result, the couple hired some help so that Nealy could spend more time with her. The couple is expecting their second child in early 2013.

Where do they see themselves in the next five years?
“We would like to open a second location or move into a bigger restaurant space,” said Keith.

Nealy’s responded, “I hope we are still in business. Owning a restaurant is stressful and there are a lot of unknowns. I just hope we can sustain and maybe expand the business.”

Nealy and Keith Frentz take top place in the Louisiana Seafood Cookoff
at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience in May. They will represent
Louisiana on the national stage at the Great American Seafood Cookoff.
They are on the right track to making a lasting impression on diners on the Northshore and have garnered positive media attention in recent years. Recently, the couple competed for the second consecutive year in the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off held at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. In 2011, they placed third, but this year, with a Des Allemands catfish dish, they took the top spot.
As the reigning King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood, Keith and Nealy will compete for that title at the national level at the Great American Seafood Cook Off, Saturday, August 11 at the Louisiana Foodservice and Hospitality EXPO in New Orleans.

When asked why they are members of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, they paused, looked at each other and said, “the Workers’ Comp program.” He went on to add that he couldn’t understand why any restaurant owner wouldn’t take part in the association that represents their best interests and is there when you need them.

No comments:

Post a Comment