Thursday, November 7, 2013

Acme Oyster House leaders named LRA Restaurateurs of the Year

This article was the cover story for the Louisiana Restaurant Association Fall 2013 A La Carte magazine.

Michael Rodrigue, Lucien Gunter and Paul Rotner, president/owner, chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively, of Acme Oyster House, have a brotherly rapport, with a teasing banter that is entertaining to watch. The three of them run extremely successful restaurants, spanning from Louisiana to Florida, and volunteer their time, money and resources to several local charities, while still living life to the fullest.
Paul Rotner, Lucien Gunter and
Mike Rodrigue of Acme Oyster House
are the 2013 LRA Restaurateurs   
of the Year.
This Acme trio was among the guests of honor August 3, 2013, at the LRA Education Foundation (LRAEF) Five Star Futures Gala, where they received the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Restaurateurs of the Year award.

Restaurateur of the Year is the LRA’s most prestigious award. Each year, it is presented to an individual (or individuals) who has contributed unselfishly to the advancement of Louisiana’s restaurant industry and has continually dedicated his services at both the local chapter and state levels. Past winners include Ruth Fertel, Emeril Lagasse, Leah Chase and last year’s recipient, Todd Graves of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers fame.

Rodrigue, a native New Orleanian, bought the iconic Acme Oyster House in 1985, during a slow period in the restaurant’s history. He got to work, reviving the restaurant and creating a brand that boasts five locations in the Greater New Orleans area, Baton Rouge and Florida and has grown to 500 employees with an annual revenue topping $25 million. Rodrigue is one of the founding members of the Bayou District Foundation, which revitalized the former St. Bernard Housing Project and City Park Golf Course.                                

With more than 20 years of hospitality experience, Gunter serves as Acme’s chief executive officer, successfully opening four of the company’s five restaurants. Next year, he will oversee the sixth location, located in Gulf Shores, Ala. Gunter serves on many boards, including the LRAEF and the Fore!Kids Foundation and currently chairs the New Orleans Oyster Festival. 

A California native, Rotner has more than 30 years of management experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, with stints at the Hard Rock CafĂ© and Hotel chain in Las Vegas, among other cities, and the Pink Taco Restaurant chain. He joined Acme in 2007 and is its chief operating officer. Rotner sits on the LRA Board of Directors and is currently the LRA Greater New Orleans Chapter President. He also volunteers his time to the Save Louisiana Coalition and the Sunshine Kids Foundation.  

“Acme is involved at every level of our association,” said LRA Chair David Hearn. “Their commitment of time, staff involvement and funds are unmatched. We are so thankful to have them on board. They make the LRA a stronger organization.”  

Serving patrons for more than 100 years, Acme Oyster House’s first location opened on Royal Street in the French Quarter in 1910. Its current French Quarter location was established on Iberville Street in 1924, after a fire devastated the original restaurant. By the early 1980s, the restaurant had hit some lean times and just before Rodrigue purchased it, Acme’s famous “Waitress available sometimes” neon sign was born. The eatery only employed one waitress and closed at 4 p.m. That the restaurant had fallen on hard times was not daunting to Rodrigue, who was determined to turn it around, without having to make too many changes. 

And turn it around he did. According to Acme’s website, the restaurant served 250,000 raw and chargrilled oysters in 1985. In 2008, Acme shucked 3.6 million fresh oysters across four locations. That amounts to 10,000 oysters a day, not including the ones that are fried.

A secret to their success? Proximity. Each Acme location is a short, refrigerated drive from where the restaurant’s oysters are harvested.  

While Rodrigue, Gunter and Rotner’s business sense is certainly something to be commended, even more lauded is their work with the community. All three men join a long, illustrious list of LRA Restaurateurs of the Year who have made it their mission to give back to those that have patronized their restaurants year in and year out. Restaurateurs are some of the most philanthropic people there are, and the guys behind Acme are right at the top.

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