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Charles Joseph "CJ" Gerdes
Charles Joseph “CJ” Gerdes has never known a life without Casamento’s, the oyster and fried seafood house in Uptown New Orleans that’s known for its immaculate tiles and — for closing every summer. His grandfather, Joe Casamento, opened it in 1919, not long after immigrating from Ustica, Italy, at the age of seventeen. CJ has pictures of himself wearing an apron at Casamento’s when he was barely old enough to attend kindergarten. He began working there consistently when he was fourteen—not by choice at first. By the time he was a young adult, CJ knew it didn’t make sense for him to work anyplace else, and for many years the restaurant was a full-blown family affair. Both of CJ’s parents, two of his aunts, one uncle also worked there. The last member of the elder generation—CJ’s uncle Joseph—passed away the night that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, in a hotel room in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he had evacuated.
Today, CJ runs the place with his wife, Linda. Their two daughters, an RN and a fitness trainer, help on the weekends. While they still use the restaurant’s original refrigerator and water heater, and a cash register from 1975, they have snuck some new menu items into the rotation over the past couple of decades: seafood gumbo, chargrilled oysters, soft-shell crabs, crab fingers, and calamari. The corn and flour-dredged fried seafood is—and always has been—fried in lard. That includes the oysters on the oyster loaf, which is made with thick-sliced Bunny Bread rather than traditional New Orleans French bread.
Audio production by Thomas Walsh.