"You gonna open this up?" Reese Place asks Bryan Bourque, who has stepped to the door to answer the insistent knocking. Bourque's family has run Black's for 37 years.
Bourque shakes his head.
"It's heartbreaking," Place says. "I decided to come out of the woods, and you're still shut."
Black and Rena Bourque opened Black's in a small hole-in-the-wall shop on Rue Pere Megret in 1967. They bought their oysters on Grand Isle, making the drive several times a week to haul in sacks of briny Barataria Bay bivalves. Their son Bryan grew up on the sharp scent of fresh seafood mixed with the sweet popping of cornmeal sizzling in oil as his parents fried their signature catfish. The restaurant quickly became an Acadiana tradition, and crowds lined the sidewalk, huddled in coats and conversation while waiting for tables inside the cozy dive.
Bryan Bourque took over in 1982. Right down the street was Landry's Big Department Store, a handsome two-story brick building. It had once housed a carriage shop before it became a clothing and hardware store. Bourque bought the building in 1988 for $125,000. Every night at 9 p.m., after Black's shut down, he and a friend, Brent dAugeraux, went to work paneling the walls with cypress, refinishing the distinctive cast iron columns and constructing a bar so beautifully conceived that it would become a classic from the day it opened.
The new Black's, 16,000 square feet of restaurant, opened June 4, 1989. "We never had a chef," Bourque says. "We never needed one." The menu was straightforward seafood ' salty raw oysters, fried catfish, shrimp, oysters, softshell crabs, gumbo, Ã©touffÃ©e, french fries and beer. Bourque made the bi-weekly run down to Grand Isle himself and developed a separate wholesale seafood business, Black's Seafood Market. After nearly 20 years, he started to burn out.
"That's when I hired Mike [Frederick]," he says. Frederick, by everyone's account, is a talented chef. He ran his own restaurant, Cane's in Abbeville, and also worked for the late James Graham at Lafayette's, Rosemary Parisi at Parisi's and Ema Haq at Bailey's. "Mike's self-taught," Parisi says. "He's extremely creative."
Frederick put duck kabobs on the menu. He added seafood ProvenÃ§al, prime rib, crab cakes, and expanded the fish offerings beyond catfish to grouper, trout and flounder. "The first year his revenues were up 30 percent," Bourque says.
Part of Bourque's arrangement with Frederick was that the chef had first right of refusal should anyone make an offer to buy Black's. In 2004, a group of investors approached Bourque. He was ready to sell and informed Frederick of the impending deal. "I thought he'd say, 'OK,'" Bourque says. Instead Frederick exercised his option and bought both the business and the building for $1.3 million in August of that year. Bourque kept the wholesale operation.
Hurricane Rita hit in September 2005. "The hurricane knocked out all of his regulars from Delcambre, Henry, Erath, Forked Island, Pecan Island," says Bourque. "There goes duck season. Everybody goes through Abbeville to go to the islands to hunt, and they all stopped at Black's. The oyster beds were closed from September to December. The crawfish were killed by saltwater intrusion."
The lack of cash flow ultimately shut Frederick down. "It's a big building," Bourque says. "You got to keep that building full. You're paying insurance. The electricity is $4,300 a month. Mike struggled. When you don't have the cash flow to meet your payrolls you start cutting back, things start to suffer, it hurts service. And the people [Black's regular customers] didn't have money. They were more concerned about fixing their houses. What are you gonna do, eat oysters or put on a new roof?"
Bourque was selling seafood to Frederick. "When the decline in ordering came, I knew something was up," Bourque says.
Frederick could not be reached for comment for this story.
Abbeville locals had also noticed a change at Black's. CPA Lloyd DorÃ©, whose office is across the street from Black's, says the usually brisk service deteriorated. "I came in with a visitor from France one day, the dining room wasn't full, but no one came to seat us. Finally we got a table, and then we just sat there. We flagged down a guy, he wasn't even a waiter. I think he was one of the cooks. We ordered drinks and some charbroiled oysters. He brought the drinks, went in the kitchen, and I think he made the oysters himself and brought them back out. There wasn't any silverware on the table. He looked in the silverware basket, then came over and apologized and said he'd have to go in the kitchen and wash some."
Attorney Charles Sonnier, with offices on Magdalen Square, had an open account at Black's. "It's where I took customers," he says. "It was a real economic boom for Abbeville. Not only that, I miss it. Mike Frederick is a great chef, but he closed a fine restaurant."
"From what I understand," DorÃ© adds, "Dupuy's sort of misses it, too." Dupuy's is across the street from Black's, and customers who have driven in to Abbeville for oysters find themselves waiting in longer than usual lines there, or down the street at Shucks! "They're inundated," DorÃ© says.
"[Mike] got discouraged and probably a little burnt out, then he stopped coming to work," says Bourque. In late August, Frederick signed the assets back over to Bourque, who relieved him of his debts. The doors closed Sept. 1. Bourque continues to operate the building as a catering facility, and his wholesale seafood business is thriving, delivering to 28 restaurants throughout Acadiana and selling retail from a location in Maurice.
Regarding Black's future, Bourque is interviewing potential buyers. "I'm waiting for the right person to come along," he says. "Someone who has the resources and wants to do it right. I'd like to see the same menu. I'll act as a consultant. I'm sure everybody will give it another chance, and we'll get back to the glory days."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)