Meet the man behind the flavor of popular riverfront cafe
Smokey Joe’s Cafe in Sam’s Town Casino has redesigned their entire menu to bring the best of our region to one’s plate.
“The goal and concept around the menu was regional comfort food. [In Shreveport- Bossier City], we are kind of stuck between the Texas style and the South Louisiana style. This area is unique in that the food is a combination of both, which is the inspiration for the menu at Smokey Joe’s,” said Peter Mavraides, director of food and beverage for Sam’s Town Casino. “You get a little bit of everything that people like to eat in this area. We take the two types of culinary styles and put them together.”
Smokey Joe’s Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and boasts a late night menu as well. When Mavraides joined the staff in January, he gave head chef Jessie Hatchet the chance to design a menu he thought would be enticing.
“When I came here, the menu was very eclectic and didn’t really have any focus. What happened was that I started talking to Jessie, and he had all these great ideas; he’s so passionate. So rather than dictate a menu to him, which is kind of the way a lot of the other casinos run, I said, ‘Jessie, why don’t you create something?’ He was unleashed,” Mavraides said.
Hatchet has been at Sam’s Town since 2010, and when he was given the chance, he let his creativity shine.
“We completely redesigned the menu from breakfast to dinner. We added a lot of breakfast sandwiches. People are on the go in the morning, so they want something that is nice and quick,” Hatchet said. “We kept some things, but we added a lot to fit with that regional cuisine idea. There’s something on the menu for everyone. If you’re looking for comfort food, it’s on there. If you’re looking to have a good experience with your significant other, you can find it here. Whatever you want, we can cater to your needs.”
For Hatchet, creating food at Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a labor of love. “There’s something different every day. It’s great meeting new people and seeing them enjoy the food that you created,” he said.
If you’re looking for something with a delicious smoked flavor, Smokey Joe’s has 12 items on the menu that are smoked in house for more than 12 hours. “My favorite item is the cold smoked ribeye [BBQ Texas Longhorn Rib Eye]. We infuse the prime with that smoke and then cut it down to a 14-ounce serving,” Hatchet said. It is then cooked to specifications and served with Hatchet’s own BBQ sauce. The signature appetizer at Smokey Joe’s Cafe are the Armadillo Eggs, handmade with a jalapeno stuffed with smoked pork shoulder and cheddar cheese, wrapped in bacon and cooked until crispy golden. To satisfy one’s sweet tooth, Hatchet also added the Hot and Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookie Sunday, a hot chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel sauce.
In addition to the menu change, the whole staff at Smokey Joe’s Cafe were also given more freedom in the experience they offer their customers.
“We also took the service and unstructured it to some degree. We gave the waitstaff the ability to use their own personalities. Your experience is going to be different from waitstaff to waitstaff, and the idea is that it’s very comfortable, and you’re coming into our house. We want to make you feel at home, comfortable, be able to eat at your own pace and really have a good time,” Mavraides said.
Nancy Ziolkowski, director of marketing for Sam’s Town Casino, truly believes those personal touches make a difference in the customer experience.
“One of the things you’re see in our restaurants is that our chefs come out of the kitchen and walk around the dining room to make sure that everyone is happy with their meals and get feedback. It’s important for us that we have interaction between the chef and our customers,” Ziolkowski said.
“To our locals, I would say come in and try it because we have that delicious regional cuisine. I may not get to Texas that often, but if I want a good Texas ribeye, I can get it right down the street from me.
“We have very convenient parking; you can park in our covered parking garage, and we have free valet parking right outside the door. It’s a convenient restaurant for anyone wanting to come downtown.”