Barbecue, New Orleans-style
Barbecue, New Orleans-style
July 26, 2009
By SMILEY ANDERS
It started with two LSU roommates talking about how theyâ€™d like to go into business together some day after they graduated.
Today the result of that dreaming is a restaurant chain featuring an unlikely type of Louisiana cuisine â€” barbecue.
Their VooDoo BBQ & Grill, which opened in New Orleans in 2002 and is headquartered in Baton Rouge with $10 million in annual sales, has seven restaurants in south Louisiana, with more franchises opening soon and even more in the works.
Tony Avila, an accounting major, and Dino Arvanetes, majoring in business, knew they wanted to be partners, but didnâ€™t know in what field. And they knew they had to get some experience in the real world before they launched a business of their own.
Avila, a New Orleans native whose mother is Cuban and his father Honduran, got his CPA and joined a â€œBig Sixâ€ international accounting firm, KPMG, while Arvanetes worked at Ruthâ€™s Chris Steak House in Orlando, Fla.
Arvantes grew up in the restaurant business â€” his late father, from Greece, was a chef in Las Vegas and his mother worked at Harrahâ€™s in Vegas and for a cruise line in Miami.
After five years, the former roommates felt they were ready to open a business.
â€œWe felt we had a great foundation for a business,â€ said Avila. â€œWe had had a chance to see good business practices at work. But we looked at several industries; we werenâ€™t necessarily going into the restaurant business.â€
But finally they decided to open a barbecue restaurant, bringing in a chef from Ruthâ€™s Chris in Orlando â€” Angel Lombrage, a native of Haiti who grew up in Miami.
They believed that a New Orleans-themed barbecue restaurant would fill a niche in the cityâ€™s restaurant landscape.
But when the first VooDoo BBQ opened in New Orleans on Mardi Gras 2002 on St. Charles Avenue near Lee Circle, the first question the owners got was, â€œWhy barbecue in New Orleans?â€
â€œWe were told that people in New Orleans didnâ€™t like barbecue,â€ Avila said. â€œSilliest thing I ever heard. Go down any street on a weekend, and theyâ€™re barbecuing in the back yard.
â€œWe just had to give the attention to barbecue that they give to other foods here. In New Orleans youâ€™ve got to be good â€” there are no second chances,â€ he said.
â€œWe selected barbecue because there isnâ€™t a national barbecue brand â€” there are regional, but not national, chains. The biggest barbecue chains have 200 or so restaurants, while the national burger chains have thousands. Our dream is to go national.â€
Avila said he and his partners â€” Arvanetes, and Stephen Gill of Baton Rouge â€” sought to develop a New Orleans-style barbecue.