Baton Rouge maintains historically popular dining

Baton Rouge maintains historically popular dining By Austen Krantz Entertainment Writer Published: Monday, April 2, 2012 Updated: Monday, April 2, 2012 22:04 Iconic dining locations laid claim on the Baton Rouge area long before any current University students were born. Some of these restaurants shut down, while some lasted through generations and don’t show signs of closing anytime soon. Right at the door of the University on State Street is a 24-7 diner that has been open since 1941. But since then, Louie’s has changed locations, operations and names. The restaurant experienced significant changes in 1986, according to general manager Fred Simonson. “We went from being a 12-seat restaurant facing Chimes Street that only served breakfast, open from 8 to 3, to being a 24-hour restaurant, and we went from 12 seats to roughly 60 seats,” he said. While some of the restaurant’s features seem like traditional staples, parts of Louie’s menu and dining choices proved experimental when the diner conceived them. The establishment was non-smoking before that became the norm in most restaurants, and some of the food proved avant-garde for the times, Simonson said. “The veggie omelet — there wasn’t anything like that on other menus,” Simonson explained. “We had some menu items that were absolutely unique for a casual American-style diner.” With a local IHOP shutting down in the early ’90s, Louie’s offered the only late-night dining option in the area. Nearby bars right off of Highland Road helped business as well. “In the late ’80s, early ’90s, we were busier than we are now — largely due to the amount of drinking activities near campus,” Simonson said. After a student died in one of these bars in 1997, nearby drinking activities slowed to a halt, when campus and community coalitions geared up to raise awareness of alcohol abuse and underage drinking, Simonson said. In addition to this change, late-night fast food options crept up to compete with Louie’s. But other late-night food destinations existed long before Louie’s began opening 24 hours a day. Before serving up award-winning pizza and nationally popular roast beef poboys, Pastime Restaurant on South Boulevard also offered late-night dining to LSU fans after football games and other nearby events. This was before owners named the restaurant Pastime 65 years ago, said general manager and owner Randy Wesley. The location began as a small grocery store, lined with dirt and gravel roads. Wesley explained how, from these beginnings, the store developed into a bar-like venue, serving beer, alcohol and offering a dance floor. “LSU students would come from LSU down the gravel road here to celebrate LSU ball games,” Wesley said. “There used to be a one-mile exclusion law around campus. You couldn’t open up anything that had alcohol within one mile.” But non-restaurant venues like this were required to close at midnight, so Pastime began serving food to extend its hours. “So they started cooking sausage for sausage plates, sausage poboys. They started cooking little small odds and ends all on little two-burner stoves,” he said. “For a while, the place had a nickname of ‘Two Burners.’ People would come out and dance and have cocktails.” This snack bar evolved into a full-fledged restaurant and a historical landmark after Wesley’s father, Bob Wesley, and a business partner bought the location. Pastime now serves food until 11 p.m. But Pastime isn’t the only long-lasting restaurant to serve up unique grub. Fleur de Lis Pizza on Government Street opened before 1946 as a cocktail lounge and began operating as a restaurant in the ’80s, serving its traditional rectangular pizza. General manager Pam Rushing said she thinks a large part of the restaurant’s long run is directly linked to customers’ love for a consistently great product. “We’ve been trying not to change much,” Rushing said. “Had it not been something the people liked, I don’t think it would have made it through all these years. The pizza, the dough — being made fresh every day ... all of that is the key. We’ve had a good product.” Despite the unique elements that continue to draw in old and new customers, both Rushing and Wesley said some older family-run restaurants tend to fall out because many can’t maintain their families’ presence. “The families are running out of people,” Rushing said. “People get old, they die, they move away — different things. Luckily so far, we’ve been able to have someone here to keep it going.” Wesley echoed this. “As you spend time in the restaurant, your children sometimes don’t want to take over the restaurant,” Wesley said. “It comes to a point where you either have to sell or close down because there’s nobody to pass it on to.” But a large part of what maintains iconic, long-lasting restaurants like these is not only making great food, but also developing an entrenched multi-generational customer base as well, Wesley said. “Our customers are the same, which is part of why we’ve been around so long,” Wesley said. “With each generation of customers, their kids, the following kids and the following kids — they all come in because previous generations have told them you can trust the food, you can trust the quality.”