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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022

Orlandeaux's Way

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For 100 years and counting, the famed restaurant still serves southern and Creole classics. It’s a family tradition.

The café has operated under several different names. Still, the atmosphere, the service and the "vibe" of the place are what the current owner-operator believes keeps Ark-La-Texans coming back to Orlandeaux's Cross Lake Café.

The restaurant might be more familiar to many locals by some of its earlier names: Freeman & Harris Café, or Pete Harris Café, or Brother's Seafood. No matter what name you love, the families who have made this their lives' work have made them destinations for hungry palates for over 100 years. In fact, 2021 was the 100th anniversary of the restaurant, according to Damien "Chapeaux" Chapman, one of the current managers of the family business.

According to Chapman, the business history reads a lot like the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, with plenty of family tree documentation.

"When it was founded in 1921, it was named in honor of two first cousins, which were my great, great, great uncles. They named it Freeman and Harris Café because their last names were Freeman and Harris. When the two founders passed away, they brought their nephews into the business, and they ran the restaurant for quite some time. The last of that generation to pass away was Uncle Pete. His name was Pete Harris, and when the third generation came about, there were some name changes and the business changed hands through the heirs. The third generation named it after Uncle Pete, so they called it Pete Harris Café. When my grandfather passed, my father named it after him. His nickname was ‘Brother.’ So, my father named it Brother's Seafood. And then when my father – his name was Orlando Chapman – passed away in 2013, me and my brothers named it in homage of him. It became a tradition to name it in honor of the previous owner. Of course, we altered it and put the 'eaux' spelling on the end to reflect our Creole culture and Louisiana vibe."

Lasting for a century is a milestone for any establishment, and Chapman said there are good reasons for the family's dynasty. "It's definitely a cultural destination because in Louisiana it's the Creole culture that we have. People look at Louisiana as having a great flair in food and entertainment the Cajun way. But this is truly the Creole culture and the vibes here, in our food and the atmosphere. When you come in, you're greeted like you're family. You hear the music playing with all genres from zydeco to R&B to country to gospel. Just the feeling like you're in your own backyards or at a family reunion or something like that. Because you're seeing so many familiar faces that you may have gone to school or go to church with."

It's not just the family and the now century-old, tried and true staple menu items; the staff also has some history. Chapman said one of his managers has worked with four of the five generations of the family who have operated one of the incarnations of the café. "I tell my employees as well as myself, and we pray, and we keep God in our hearts and treat people in the best way. Treat them better than we would want to be treated. We love what we do. It's a passion for most of us. Most of us have been working here for years. I've been working around my family's business since I was around 5. A lot of the employees have been here throughout the different changes, the different locations. So, it's a very family-oriented work environment as well."

To hang around a hundred years, Chapman admitted it doesn't hurt to have some very familiar, signature dishes that customers have been coming back for over the years. "Our stuffed shrimp is what we're known for. It was created in the Freeman and Harris kitchen. People come from near and far to try that. Our gumbo and etouffee, our smothered pork chops, smothered goose liver and chicken liver. Those down-home southern cooking items that you got that grandmother was cooking in the day. That brings you all the way back to home."

To Chapman, home means doing food in the Creole tradition, and that requires sticking with some unchangeable recipes. "The stuffed shrimp is a crabmeat stuffing unlike others. I've seen shrimp stuffed with boudin and chicken and mushrooms and oysters, all these types of things. They stuff their stuffed shrimp by putting it on top. We actually split our stuffed shrimp and stuff them on the inside and roll them into an oblong shape and deep fry them. It's extremely iconic to Shreveport. No one else has the stuffed shrimp that is like ours. They have different variations, but it's not like ours."

But there's more to a restaurant than the food, Chapman said. "I think it's just the fact that we're so rooted in the community outside of what we do inside these four walls. We bring the community together with our cooking. It's the consistency of the food and the family-like atmosphere you receive when you come in here."

He describes the Orlandeaux's difference as authentic Louisiana Creole cuisine. "It's the best southern soul food on this side of the bayou. It's like no other. Even though you've heard a lot about south Louisiana, north Louisiana has a whole lot to offer."

With all that tradition behind him, Chapman has public expectations to meet, and meeting them has always been in the back of his mind. "I really had no choice. My father passed away when I was 24. I was working in the oil field, fresh out of college. always knew this was my purpose in being on this earth. When my father passed away, it was sudden and unexpected, so I dropped everything and came back home to help with the continuation of the legacy of the business. It wasn't in my plan to come back right then. But of course, I knew I was going to be here. I was destined to be here; I just didn't know when."

Chapman's background is in engineering, so he's adapted his field engineering knowledge to work in the café environment. "I take the things that I was taught in school, the book sense, and apply it to the kitchen sense that I have. And it's like kitchen engineering now as opposed to field engineering. It's about process engineering, which is kind of making sure that things flow. And doing the things that can help us to continue this thing for another one hundred years."

Chapman is not just a renowned cook and manager. He's also a community-minded individual. After Hurricane Katrina stranded victims in the area, he fed them free of charge in his restaurant. He also has been a reliable source of employment for people in need of work.

And when hungry people need sustenance, they know that Orlandeaux's is a good place to find stuffed shrimp, their original tartar sauce, chicken and dumplings, gumbo, etouffee, po-boys, peach and apple cobbler, and a lengthy menu of more.

"Through the years and through the generations, the community has really been faithful and followed us no matter where we went," Chapman explained. "We are blessed to have them on our side and in our corners. We are blessed to have them support us no matter where we go.

"It wasn't hard to get them over here. It was a great move, a bigger move. We had outgrown the space that we were. People wished for us to have a bigger and a better location. What better location than beautiful Cross Lake?"

With the backdrop of Cross Lake's natural beauty and the heritage of his ancestors' traditional recipes, Chapman is looking to keep those traditions alive. "What's next for us? Just to continue the legacy is tough in itself. We've got some big shoes to fill. Even though we're standing on sturdy and strong shoulders of our ancestors, it's just making sure that we continue to give the Shreveport-Bossier area the best that we can. To show the world that north Louisiana is the other side of Louisiana and, pretty much, the best side of Louisiana, if you ask me."

Asked how he'd describe Orlandeaux's to someone who was new to the area, Chapman had a quick answer: "It's Southern hospitality. It's marked within a lot of different ethnicities. It's very cultural, the Louisiana way, man."

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