Food is powerful—it not only nourishes the body, but also feeds the soul through the companionship provided by eating together. Locally owned and operated independent restaurants are a dying breed with large food chains popping up all over Shreveport and we the people that call Shreveport home need to remember the little guys. Surviving the stormy waters of the restaurant world can often feel like being an island floating in a sea of chain eateries, with the only life raft available being the loyal customers. Even in a world of chain restaurants, the foodies of Shreveport have proven their devotion to the hands that feed them time and time again.
In late March of 2017, a loyal customer of Shreveport’s sandwich gem, Deli Casino Sandwich Shoppe simply asked the owner, Mr. Sam George, how business was doing with the construction on Kings Highway. After two years of construction, Dayle and Sam George, who have been making sandwiches for the past 39 years did not know how long they could stay in business. One Facebook post later, Deli Casino Sandwich Shoppe had lines out the door the very next day once word spread. With over 5,000 likes and shares, the Georges were touched by the outpouring of support from the community. They fed sandwiches to these loyal customers who had waited up to an hour and a half to get their hands on a “good to the last bite” sandwich. The Georges credit God for sending the help they needed. To the Georges, customers are more than customers, they are friends. This sentiment is the common thread amongst the independently owned food eateries here in Shreveport.
Another example is South Highlands beloved Maxwell’s Market owner, Ross Barclay, who recently had a big decision to make. The delicious delicacies, seafood, and fine meats sold in Maxwell’s were in need of new cases and Barclay was faced with the question of whether to close the doors after 16 years or reinvest in his treasured store. Barclay posted on his Facebook page, “So it came down to a decision…one that has kept me up nights for a while,” he continued, explaining that with the economy in a downturn, an increase in competition, and the need for a heavy investment he was left wondering if it was time to close up shop. But, at the end of the day, Barclay isn’t in this business for the money—he gives up holidays, weekends, and vacation time because it is more than just a store—it is his family and right where he wants to be.
After posting his thoughts on Facebook, he turned off his phone and started the difficult task of out with the old and in with the new, drawing some blood and dropping one of the cases along the way. Incredibly, Barclay’s friends and employees pulled together to complete the arduous task so the gentle hum of coolers can continue being the lifeblood of his business. There was an overwhelming response to his post, which not only validated his choice to stay in business, but also provided the community with a platform to tell Barclay just how important Maxwell’s Market was to them.
The special relationships these independent store fronts offer are what bonds the community to their favorite food spots. Barclay truly enjoys anticipating his regular customer’s needs hopping into action the moment their car pulls up by readying their regular order at the counter. Some customers even go behind the counter to watch their specialty cut of meat being cut because they feel at home in the store they know and love. Even delivering goods to regulars who become homebound, Barclay knows his customers by name and what they like to eat. Barclay was overwhelmed with the community outpouring of heartfelt appreciation and said, “If life got any better, I couldn’t stand it.” With the Barclay’s Best Andouille Sausage Dip as the crowd favorite, I confess mine was gobbled up with the fresh baguette in the car for lunch right after our interview.
Theresa Gullo Hamilton’s family has been in the business of feeding Shreveport for 39 years and said that they are a dying breed. Watching her grandparents prepare food and run their store, Gullos Produce and Restaurant, she grew up in the fields picking produce and continues the legacy her family started by preparing the casseroles and food for the restaurant. Gullos now has the third generation running the show and keeping customers coming back for more. Weathering the storm with several difficult years behind them, Hamilton lost her brother and parents within 18 months of each other by September of 2012. This left her as the only hope for the family business that they had all put their heart and soul into keeping open. “It’s a family tradition to put our heart and soul into this, its just what we do,” explained Hamilton. Burying her mother on December 22, 2011, she never considered not preparing the orders the next day for her customer’s Christmas dinners because she knew they were depending upon her. After a fire destroyed their family home and business in 2015, Hamilton walked through the ashes and never doubted rebuilding. The Shreveport community rallied with what Hamilton said was the most unbelievable thing—people lining up for their food all the way to the street.
Hamilton is quick to point out that without the community’s support they will die and for their constant patronage she is eternally grateful. Working two jobs, Hamilton was thrilled when her son, Craig Hamilton came home to run the family business with his fresh ideas and marketing degree. “He helped his grandparents when he was knee-high to a grasshopper and customers watched him grow up,” said Hamilton. Craig is just as devoted to the customers as his forefathers were, even opening up on a Sunday to feed a customer who had recently lost his wife and wanted some comfort food—they did not want him to eat alone.
The power of banding together in a positive way to make a difference was ever apparent again when Emerie Gentry, Shreveport’s community advocate rock star, wanted to do something to help our independent eateries. Forming a Friday Lunch Bunch group on Facebook, Gentry took matters into her own hands by writing the names of local places to eat on a popsicle stick to be placed in the Jar of Good Eats. Within two weeks, her simple idea bloomed into an outpouring of positive responses and love for the local independents at 1,000 members strong and growing. Gentry said it was heartwarming the support that the community gave and the Friday Lunch Bunch was born, with it’s sole purpose being to grab a friend and eat local. “It reaffirmed that our local culture and flair is very well and alive if we can continue to support it,” Gentry passionately explained, “We are literally putting our money where our mouth is.”
“One person can do something and make a difference—you just have to take that first step,” said Gentry who further went on to say she had to do something to help, which is just what she did. The first lunch bunch met at Weston McElwee’s Tejas Restaurant and boosted their entire day’s activity which rippled for several days after. McElwee was thrilled with the response and happy to see many new faces come in the following weeks as repeat customers from the initial lunch bunch.
The continued sentiment here, interview after interview is that each eatery offered heartfelt gratitude toward their customers who are really not customers, but rather are more like family. In the end food bonds those that break bread, and the community that eats together stays together.