Nine tables inside. Four tables outside. A coffee shop menu with a muffin here or there. That’s what everyone’s favorite Baton Rouge brunch stop and family-owned restaurant Mason’s Grill looked like 20 years ago.
And when we say “family owned,” we mean it. When the restaurant first opened, it was 13-year-old Kristin Alfandre waiting tables, her father Mike in the kitchen, and her mother Shirlee in charge of managing the rest. Two decades later, the three of them still spend their days running the restaurant and chatting with customers, many who have been regulars at Mason’s Grill from the get-go.
Today, Mason’s is known for its award-winning bloody marys and one-of-a-kind burgers. But it was originally a coffee shop called the The Daily Grind. Mike toyed around with adding a few breakfast items to the menu—eggs Florentine, some French toast. It wasn’t long before the shop was serving brunch, then lunch, then dinner.
Years later, the Alfandres expanded to a bigger location on 13556 Jefferson Highway, a much-needed increase in space to match their increased menu and customer base—customers who they truly consider an extended family.
There’s Mr. Frank, Kristin says, who brought his two boys in every Sunday for years. Kristin watched as they celebrated their high school graduations at Mason’s and again when they celebrated college graduations. Some regulars at the bar even had their wedding ceremony with Mason’s.
Customers like these have been with the Alfandres through thick and thin. During the 2016 summer flood, the restaurant took on 6 inches of water and Mike and Shirlee’s home took on 6 feet, leaving them with little more than the clothes on their back.
“We knew we couldn’t save both,” Kristin says. “It was either try to save the house or try to save the business, so we made the executive decision to save the business. We knew the business affected more people. It affected the employees, the community, my parents—whereas the house was just us.”
The Alfandres worked from early in the morning until after midnight sandbagging the restaurant and then getting it back in order to reopen. Thanks to strategic preparation, long days of grueling work and a little help from friends, Mason’s Grill reopened less than a week after the flood.
Customers, employees and neighbors alike all came by to help and check on them, some bringing Mike and Shirlee food and clothes. “To me, that really just speaks to the spirit of Baton Rouge and the community,” Kristin says.
She says the experience was reminiscent of when tragedy struck the restaurant back in 2002, when a drunk driver crashed into their original location on Sherwood Forest Boulevard after driving across four lanes of traffic and over a median. Two customers suffered non-fatal injuries, and the restaurant closed for a couple of weeks, which Kristin says was difficult financially and emotionally.
“We had put a lot of hard work into that building and put a lot of our heart and soul into it, and to have somebody literally drive through your dreams and destroy it … it was just really tough,” she says.
But the Alfandres have the type of grit and work ethic that make it seem they can handle any challenge thrown their way, which is what Kristin says has helped keep Mason’s Grill in business so long, even as other restaurants have opened and closed.
“For the first nine years that we were in business, my parents worked open to close, seven days a week, and anytime I was not in school, I was there, too,” she says. “I always joke with people that I didn’t go to the beach until I was an adult because when most people take holidays, I was working.” (And that beach trip she took as adult? It was a work trip.)
To celebrate the end to the restaurant’s teenage years and thank the customers who have been by their side through it all, Mason’s Grill is offering its award-winning Bottomless Champagne Brunch all day long until Sunday, Aug. 12. Then for the rest of the month, customers who dine in August will be entered to win prizes, like gift cards, T-shirts and packages of the restaurant’s Bloody Mason mix.