Gas Station Gourmet
The Corner Grocery
Above: The Corner Grocery has served Loreauville, Louisiana, for decades.
If you’re road-tripping through south Louisiana’s sugar-cane country, you’ll find a little town, kind of an oasis, nestled in the lush green cane fields. It’s called Loreauville, and the main attraction is a convenience store that has a lot happening inside.
The Corner Grocery, as the store is called, was owned and operated by Roxie and Robert Guillotte for decades. When Robert passed away in 2019, the kids took over the store. Siblings Mandi Pooler and Chad Guillotte each had their own careers as business owners, but the store had to stay open.
“My brother was a hot-shot driver at the time, and I published the Town Planner Community Calendar,” said Mandi Pooler, co-owner. “He’s still in the trucking business, and I still publish the Town Planner, and we both help out here. His wife, Hallie Guillotte, handles the day-to-day operation,” Pooler explained.
When you walk into The Corner Grocery, you’ll find a hub of activity. This is a town with a population of only 700. It might be hard to reconcile the census data with the amount of people in line. You’ll see two registers going with people waiting at each one. It makes sense when you take in the eclectic inventory. There is something for everyone.
Customers can find everything from live worms to cookware to deer corn and beauty supplies. This is what convenience is all about.
ENTICING FOOD FAVORITES
The food at The Corner Grocery is a big draw. Customers can come in Monday through Friday and enjoy food like any Loreauville grandma would make. It’s one of the few places where plate lunch specials are priced under $9.
“My favorite is our chicken stew with white beans. It’s the Wednesday special. Spaghetti is the most popular plate lunch. We sell out of that,” said Pooler. “We do plate lunch five days a week, and we barbecue on Sunday,” Pooler said, adding, “We’ve been doing barbecue for over 20 years. People line up here starting at 10:30 a.m., and we run out every week.”
Customers have a lot of choices. They can choose from chicken, pork steak, brisket, rib eye steaks or sausage. There are plenty of sides like potato salad, beans and rice dressing.
Rice dressing? This is a South Louisiana favorite from New Orleans to the Sabine River.
“It’s often called dirty rice or Cajun rice. The rice turns a bit brown as it absorbs the juices from a variety of meat, mostly pork and beef,” Pooler explained.
And then there are the chili dogs— The Loreauville Way—some of the best around. Made from an old family recipe, the chili is so good that when ordering, the foodservice folks ask customers: “Do you want the hot dog on it or just the chili?”
A chili dog without the dog?
“It’s a Loreauville thing,” Pooler said. “A lot of customers just want the chili on the bun, and that’s it.” The dish is so popular that customers can buy it frozen so they can stock up to enjoy it at home.
One of the benefits of operating in a small town is that c-stores can easily corner the market on some things.
“We sell a lot of pizza because we’re the only place in town that sells pizza. Our pizzas are really good. We sell Hunt Brothers by the slice, and some people call ahead and order whole pizzas. We also do breakfast pizzas along with other breakfast items. The breakfast pizzas are probably the most popular breakfast item,” said Pooler.
In this part of the world locals and road trippers want authentic Cajun staples like boudin, cracklins and hog head cheese. If you’ve not spent time in south Louisiana, then these delicacies need some explanation.
Boudin is a mix of pork, rice, onions and peppers cooked with Cajun spices and stuffed into a sausage casing. It’s not an exaggeration to say almost everyone in Louisiana makes boudin. Fresh is important, so it’s made here daily.
The Corner Grocery offers something extra when it comes to this—crawfish boudin. It’s made the same way as traditional boudin, but the pork is replaced with crawfish.
Cracklins are also known by the Cajun French name grattons. Pork bellies are cut into pieces and fried in hog lard until they are crispy and golden brown. They are spicy and wildly popular. Healthy? No, but if a c-store does them well, that store can become a cracklin’ destination. The Corner Grocery is one of those destinations.
Hog head cheese is not quite as it sounds, at least in modern times. It’s a mixture of pork, onions, bell peppers and spices combined and formed into a gelatinous block. It’s great on sandwiches and crackers.
No matter how large or small the store, a social media presence is important. Prior to the pandemic, The Corner Grocery’s social media presence was minimal.
“During COVID, I came in and started working the page. I said, ‘let’s post a picture of the plate lunch every day at 10:30.’ We noticed if we didn’t post a picture, sales might not be as good. During the pandemic we’d post pictures of hard-to-get items, and immediately you’d see people walking in the doors,” Pooler shared.
Customers can find the typical c-store merchandise here and more. Unlike urban counterparts, The Corner Grocery stocks things you can’t find in just any store.
“We sell worms. During COVID, we couldn’t keep worms. Everyone was fishing during the pandemic. We also have a lot of fishing supplies. People stop here before going to Lake Dauterive about three miles away. We also sell ammunition and deer corn for hunters, as well as hunting and fishing licenses,” Pooler said.
The c-store recently added protein snacks since “bike riding groups stop in often and stock up on those items,” Pooler said, and “not many places around us sell those. This is sugar-cane country.
A lot of sugar-cane farmers stop by and stock up on the snacks. My brother cycles, and he eats those as well.”
The Corner Grocery is one of those stores that is always there in good times and not so good ones. “We have a generator for the store. So, when hurricanes come and the power is out, we can still cook,” she said adding, “After one hurricane we had lines all the way down the aisles. We were the only place in town where you could get food. We also have an icehouse so people can get ice 24/7.”
Pooler pointed out that “They’re building a new fire station across the street. Things change but very slowly. One thing that doesn’t change is The Corner Grocery.” It’s always here for the folks.