When Eunice icon Johnson’s Grocery closed in 2005, it was the end of an era for the family-run market which has a legitimate claim to being the first shop to sell boudin.
Arneastor Johnson opened his grocery in 1939 with a small ice-box for milk, which he updated to a refrigerated meat cooler right after World War II. He sold pork and beef locally ranched on the Cajun prairie and cured in the homemade smoke house behind the grocery — and started selling boudin, which at that time was solely a product of family boucheries. Arneastor’s four sons — Wallace, Steven, Matthew and Joe — grew up in the market and became experts in the prairie arts of smoked meat: pure pork sausage, pork sausage with garlic, “mixed” (pork and beef), mixed with garlic, beef sausage, turkey sausage and andouille, ponce (smoked, sausage-stuffed pig stomach,) tasso, bacon, ribs and beef jerky.
While the meat market at the back of the shop was a destination for those familiar with the quality of the Johnson family sausages, the grocery struggled, as mom-and-pop places do, and finally went under, unable to compete with the Wal-Martization of America. “A lot of the customers we built on were friends,” Wallace Johnson told The Independent Weekly three years ago. “A lot of them passed away. Nothing lasts forever.”
Wallace’s daughter, Lori Walls, is making him eat his words. “I really missed the sausage,” she says, standing in the quirky aluminum-clad building at 1111 St. John St. that was built by her contractor husband, Greg Walls. Johnson’s Boucaniere (Acadian French for smokehouse), an homage to her father, opened a few weeks ago. Located right down the street from St. John’s Cathedral, Lori is smoking her own prairie-style sausages, tassos and jerky in the heart of downtown Lafayette. She worked on her recipes while her husband built the small shop. Her uncle Matthew helped with seasoning, and Wallace taught her how to stuff sausage. “When I make sausage at the house,” Lori says, “my dad’s there every time.”
The smokehouse at Johnson’s Boucaniere is a far cry from the small smoke shed behind Johnson’s Grocery. Up in Eunice, the smokehouse Arneastor Johnson built was a closet-sized cinder block affair. Wooden dowels smoked to a charred black from years of use were draped with ropes of sausage. Oak fires were lit in a little metal pan on the dirt floor, the door was sealed, and the meat smoked for hours. On a clear day with little humidity, the smoked meat came out deep, succulent red. Customers came for some sausage for their beans or sauce piquant and usually left with a link of Johnson’s signature boudin, a warm baked sweet potato from the basket near the register, and if they were lucky, a cup of the hand-dripped strong coffee the Johnson brothers drank in the morning.
Lori has tripled the size of the smoking operation here in Lafayette. Her smokehouse has four compartments, each with its own metal firebox and sealed with a shiny stainless steel door. But she’s still burning oak, as her family did. Up front, the floors and counters gleam with a modern sheen, but an old pie safe her great grandfather built to hold the family’s food in the days before refrigeration graces a corner. Another familiar sight is the grocery’s wooden vegetable bin, worn smooth by the daily touch of hundreds of hands, which holds another Louisiana tradition, Zapp’s chips, to go along with the daily offering.
Lori’s generation has had to learn a new business model in order to keep the old smokehouse traditions alive; she’s serving lunch. Sausage po-boys, pulled pork sandwiches and a daily plate lunch special are the newest addition to the downtown noontime scene. The red beans and rice — made with her own sausage, of course — are superb, and she’s planning a sausage and tasso sauce piquante po-boy. Fridays feature meatballs and spaghetti, made from her own fresh garlic sausage recipe.
Wallace Johnson is a modest man, and it’s hard to get him talking about himself. So when he praises his daughter, it means a lot. “I’m very proud of her,” he says.
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.