Local restaurateur leaves legacy of top-notch bars and eateries
At age 63, restaurateur Joey Cush is dead. He was a founder, alongside his brothers, Greg Cush and the late Bryan Cush, of the Village Grille, Centenary Oyster House, Chicky’s Boom-Boom Room and numerous taverns and eateries.
“He died awaiting a liver transplant,” said Amanda Michiels.
For some 27 years, Chef Reynaldo Jandres and the Cush brothers served upscale suppers and scrumptious drinks (the Snow Bear, among them) in the Village Grill, said Chase Boytim.
The Village was a dark but mirror-lined, relatively small restaurant. In the early years, there was no menu, just a seasoned waiter such as Phillip Cuellar and a capable chef, Jandres (currently at Ginocchio’s in Marshall, Texas), backed by a bartender, Harley Harville, and a Cush brother. Bill Joyce, one of the numerous artists that Joey called on for design work and who became friends, says, “The Village was the jewel in the crown of the Cush establishments.”
The Village was the result of the Cush brothers’ outings in NYC and other cities. They were ever trying out new eateries, paying particular attention to successful bigcity joints. It was also based on the brothers finding a Louisiana Avenue establishment that was past its prime. Noted Jeri Akins Carlton, “He turned that little dive into a swank dinner destination. From the lobster ravioli to the steak and the French bread with herbed butter, it was divine!”
“The Village Grille was where I would take all SBC newcomers who liked to drink and sit at the bar and get martinis and appetizers,” said Angie White. “I also had a raucous birthday there one year, taking over that neat little table at the end of the bar. We got out of control and vastly outswelled our allotted space. It was a blast!” Laura-Ashley Overdyke said, as did many locals, “The Village was always the special restaurant we went to for major, major events. We felt like we were in New York.”
Said Lee Ellen Benjamin, “The Village martini cart was a wonderful touch. Met the jockey Willie Shoemaker at the bar in the Village.”
“We loved Joey’s restaurants, but we especially loved The Village,” said Jerie Black. “It was like stepping into Elaine’s, but in Shreveport. We have eaten in restaurants all over the world, but The Village was different ... It was perfect.”
“Joey came out to L.A. when I was living there,” remembered Leigh Ann Guinn Cheek. “There were several of us from Shreveport there at the time – some good friends of Joey. He was scouting restaurants and looking for ideas for his next project. He took us all out to an amazing upscale dinner and ordered everything on the menu! It was a feast, especially for those of us struggling to live the L.A. life with our Shreveport budgets!” Music maven Bill Sharp hosted a sixhour Sunday jazz radio show on KDKS 92.1 FM. He remembered, “Joey called me and introduced himself and said he and Bryan were opening the Village Grille and would I make him some cassettes of the music I played. We have been friends ever since.”
Joey’s restaurant education began with Cowboy’s, a magnetic Bossier dance hall in the ’80s. First lessons learned, he dived into the downtown Shreveport scene with Cafe Shreveport at 211 Texas St. Opened in 1984, the brick-wall decor felt like New Orleans. An atrium plan allowed upstairs diners a view of those eating downstairs.
“In 1987, Clay and I moved here,” said Nita Cook, “and Clay was the chef at Cafe Shreveport, a very popular Joey Cush restaurant. We actually hosted a 1985 Joseph Drouhin French Burgundy dinner there — it was a happening place, as many of his properties were. With Joey, you were a great part of a thriving community.”
In 1986 Joey led his brothers in renovating a nondescript building at the corner of Centenary Boulevard and Stoner Avenue. They called it Centenary Oyster House. It became a Shreveport institution by virtue of its food and the rock and jazz music. Sean Holt, saxophonist-band leader in Los Angeles, remembers developing his chops at the Oyster House. Among the touring bands that left memories were Dash Rip Rock and Bad Mutha Goose. “Pushmonkey, the Voodudes and the beach party,” added Michelle Sutton Giglio. More than once, according to several people, Eddie Van Halen stopped in after concerts to jam.
There was jazz, too. “My dad went to Centenary Oyster House every single Monday night to hear Big Band music. I often went, and we danced to Bill Causey’s Big Band,” said Paula O’Neal.
Food at the Oyster House: “fried bell pepper rings with horseradish mayo,” remembered Cook. Many residents remember eating their first raw oysters at the raucous Oyster House. Bradley Crawford said, “My first raw oyster was at Centenary Oyster House, and it took a few dozen and a few dozen trips to get them down without wincing, but once I did I couldn’t think of anything better.”
Said Kay Law, who worked for Joey, “Oh, those grilled shrimp club sandwiches.” Tonya Rabalais Callens remembered, “Best ham and cheese crunch ever. It was coated with corn flakes.” Sarah Flowers Price remembered, “Champagne with a strawberry in it at the Oyster House.”
From Los Angeles, Robert Sprayberry commented, “He invested in the live music scene in so many ways. Joey gave me the venue at the Dixie Roadhouse. I know he advocated the music of A-Train, The Blue Shadows and many more.”
The list of his ventures must include Joey’s American Bar & Grill on Line Avenue, opened in 1993. With a decor designed by Bill Joyce and murals painted by Laura Noland Harter, the plan showcased the cooks, who worked in full view. “He was so proud of that glass kitchen at Joey’s, and I was working there the night an ex-girlfriend or something socked him in the nose right in that kitchen for all to see! We just finished our shifts and had a laugh about it after work! I know he would laugh at that because he laughed when it happened!” Noted Timothy Hayes, “Yup. Never a dull moment.”
He resuscitated a classic Shreveport hangout, the former Carousel, in 2005. It was re-christened Fat Cats. Soon he renovated a neighboring building; it was a former liquor store that became CityBar. Cush gave artists like Christopher Moore, Joe Bluhm and Adam Volker full input in designing his latest place.
Within two years he was back on Texas Street with a nightclub (he served only oysters) called Chicky’s Boom Boom Room. Under the Texas Street Bridge, he and brother Bryan opened a bar called Fatty Arbuckle’s. Today it is owned by Chase Boytim, who was brought into the hospitality business by the Cush brothers. There was also a Texas Street tavern named The Boot.
“Joey was a true visionary at a young age, and he made it happen. He took risks,” said Elizabeth Gallagher, “and we were there to support him while having the best of times with friends and food. It’s one thing to dream and envision, but it takes courage, stamina, insanity and so much more to try.”
“He never stopped, even during his illness,” said daughter Kathleen Cush. “He wanted to publish a book of Reynaldo Jandres’ recipes. They’d worked together since day one at Cafe Shreveport.”
“He was passionate about the food and the customer experience. It was cutting edge, setting the trend,” said Jim Purgerson. “His kindness and generosity were contagious,” noted Ashley Taylor, his caretaker in his last two months. “Though he was quiet when he did speak, it was kind – if not totally hilarious.”
– Robert Trudeau