Fans of the Ragin Cajun Restaurant, the Hermosa landmark that closed two years ago, have been waiting for the day that the place would reopen. That day has not yet arrived, but it won’t be long – founder Stephen Domingue has leased the space that used to be the west half of Buona Vita restaurant. It’s almost across the street from his former location, and comparisons are inevitable.
“It won’t be the size of my old restaurant,” Domingue cautioned. “You could get about 40 people in there, I guess. It’s going to be decorated like a roadhouse the way the old place was. We’re going to keep it plain and simple… The menu won’t be quite as big as the other restaurant, but we’ll have our famous dishes back – the gumbolaya and red beans and rice, the étouffée.”
Domingue maintained and even expanded his customer base during the last two years thanks to his food truck, which was featured on Food Network TV shows and has catered some high-profile events. Though it wasn’t his first choice of food service, Domingue likes using the truck as a rolling ambassador of Cajun food, and he’s not giving it up.
“I’ll be at the restaurant a couple of nights a week, on the road with the food truck a couple of nights,” he explained. “It’s a great introduction to what we do, and it will help bring people in.”
The small space at 425 Pier Avenue has housed a number of different establishments, including an Albanian restaurant in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, before becoming part of Buona Vita. That restaurant expanded their main dining room, which will simplify service, so space was available to lease to Domingue. It will be reconfigured for the new restaurant, a process that will take at least six weeks to complete. Even before that, Domingue’s customers will have a chance to celebrate thanks to an event that he has planned with the owners of Suzy’s Bar & Grill on Aviation Boulevard.
“On April 20th I’m taking over Suzy’s and putting the Ragin Cajun in there for the night,” Domingue said. “I’m going to have Lisa Haley and the Zydecats play. I’m gonna be doing this once a month – it’s going to be the Invasion of the Cajun. We’re going to cook the ribeyes, pork chops, beef brisket in the brown gravy, crawfish étouffée, everything to be a big shebang.”
Domingue has other long-term plans, including opening a Cajun dance hall outside the South Bay, but for now he is happy to get back to the neighborhood where he first started in the restaurant business.
“Hermosa is where I started, and people from here come a long distance to find me at the food truck. They tell me they want a sit-down place… This opportunity came up and I figured, how closer can you get to home than that? Every time I walk around Hermosa people stop me to ask when I’m gonna open up again, and now I have something to tell them. It’s time; it’s time.”