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30 Years & Counting for Blind Tiger

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Iconic restaurant evolves into go-to downtown dining spot

There are places people who’ve been in Shreveport for a while remember fondly. Shreve Square. Nanking’s restaurant. The Florentine. These are the businesses in which wild plans were hatched, friendships began, drunken ideas were debated long into the night, and memories were made. Those places are gone, but over the years, others have taken their place.

In the 1980s, TGI Friday’s and later, Chelsea’s, was one of the eateries of choice in Shreve Square, and, in 1987, a young Glenn Brannan worked there as a waiter and bartender. Glenn and a fellow named Rick Sloan had crossed paths along the way at several Shreveport-area restaurants.

They both worked at Faces, the restaurant on Youree Drive that is now Imperial Cathay; they went into business together with Fox and Hounds, the restaurant that pre-dated Olive Street Bistro in Highland. They worked together at the now-defunct Cambridge Club on Fairfield Avenue.

“I started in the restaurant business at 15 and never really did anything else,” says Rick. “I started at 14,” Glenn chimes in. Working in restaurants may not have been in their blood, but they were certainly gaining a lot of experience.

By 1992, with urging from Glenn, a Shreveporter named Joey Kent decided to buy the shuttered Chelsea’s at 120 Texas St. Glenn was ecstatic and immediately called Rick. The two friends, then 24 and 27, joined forces again with Rick taking over the handling of the menu and kitchen and Glenn, the front of house and bar, and Blind Tiger was born.

Their early menu, Rick says, “was all over the place. We wanted to do pasta, we wanted to do Cajun, and we wanted to do Mexican.”

“Opening day,” Rick says, “was a disaster. It took too long to get food out, and then we ran out of food!”

“Yeah, we knew everything there was to know about the restaurant business,” Glenn laughs with a wink. “At least we thought we did. We certainly made an impression.”

The two chuckle at the memory of their first and truly terrible day. “The funny thing is that some of our friends couldn’t wait to say, ‘Told you so!’”

Rick and Glenn were not about to let that opening define them and funneled all their energy into making Blind Tiger a success. “We were tenacious,” Glenn says, remembering that he and Rick existed on about four hours of sleep per night.

Over time, Blind Tiger became a goto meal spot for downtown workers and visitors to the city. Customers enjoyed Blind Tiger’s shift to Louisiana-themed menu offerings and the hugely popular Cajun Sampler, a big plate that starts with gumbo and features blackened catfish, fried craw-tails, shrimp etouffee, meat pies, Cajun fried corn and jambalaya, was a huge seller. Their karaoke nights were becoming legend, and the restaurant was packed.

Then came Streetscape. In 1993, the city launched a program to improve downtown sidewalks and infrastructure, which meant demolishing existing sidewalks until the new ones could be installed. For months, people coming to the restaurant had to walk on planks over mud to get there.

“We survived that,” says Glenn, and over their 30 years in business, they have survived other challenges, too: The changing face of downtown as businesses moved to the suburbs, the seemingly frequent car crashes on their doorstep, and most recently, both the Covid pandemic that shut all restaurants down, changed their business models and then wrung them inside out and the months-long work on the Texas Street bridge. “We’re pretty good at dealing with challenges,” says Glenn.

Over the years, the Blind Tiger has found its niche. They have concentrated on Cajun and Louisiana specialties and basics, like big burgers, done right and fast. Their waitstaff is consistent, fast and the perfect combination of helpful and friendly, without being overly so.

They have dialed in the look of their iconic plastic “go” cups, which are given for free as soft advertising, approximately 900,000 so far. The cups not only occupy office desks throughout downtown; they have been spotted as far away as Illinois. Glenn remembers seeing one of their colorful Blind Tiger shirts in Germany.

The Blind Tiger is now one of those places that people remember. While I sat talking to Rick and Glenn one recent afternoon after the lunch rush, Jeff Douzat walked up to thank them. It was here, Jeff said, that he and wife Amy had their first date. Jeff and Amy had driven to Shreveport from Lake Charles to celebrate their fifth anniversary in the place it had all started, and yes, Jeff was celebrating with a Cajun Sampler.

Rick and Glenn now own the Blind Tiger and are there almost every day. They know that being in the store, and being handson, means the quality will be consistent.

It is not unusual to see Glenn greeting, seating and helping waitstaff when things get busy. It is his “baby,” and babies can’t be ignored.

When they opened in May of 1992, neither Rick nor Glenn could imagine 30 years hence, but here they are. Still popular. Still serving up great meals and drinks, still selling T-shirts and making memories. “I still love my job,” says Glenn, with a smile. “If you love your job, you never have to work a day in your life.”

Bravo, Blind Tiger. Here’s to 30 years more.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BLIND TIGER

Where did the name Blind Tiger come from? The Blind Tiger menu tells the story. During Prohibition, when liquor was illegal, speakeasies would “advertise” by putting a stuffed animal, often a tiger, in a window. Even after Prohibition, if you were caught selling booze without a license, your business was called a “Blind Tiger.” Rick and Glenn loved the name and the logo of the Blind Tiger playing piano drawn up for them by a friend.

Will they ever bring back some of their menu favorites? Rick and Glenn are often asked if they will ever bring back steak, po-boys or onion rings. “No,” they say. They have dialed in their menu now, and it works, but the onion rings are an interesting story. Their homemade, handbattered rings were labor intensive but hugely popular. However, they couldn’t keep them consistent. The rings need a certain fryer temperature, easy in the early part of lunch, impossible as more things were fried, so the rings fried early in the day would be crispy and delicious, the ones fried later, soggy and disappointing. Not wanting to disappoint customers, they removed the rings from the menu.

Do they want bollards in front of their restaurant? Yes! Cars tend to speed going north and south and east and west, and vehicles have ended up in the building. Glenn is working with the DDA, the city of Shreveport and the DOTD to install some protection for pedestrians and others on the northeast corner of Spring and Texas streets.

The numbers tell the ‘tail.’

• 4,000,000+ Shrimp Served

• 2,000,000+ Catfish Filets

• 135,000+ Gallons of Gumbo

• 70,000+ Gallons of Red Beans

• 1,000,000+ Pieces of Cornbread

• 400,000+ 16 oz. Specialty Mason Jar Drinks

• 45,000+ Bread Puddings

• 40,000+ T-shirts

Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at liz@downtownshreveport.com

June 7, 2017, issue of The Forum News Go to: bit.ly/3xG2uJZ

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