‘Mason’s is still here’: A conversation with the new owners of Mason’s Grill

After nearly a quarter of century as the faces behind Baton Rouge institution Mason’s Grill, Mike and Shirlee Alfandre sold the eatery this summer to husband and wife duo Rober and Christina Alamirie.

The pair met in the restaurant business while waiting tables at Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant (now Tio Javi’s Mexican Grill). Rober went on to manage restaurants across eight states, including Bonefish Grill and Outback Steakhouse, for 20 years. Christina brings her skills as an interior designer to update and continue the homestyle atmosphere of the restaurant. The Alamiries say they are not looking to depart too radically from the vision of Mason’s as a welcoming eatery for locals—and no, the recipe for Mason’s famous bloody mary won’t change. With their restaurant and interiors experience, the Alamiries hope to respect the past—while also bringing Mason’s into the future.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

What made you want to buy Mason’s Grill?

Rober Alamirie: I was ready to leave the corporate world. I wanted to own a restaurant. I used a broker and started looking for land to build my own restaurant. And one day my broker told me, “Hey, I think Mason’s might be coming up for sale.” He knew someone that knew the owners wanted to retire and possibly sell. But no, I was not looking for Mason’s, honestly. I did not know it was up for sale, and I don’t think anyone knew because it never went to market. We live a few minutes from Mason’s and were regulars here. When they told me about it, I said, “Absolutely, we love the place.” It’s a great hangout and a great local restaurant that’s been in business for 24 years.

As Mason’s regulars yourselves, what does the restaurant mean to you, as a couple and in general?

Rober: I mean, we’ve always loved the place. It was one of our favorite places for brunch. Our neighbors were big fans, and we started coming with them for date nights, hang-out nights. … We come in, have burgers, wings, whatever we are in the mood for. And then, usually my wife and I would come to brunch on Saturday, early before it got crowded. We’d go work out, and then have some Champagne and good brunch food. We were here on a weekly basis.

What are the things you are hoping to try to keep and maintain?

Rober: The plan is to keep everything. Would we tweak few things here and there? Absolutely. I think it would be some touches with Christina’s background being an interior designer, just to kind of freshen up a little bit, maybe change the paint scheme.

Christina Alamirie: Update it!

Rober: Food-wise, of course things come and go. Sometimes we can’t get product. We’re gonna change things here and there … but we would love to keep the core menu as is. It’s been proven that it’s working for 24 years, and we’re not here to reinvent the wheel. I personally would love to introduce a few new items, like some Louisiana cuisine. I would love to bring in some fresh salmon, a fresh filet. We only have a ribeye right now, so add another steak or two, possibly. Maybe feature specials on a nightly or a weekly basis. Mix it up, make it fun, make it different. … We might add it to the menu; if it doesn’t work, we move on and try something different.

Christina, tell us about what you hope to bring to Mason’s with your interior design background?

Christina: Well, we talked about absolutely updating the exterior, giving it a facelift. We might start with the patio, extending it in the back and freshening up the paint. A lot of people talked about the acoustics in here about being really loud, so we might wanna do some kind of soundproofing. We might introduce some new floors.We still want to keep the vibe that everyone’s used to in here, but just give it a nice little facelift.

Do y’all have any favorite dishes at the restaurant that you are hoping to do more stuff in the style of?

Rober: The burgers are huge here, right? We’re going to keep doing the battles of the burger every two weeks. The Louisiana cuisine—the gumbos and the etouffee, those are probably some of my favorites. Brunch wise, I love the Benedicts, and the chicken and waffles are amazing. We’ll add a little more fresh seafood, whatever is in season. Those kind of things just keep it a Louisiana restaurant—we have core guests, and that’s what they want, and that’s what we’re gonna keep giving them. We’ll fresh up some salads. A lot of people look for healthy options, and that’s something that we definitely would look at also. The big piece is to kind of dive into the product and see what sells and what doesn’t sell.

Christina: We have a good variety in a lot of grilled items on our menu for healthy options.

Let’s talk about the drink menu. Mason’s is known for its bloody marys. Are you gonna continue to market it as your specialty?

Rober: This is absolutely our specialty. I mean, Mason’s won best bloody mary in America. So we will never change that recipe; it’s staple, it won awards. We will add to it. We’ve talked about something bigger, showier—maybe bigger glasses and more showy toppings. We were talking about maybe doing some kind of challenge to say “Hey, go crazy with it. What do you want on your bloody mary?” The recipe, though, we will not touch.

Is there anything you want to say to ease longtime fans’ minds who might worry that new ownership means it’s not going to be as good?

Rober: On the first day—we started on a Thursday—honest to God, I’ve probably met hundreds of regulars, table after table. Some of them asked, some of them didn’t: “What are you gonna do?” From day one, we didn’t want to change much. We want to keep this place as it is. So we want to reassure the folks. And I understand it’s always been such a staple restaurant. My wife is born and raised around here, and I’ve been here for almost 30 years. This is one of our favorite places, always been for a long time. We’re just as regular as everybody else. And we want to keep all the great dishes. Mason’s is still here. The plan is not to change the name or change the menu. If anything, I want to expand it. I want to go further with it, make it better and hopefully add a few more in town so everybody can get to us, because it’s a bit of a long wait on certain days and certain times. But we want people to come back and notice that this is the Mason’s Grill that they’ve known for 24 years.

Mason’s Grill is at 13556 Jefferson Highway. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.