Cajun rages back on a different side of its old street
After seven years the South Bay's first Cajun restaurant is back where it started.
The sound of Cajun music can be heard on Pier Avenue again, but it’s coming from the other side of the street. After seven years in two different locations, Stephen Domingue has reopened the Original Ragin’ Cajun on the same block where he started.
Domingue left Louisiana in 1988 and got a job as the parts manager for a car dealership while cooking on the side. He opened the first Cajun restaurant in the South Bay in 1992, but had to move in 2011 after his landlord refused to extend his lease.
Domingue bought a mobile kitchen and became a Food Network celebrity after appearances in “The Great Food Truck Race.” Now, after stints of serving from Suzy’s in Hermosa and a partnership in Redondo Beach, Stephen is back where he started. He says he is consciously recreating the food and environment of the first location.
“I’m trying to make everything just the way it was when I had it across the street. I started out putting the best of the best on the menu, and that’s what I want to do here.”
He has been successful. The gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, smothered pork chop, and other staples have the spicy kick that made Western Louisiana famous. The décor is the same too. Some of the memorabilia on the walls have traveled with him through each location.
Stephen hands out samples with abandon, a practice he continued even when he was serving from his mobile kitchen.
“I run the food truck the way I run my restaurant, I’m mister customer satisfaction. I get out and give tastes to everybody, and once I do that truck is a magnet. They come right back for more.”
When Domingue is running that food truck, which he still does most days, his sister Jeannine keeps the restaurant rolling. She was in high school when the original place opened, but came out from the family home near Opelousas in 1995. Besides her management duties, she is known for her homemade pies, which she also sells to other restaurants.
Like everything else, that pie is a Domingue family recipe, and one member of the family is on both Stephen and Jeannine’s mind. Their mother Mary flew out frequently and bossed the staff like a pro, making sure everything was made like she did it at home. Mary had a brain aneurysm in March and was near death, and Domingue flew back for a visit that was all about saying goodbye.
“I told her to look down on me when she was upstairs… the next day she made a complete turnaround. She’s clear headed and has her memory, and is relearning how to walk. When she’s got her strength back she’s going to fly out to see the new place.”
Mary Domingue will no doubt approve of the new location precisely because it is so hard to tell from the old one. In the tight Hermosa restaurant market it’s almost another miracle that Domingue was able to find it. In fact he says he didn’t, it found him.
“A guy that who ate at my restaurant for 20 years called me up and said hey call this landlord, he wants to lease the place out to you. I had said to myself a hundred times that I was going to wait and wait until I found the right location. I said to myself, it’s gonna come, and it did. Seven years later, here it is and here I am.” ER
by Richard Foss