Home-Cooked Cajun

The Henry family makes customers feel like they're a part of the family.

Home-Cooked Cajun

April 2024   minute read

By: Al Hebert

When you walk into Henry’s Travel Plaza in Lacassine, Louisiana, you might notice that it has a large footprint, but it feels a bit like home. You might also hear bells. No, it’s not angels, but pretty close. It’s the cashier ringing the bell and yelling the names of regular customers.

If you’re roadtripping through south Louisiana on I-10, take exit 48 for the food, the fun and the family feeling.

Kendal and Brandon Henry own the travel plaza, which opened in 2020. “They traveled a lot. They wanted a place where families can feel safe when they stop. They wanted Louisiana items, clean restrooms and great food available to travelers,” general manager Marlee Henry explained. Marlee is the owner’s niece.

“We are a full-on family operation,” Marlee said. “My sister, Corren, is the chef. My parents worked and she learned to cook for us. The Henrys are a farming and ranching family. Rice and gravy, pork chops are things people want to eat. With us not having a smoke house, we get creative with a bunch of different products. [Corren] has done a good job of creating really good food. She’s good at catering to the customers.”

In January, the retailer decided to change the way it does food. “We switched to Cajun food. Our travelers want Cajun food and we felt we were missing the mark,” she said.

Cashier Gabby Degeyter makes regulars “feel welcome and loved.”

Bowls and Burritos

If the food here feels like home, it’s because menu items come right from the Henry family table. It starts with breakfast. “The Camp Bowl is bacon, egg and rice or sausage, egg and rice,” Marlee said. The bowls originated during family hunting trips. “We also do smoked sausage on Texas toast,” Marlee said.

“Our burritos are the most popular breakfast item. When we first started selling them, we sold 320 burritos in five days. We put smoked sausage, eggs, cheese and potato wedges,” Marlee said. Another version uses bacon instead of sausage. “We have a lot of construction guys around here and they love it. It’s easy to eat on the go and it’s filling,” Marlee said.

‘Sweet and Heat’

Foodservice operators have to come up with great menu items. More importantly, customers have to love them.

“Our baked barbecue chicken sells out each time. The chicken is seasoned and marinated for two or three days before we sear it on our grill. Then, we put it in pans and layer it and cover it with our pepper jelly barbecue sauce. We bake it for about an hour or two. As it bakes, the flavor is infused throughout the chicken. Right before it’s served, we baste it one more time and serve it with homemade mac and cheese, baked beans and a garlic roll,” Marlee said, adding, “Our first week we sold 86 chickens before noon. Next week we had 96, and we sold out before noon.”

Some people may not be familiar with pepper jelly. It seems to be everywhere in Cajun country. It’s basically jelly combined with peppers and sugar. It is the sweet and heat that is so popular in this part of the world.

Meatball stew is a customer favorite. It’s one of those items that is hard to find outside of Louisiana. It’s made with homemade Cajun meatballs. They are browned and cooked in a thick, brown gravy.

Marlee wasn’t sure about its success in the beginning. “When Corren put it on the menu, I wondered if people would like it. People buy family pans of it. We sell out on meatball stew.”

Sides Worth Noting

Coming up with sides that complement a great entree is important. Some sides just have to be created in-house. “Our homemade mac and cheese is made in-house. So are our baked beans. People love the rolls. They are basic garlic rolls,” said Marlee.

There seems to be something special about chicken salad. Travelers like it because, if it’s good, it takes you home for a minute. Here, it’s very good.

“We just started making our own chicken salad and we can’t keep it in stock. When we are out, customers hound the cashiers wanting to know when we’re making more. It’s our spice that sets it apart. My sister created an all-purpose blend of spices. It’s not too spicy. It’s seasoned well,” Marlee said, adding, “When you’re traveling, it’s not going to weigh you down.”

There is something unique about the way it’s made. The chicken is seasoned with Corren’s special blend of spices and marinates for a couple of days. The magic might be that the chicken is not boiled, it’s grilled.

Giving Back and Managing With a Heart

When you talk to Marlee, you understand that this family feels blessed with the success it has experienced. Giving back is important. The family makes sure the community understands their gratitude.

“We’re local, so we have a lot of local support. Each December, we do an outreach program and adopt families. We get them gifts. We wanted to add to the community. We like to do a lot of things like that throughout the year to show our appreciation,” Marlee said.

“We also host a farmers markets during the summer. We charge for booths. We’ve taken that money and started a scholarship. We employ students. They write an essay, and we award the winner scholarship money,” Marlee said.

A Sense of Fun

“We are a full-on family operation.”

About that bell: One of the cashiers, Gabby Degeyter, rings the bell. “It makes you feel welcome and loved. Any time one of her regulars comes in she’ll ring the cowbell and yell your name. If you’re a regular and you don’t acknowledge her, she will ring the bell and yell at you,” Marlee said. “People will say they were having a bad day and the crazy woman with the cowbell rang it and yelled and made their day.”

Marlee said, “We just hope to continue to grow. This industry is ever-changing, and we will adapt to what’s to come. I don’t think we will become a franchise. We like to do one thing and do it well and keep that family, faith-based community feel.”

Al Hebert

Al Hebert

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at www.GasStationGourmet.com.

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