904 W. University Ave.
Lafayette, LA 70506
If you put our gravy on a rice, it won't just kind of run down. It’ll actually stick to the rice. It’s brown in color which is also a good thing ... A lot of husbands come through here and say, “Wow, my wife does not know how to make gravy.” – Madonna Broussard
Madonna Broussard knows her rice and gravy. A third generation restaurant owner, Madonna is the granddaughter of Laura Broussard, who opened the original Laura’s in her own house on a secluded Northside Lafayette back street. Opened in 1968—making it perhaps the first Plate Lunch House in Lafayette—Laura’s served stuffed turkey wings, fried pork chops, and fried catfish and chicken. Madonna’s mother Dorothy continued the Laura’s legacy, while today her daughter serves many of the same dishes her grandmother did: spicy baked turkey wings (you’re lucky if you get one with crackling on top), enormous crispy pork chops, and just about the darkest, brownest gravy (topping rice and simmering meatballs) around. With the next generation of Broussard-family working in the lunch house, Madonna is looking forward to a future blessed with, in her words, a “Laura’s III, IV, and V.”
NOTE: What follows is a portion of the original interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Madonna Broussard, owner
Date: March 14, 2011
Location: Laura’s II - Lafayette, LA
Interviewer: Rien T. Fertel
Photographer: Denny Culbert
Rien Fertel: This is Rien Fertel with the Southern Foodways Alliance. I’m in Lafayette, Louisiana, with Madonna Broussard. I’m going to have her introduce herself, and please state your name and your birth date for the record.
Madonna Broussard: Madonna Broussard, June 19, 1969.
Thank you. And can you tell me what your role is here at Laura’s II Restaurant?
I’m the owner and the head cook.
How long has Laura’s II been opened?
I’m interested in, well, this is, I should say, Laura’s Roman Numeral II, so there must have been a number one, a Laura’s I?
Yes...Our number one, well the actual Laura was, Laura’s was on Voorhies Street here in Lafayette and probably was in existence since 1968, was probably the first soul food plate lunch spot here in Acadiana in Lafayette, which Laura [Broussard] is my grandmother.
Okay; tell me about her. You say she opened in 1968. Was it her first business? What did she do before that?
I think her first job was actually cooking in a club here in the city downtown and I think the name of it—I was told the name of it was probably the Sam’s Star Lounge. That was her first job. Her role was probably cooking since she was 10 years old for her siblings. And she’s always told us that that was her first love, just to actually cook for her mom and her grandmothers and her sisters and brothers. She went on to open up, and I’d probably say maybe earlier than the ‘60s because I think she was just kind of cooking out of her house, just doing plate lunches out of her house, and then I think in the early ‘60s the—the late ‘60s she started out with actually opening up a restaurant and serving and collecting money.
When she first started cooking out of her house, do you know what she served?
Some of the same items we’re serving now, baked turkey wings, fried pork chops; she was a seafood lover so I know she had catfish, fried chicken, I know because those are some of the items that we’ve had for years that people still remember us by.
Okay, and did you work with her ever?
No, I didn't. We [Laughs] always were eating and going to Sunday dinners at her house. Every Sunday was like a big mama-style dinner every Sunday. She cooked a spread of food, but I didn't actually get to work with her. I did when I was younger; she made a lot of boudin in the city for different people so I actually was able as a young—younger, about 14 years old to help like link boudin, but didn't really take the secret in. Don’t know what she did; but it was just—used my hands to link the boudin. But to say work in house with her—no, I hadn’t....
Her Sunday menus were never what we had that they served in the restaurant because I remember fondly of my first time eating like a tongue, a beef tongue. She had a Christmas style dinner every Sunday—yams with marshmallows and pecans, just really big style menu—you know big, big menus that she would get up in the morning. Her and my grandfather went to church on Sundays—Saturdays, so Sundays were her day—was her day to really just cook like for the neighborhood or for different people....
Sometimes it was just my—our family, my dad and my mom and my brother and I and my grandmother raised her—her daughter’s two sons. They lived—because my aunt lived in Los Angeles. So we were probably never—because we’re not a big family; we were probably maybe six but she had food for 30. [Laughs]
And what—oh, tell me about her husband.
My grandfather worked for at the time it had to be called Southern Pacific for 40—45 years before he retired. So he was not really inside, you know, the restaurant because he had a railroad job. But he was always the one that was the go-getter to go get, you know, fish and he loved to fish; he loved to go pick up the ribs and pick up items. He was never in-house cooking with her. She probably wouldn’t have allowed it. [Laughs]
What kind of cook was she at home?
Definitely Creole cooking, all every day, all the time, basically every day was a big meal at my grandmother’s. She had in her house, she had kind of like a gambling, little area where they played a lot of cards. They played cards at her house. Her friends would come over. I really don’t know the game that they played but they played cards. So that gave her an opportunity also to cook a big spread for her and her friends and the same people would come and play cards. So that was her day to have a big—she called it like a supper club outside of the restaurant, so she’d always have a big meal.
And what sort of personality was she like in the kitchen? Was she the only one that could cook on her own stove?
No, she was—my grandmother’s personality was very, very—you would probably be taken aback by her because she was a very large woman. She sat a lot, so she cooked over—you know, she sat over the stove and she stirred and she’d cook, and she was that type that was demanding. Get this; get that, but you could never put it in for her. We were always her legs because she was a very, you know, very large tall-statured woman.
If you saw her [Laughs], she almost looked like, you know, a little—like she was the—definitely she was the chief. She was the chief. And a lot of people would be taken aback by her but her personality outside of that was awesome. She was a very wonderful sweet caring person.
And so tell me again when her restaurant closed?
Actually and I’m going to try to be on point with the dates but I know in the ‘70s the restaurant burned which was in her house. It was in her actual house and I would say maybe about ’75 or something like that; I’m not certain on the date but we had a—a fire that just destroyed the because the restaurant, it was her house in the front and like the restaurant in the back part which was a huge scale. It almost looked like a club; I don’t know how that passed back in the day. But it was distinctive. You would just think that it was really going to her house, but it was an actual restaurant.
And then in the early ‘80s she—she took up into like a little trail-type metallic building and made just a little restaurant in that and that’s what she served out of. Up until ’84 is when she retired and my mom and dad took over. My mother, which was her daughter-in-law, kind of took over and they expanded the operation from like just adding onto a little metallic building and that was like the glory years.
Tell me more about your parents. Give me their names first?
My mom’s name is Dorothy Broussard and my father’s name is Harold Broussard. My mom was Laura’s daughter-in-law and I think that she commanded a lot of respect with my grandmother because she actually—a lot of people came to think that she was Miss Laura, but it was actually her mother-in-law, my grandmother—retired and just due to her health. But she still, you know, her presence was still in the—you know, in the restaurant when my mom took over and just kind of revamped a lot of things. My grand—as my grandmother’s way and put the restaurant in a new direction in the ‘80s here in Lafayette, whereas the—the clientele had gotten larger. It was in a residential area so you had to know where we were. You had to know where that spot was.
Where was that spot?
Off of Voorhies. And that—it’s the same spotbe‘cause my grandmother’s house was on the side at that time after it burned. She moved her house, like moved a movable home on the side, and then the metallic building. So it was all in the same area and you had to know where we were because you came down a dead-end street and that was our spot.
So my mother, with the direction of my grandmother, kind of flowed a different—just had a different flow opposed to it being like in the early ‘60s and ‘70s. Once they got to the ‘80s there was just a little more—the menu had changed. You know, my mom was doing, you know, a little more gigs; she was doing caterings, whereas my grandmother just did—she ran a real mom and pop.
What month and year did this location Laura’s II open?
I opened up in January 2000.
Your gravy. Let’s talk about that.
Yes. We have a very good homemade gravy that we just basically start off from water and roux that—we make our own roux in an oven and start our own gravy every morning. It’s based with a gravy aid, like a coloring, like a Kitchen Bouquet type thing naturally, and we—we thicken it ourselves through a sauce, through a base but basically everything in our gravy is from scratch. And it’s probably our—one of the staples here also that has made us known because a lot of people—a lot of husbands come through here and say, “Wow, my wife does not know how to make gravy.”
What do you think makes your gravy better or different than others?
I think our gravy is—it’s the seasonings; it’s just the consistency of the gravy also. If you put our gravy on a rice, it won't just kind of run down. It’ll actually stick to the rice. It’s brown in color which is also a good thing. I mean in the South people really look for more of a brown gravy. I’ve had people to come through that were out-of-towners and say well we don’t really know what gravy is. You know we usually eat rice with a butter or just dried rice, but—or white sauce. But we actually have a brown roux gravy.
And is it the same gravy that your grandmother made?
The same gravy that my grandmother has probably been doing for all these years. When I first came here, some of the equipment that I took with me here from our old spot probably, and I still probably have pans from early, early in the years, and I can recall when I first started here with my husband and I there were pots that we took you know from our old spot that probably had been used for years.
You mentioned that your grandmother’s restaurant Laura’s was maybe the first soul food restaurant in Lafayette or the first restaurant to serve soul food. How would you describe soul food or define it?
I define soul food as just being something cooked from scratch, you know nothing processed, no processed food, because of the fact I know when I grew up as a kid being with my grandmother even on my mom’s side of the family and on my grandmother’s side of the family and with her, that we had so much food. You know, gatherings was so much food; it was such—it wasn’t nothing that you’d just go into the store now, like we do, and just say, well I’m going to pick this up. I’m going to pick up this turkey and just put it was all like food from you know—from thought, from your heart, from—you know from your soul, which you wanted you know in it—not something that somebody else put in it. So that’s how I characterize soul food as just something that, you know, you want in it and it’s not processed into an item and then come across as being cooked from home or cooked from your own hands.
Let’s talk about some of the food. What is the most popular dish?
I’m going to go back to say our most popular item being Laura’s in existence of—from way back was fried pork chops. That’s one of our popular items that I guess from coast-to-coast people would still know that they are—Laura’s II; wow, those are big fried pork chops. Another item that has gained some popularity now but it’s been an item that my grandmother would serve one day a week which was on Wednesdays; she would have baked turkey wings. That’s an item that I’ve incorporated every day into our menu, because people could only get them on a Wednesday at Laura’s. Now you can get those seven days a week here. That has become our more into the new millennium kind of—that’s our best item. But the item that I think that has stuck with us and just we’re known for are the fried pork chops.
Can you describe the baked turkey wings?
The baked turkey wings come to us as a two-joint turkey wing, sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen—that we get from a local vendor. We process those; we—they’re—they come. I’m sorry; they come to us as a three-joint turkey wing. But because they’re so large and we’re putting them in a plate lunch there’s a little tip on it on the wing that we chop off. And we—everything else we stuff and we bake and pan and put on the plates and we do a lot of them.
We stuff it with a garlic and pepper seasoning. There’s no secret to it; it’s just a garlic and pepper. A lot of people ask what is the secret; you know how—I tried to do the turkey wings at my house and I can't get them? Well there is a secret to the baking of it but there’s no secret ingredient. It’s very basic. It’s a garlic and pepper seasoning and we season to taste and that’s it.
I was eating a baked turkey wing today. It was awesome. I found, like, there’s a crackling on top.
There is—there is a harder—we try to bake them to get—and that’s—it doesn’t come all the time. In my beginning times, when I first opened here, I didn't have any convection ovens. I started off just basic, a basic oven and—and then as I grew and grew and grew I knew I wanted to get convection style cooking whereas it’ll cook them faster, less time, and just make them more of that crunchy hard—. If we leave them in the oven long enough they’ll come out to be crunchy—crunchy little baste on them, a little part—the skin will get very crunchy like a crackling, which a lot of people like and a lot of people don’t like. A lot of people like them to just be really tender and more blonde. And then a lot of people will say I want that turkey that wing—that dark and fried-er, you know, more fried into the oven. And a lot of people will say well how did y'all fry those; is that fried turkey? But it’s actually baked and we get it to have that fried crackling by just uncovering and doing more like getting a longer convection heat.
Do you ever run out of the stuffed turkey wings or any other specials or dishes?
It’s first come, first served basis on the turkey wings. That’s an item that you definitely have to come in for and it’s just kind of like a race for it. It’s the race for the turkey wings. [Laughs]
Can you describe your clientele?
Our clientele is a—it’s a mixture. There’s just no set, you know, color, there’s no set person. We service everyone and that has been probably since the early—our earlier restaurants that it has just been basic, everybody in the city. No—I don’t think anybody is exempt here. With us being—I think my grandmother went as Laura’s Soul Food and I, in turn, wanted to be like Laura’s II: A Creole Experience. And I think that there’s such a big variety of people here. There are Cajuns, there are Creoles; now there’s Mexicans—it’s just everybody here. So we don’t—it’s just the clientele is just a full flavor. It’s everybody. No one is exempt here.
I think back early on my grandmother had the same clientele, because I know I go a lot of places, doctors’ offices and people say, “I’ve just come to the city,” you know. And like, “In 1975 when I was here away from my mother and father, and I’m from New Orleans or from Lake Charles or somewhere, and a friend took me to Laura’s II.” And it’s 30 years now and they’re saying we still have the same fried pork chop from when I was at USL. You know and that would be like a lot of doctors or lawyers, they’ll say, "We’ve been eating at Laura’s II for years," from when they were at the university.
Tell me about some of your best customers. Do you see people every day or almost every day?
We do. I’ve known people a lot of people that knows me through my grandmother, through my mom and dad and that has been coming to this spot for 30 years. And that’s probably like 50 or more people that I know. I know it’s justa large group of people and that’s just—that’s not white, say African Americans; that’s whites, that’s blacks, you know, people that has been dealing with us for a long time, a long time.
And do they order the same things every day?
Order the same thing—order the same. We have—in the 11 years I have some people who come here that have come here and probably ate the same thing. And sometimes I’ll try to gear them to change, you know and say, “Try this.” And they’ll say, “Well I’ll try it next time but I’m going to stick to what I know and what I’m accustomed to.” And that says a lot for us because that just lets me know also that we have been consistent with that product for at least 40 years or more.
It sounds like you’re encouraging your son to go into the restaurant business and continue—you know, be the fourth generation.
What would you say to him now that you’d maybe want him to hear 10, 20 years from now?
I would probably tell him to remain consistent and that’s not only in our food base. That’s just in our customer base and our—with vendors, just with—just everybody overall that you come across in this business. And I think that’s really what kept us so consistent. Twenty years from now I hope my kids will run the same operation as I ran because I think I ran the same operation as my mom and my grandmother.
I didn't come in as a more millennium-type young black woman. You know I came in as just—a lot of old school flavor as my grandmother, where we cher-chered [short for chérie and pronounced ‘sha,’ meaning dear or darling] everybody, you know, and if you came in and if you spoke French, we can speak French with you. You know even the people that I have here, the ladies that I have here, so it’s really a down-home atmosphere. And I hope that Laura’s III, IV, and V all have this same down-home flavor because definitely people used to—when I first opened here a lot of people came through and it was like, “Wow! We’re just not used to like y'all new spot,” you know, because of the fact that we have central air, we have central heat, we have a covered parking; at our old spot there was an air-condition in the window. There was probably no heater. The building was heated probably from what they were cooking right in the front. The parking if it rained you probably just had to go through like a gravel parking lot. So all those things I had to kind of, you know, I wanted to encourage—bring that here and keep it here, and I know with my kids, that I think it’ll stay in years to come.
If your grandmother, Laura, was here today, if she could see you and your kids running this business, what do you think she would say?
She’d say, “Job well done. Job well done—well done.” Just because we were a small family; my grandmother prided herself on our little group, our small family. Her whole—her whole ways of thinking, even my mother, and I think she drilled into my mother was that everybody learned something out of here, ‘cause she used to always say, “Y'all pay attention. You know pay attention. You know come here; come do this and come do that.” And then down from when we were kids, my grandmother in our old spot, older spot, she raised chickens like they had chickens and she would she like tell us to pick the eggs, [Laughs] like go pick—you know pick through the eggs. And she would aways say you know; “Never be too—too big to do something,” you know too big to do a job or you know to get your hands dirty. So, I think that with the five of us as grandkids which two of us have passed away and the three of us have all ventured some kind of way in some form of cooking for and making somebody else happy, she would be happy. She would very well be pleased, uh-hm—and to generate like my kids. My brother has little kids; that—he has a 13 year old. They come here and they work so it’s kind of like just the passing on, you know, and that’s how I started from just being young, watching, going—them telling us. Go pick them tables up, you know. Go do this; go do that; go pick the eggs. Now—kids are different now; they want to come through ‘cause they know at 13 people see them working. They get a little tip or two; you know, my little nieces and nephews, but they’re also learning to come in, clean tables off, straighten—scrape plates and they’re—and that’s just the way my brother and I—all of us have learned, just starting from that bottom part, and owning up to you know a way of cooking.
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