Angel Lombrage, chef and co-owner of The Bullfish Bar and Kitchen
“I’m from Haiti and grew up in Miami. I came to Louisiana 19 years ago because I understood it has the best culinary experience. It’s the perfect place to combine Caribbean and Southern cuisine. I was a part owner in VooDoo BBQ & Grill in New Orleans for years. My wife, Jasmine, and I took over ownership of The Bullfish Bar and Kitchen last year. I made the restaurant my own by making authentic Caribbean dishes: fried plantains, conch fritters, curry goat, coconut rice. We do Louisiana food, too—we serve crawfish and po-boys.
We often have people from the Caribbean passing through who will stop by and say, “I can’t believe I’m eating the food from my childhood.” We had a gentleman from Puerto Rico who was visiting from Texas. He asked if we could make mofongo, and when we served it to him he was like a kid during Christmas. But we also have locals who have never traveled to the Caribbean who will say, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t believe I’ve never tried this.’ It means so much.
It’s challenging right now, but we are making the best of this situation. We miss talking to guests in the dining room the most. We miss that setting, where we’re so busy and the servers are happy and the room is full of appreciation and love for the food. I don’t even think I can find the words, really.” thebullfishbar.com
WHY I COOK
Vu “Phat” Le, co-owner of Chow Yum Phat
“Whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always a chef. My cousin and I used to go in the kitchen and compete to see who could make the best scrambled eggs.
My family owned a convenience store, so I was always surrounded by food. But my parents were like, ‘I don’t want you to be a chef; I want something better for your life.’ Before White Star Market opened up, I was a plant safety inspector. When I heard that the new food hall still had a spot open, I jumped on the chance. I was like ‘Hey, I can do Asian food, Mexican food—I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ So we opened Chow Yum Phat there, and the next year we were signing our lease for our brick-and-mortar location.
My co-owner Jordan Ramirez and I do a little bit of everything—admin, chef, washing dishes, bussing tables. I always tell my guys that whatever we make, we have to bust people in the mouth with flavor. If we’re gonna put an ingredient on a menu description, I better taste it. The hard work, the long hours, the pain—everything is worth it when you hear someone tell you your food is bomb. In the kitchen, you can go through a multitude of emotions all in a two-hour period. You’re anxious, you’re nervous, you’re frustrated, you’re overwhelmed. But at the end of service, you’re overjoyed, you’re elated. You got your butt kicked, but you made it.
And right now, that’s everything we’re feeling, and more. Asking ourselves if we’re going to be able to stay open, the emotions of letting staff go, and then hearing people say, ‘Thank you guys for staying open.’
But eating is an escape for people. I think that’s why everyone that still has their doors open right now is doing this. Even if it’s just a burger or one of our ramens, that 30 minutes when you’re sitting down and eating with your significant other or family, it brings a sense of normalcy. Being able to go pick food up is a simple task that we took for granted. Now, I think everyone kind of respects the food and that experience more.” chowyumphat.com
WHY I OPENED A RESTAURANT
Nick Haghighi, owner of Goodwood Grill
“I was born in Iran, and I was 17 when I came to America. I always wanted to open my own restaurant. I liked cooking, and I am a people person. In 2004, our property became available on Goodwood. I got the bank to finance me and bought the property. We focused on good food, good prices, good service. Sixteen years later, our customers are almost like our family.
As far as the situation now, we keep the restaurant open for pickup orders simply because our employees want to work and our customers are absolutely counting on us. It’s been very rough, of course. Our business has been cut in half, and we’ve lost about half of our employees. We are in the business district, and a lot of businesses around us are closed. But we are really rewarded by our customers. Every single day, they thank us for being there for them.
Salads are really our signature dishes, but I’ve noticed people are ordering more burgers since this started. It’s comfort food. Once this is all over, I believe we’re gonna be back to normal within a month, because people are just missing us so much.” goodwoodgrillbr.com
WHY I SERVE
Eva Jetty, co-owner and front-of-house manager of Maison Lacour
“I grew up all over the place—France, Africa, Thailand. I came to America when I was 24 and consider it my home. My family opened Maison Lacour French Restaurant in June of 1986, and I joined in 1990. We work very differently from other restaurants. We only have 12 tables. My husband cooks. He has one person to help him, plus a dish washer. I do the front of the house. I am my own waitress.
Our customers are all friends. I share my story, and they share their stories. Whenever they go to Paris, they always come here before the trip, and this is the first place they come when they get back. It’s like coming to a special place.
This is my little world right here. Our restaurant, to me, is my Louisiana. It means everything to me. At the moment, it’s very difficult. But we are here, open for takeout. Our customers are wonderful people. They’ve been very supportive, although I’ve always felt that—it’s nothing new. Now, they want to buy gift cards or bottles of wine and our house salad dressing. When they call, we will have everything ready to bring to their car. I am so thankful to have them.” maisonlacour.com
Editor’s note: Interviews were conducted in late March and early April. They’ve been edited for clarity and brevity.