If you’re roadtripping through America you’ll find that some of the most interesting convenience stores are in the smallest of towns. Hebert’s Mini Mart is tucked away in Lydia, Louisiana, a town of around 1,000 residents.
Owner L’ree Gates Hebert explained that despite the small size of Lydia, there is a lot happening in the area. She listed the names of many nearby cane farms, salt mines, machine shops and ports.
All those workers need a place to eat. “We do biscuits. We stuff them with sausage, bacon, ham and eggs. I crack over 100 eggs every morning. We do 120 biscuits each morning,” she said.
The community support is evidenced by the never-ending line later in the day. An hour after what might be considered the lunch rush, there are people waiting for fried chicken, pork chops and Cajun fare, including jambalaya.
L’ree’s husband, Jonathan, was raised in the c-store business. The couple took over the family store in 2001. Hebert’s Mini Mart keeps things simple, and customers love it.
Consistent Chicken Salad
Customers consider Hebert’s Mini Mart a chicken salad destination.
Hebert knows what makes her chicken salad special. “I really think it’s the chicken we use. We’re a Krispy Krunchy store. We’ve been Krispy Krunchy almost since the beginning. The tenders are marinated with their seasoning. It’s what makes the chicken tenders so good. Because they’re marinated, that flavor profile shows up in our chicken salad.”
“The chicken salad is sold by the pound or you can get a premade sandwich. We just had a group of people going to the beach stop in and buy it so they can make sandwiches. Every time we’re invited to a party, we’re asked if we’re bringing chicken salad,” she said, adding, “consistency and simplicity make our food what it is. We don’t try to overdo things. If you eat chicken salad from us today and you eat it a year from now, it’s going to be the same.”
A new item on the menu is the muffaletta, a sandwich that is both all Italian and all New Orleans. The famous sandwich originated in 1906 at the Central Grocery in the French Market. There are a lot of different spins on it, but one thing is always the same, the bread. It’s a large, round spongy loaf that measures about ten inches across.
Hebert has a passion for the sandwich. After discussing it for a few years, the couple decided to add it to the menu and see if customers would like it. “We found a really good bread. Once you find a good bread, that is the start.”
“I’m a muffaletta fan. I prefer mine cold, but I wanted to be able to serve it every way. We already had ham for sandwiches, wraps and salads. We slice everything ourselves. We needed to bring in salami, we already had the cheeses. We tasted an olive spread and found one we liked. The kicker on ours is that we put a little bit of spicy mustard on it. This keeps it moist. It makes it not quite as dry as some others,” she explained.
A Local Definition of ‘Chili Dog’
On an average day the store sells about 60 hamburgers. When it ran a special, a burger and fries for $5, that number climbed to 90.
“We’ve been doing monthly specials,” L’ree said. “This month, it’s a $3 hot dog. We try to give back to the community. They enjoy the specials. People like being told what to eat. The specials help them decide,” she said.
The chili dogs are popular, and there’s a reason: homemade chili. Jonathon found the perfect recipe, but it wasn’t easy. He explained that it “was a week-long process. I made a five-pound chili. Everybody I knew ate the chili. Then I made another batch and people would say what they liked. I kept making chili until they got tired of eating it.”
This area of the Bayou State likes its hot dogs with chili on top. The Heberts make 40 pounds of chili each week to keep up with demand. But if you’re going to order a chili dog, you have to know what you’re doing. “With us, a hot dog comes with the wiener and the chili. A chili dog comes with just chili on the bun. Most people want the hot dog with the wiener and the chili,” L’ree explained.
If you have a c-store in this part of the country, you might want to offer more than food and snacks. Bait, tackle, ammo and even guns are big sellers.
“Early on, the bait and tackle was more of a focus than the food. There is a lot of fishing going on at Cypremort Point. We sell frozen shrimp for bait. The fishermen like the frozen shrimp and they know what they’re gonna get when they come in. Again, it’s consistent,” she said.
L’ree said, “We’ve been hunting together since we’ve been married. We got into precision long-range shooting.” The couple figured that since they had a store already, they should obtain a license to sell firearms.
It’s taken off. “I was surprised how many people were interested in talking about firearms. They want to learn. They have younger kids, and they want to start them off with something. It’s a fun sport with a lot involved. People don’t always want to go into a big-box store. They can sit down talk,” she said.