Barbecue, New Orleans-style

Barbecue, New Orleans-style
July 26, 2009

It started with two LSU roommates talking about how they’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 — 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 didn’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 “Big Six” international accounting firm, KPMG, while Arvanetes worked at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Orlando, Fla.

Arvantes grew up in the restaurant business — his late father, from Greece, was a chef in Las Vegas and his mother worked at Harrah’s in Vegas and for a cruise line in Miami.

After five years, the former roommates felt they were ready to open a business.
“We felt we had a great foundation for a business,” said Avila. “We had had a chance to see good business practices at work. But we looked at several industries; we weren’t necessarily going into the restaurant business.”

But finally they decided to open a barbecue restaurant, bringing in a chef from Ruth’s Chris in Orlando — 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 city’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, “Why barbecue in New Orleans?”

“We were told that people in New Orleans didn’t like barbecue,” Avila said. “Silliest thing I ever heard. Go down any street on a weekend, and they’re barbecuing in the back yard.

“We just had to give the attention to barbecue that they give to other foods here. In New Orleans you’ve got to be good — there are no second chances,” he said.
“We selected barbecue because there isn’t a national barbecue brand — 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.”

Avila said he and his partners — Arvanetes, and Stephen Gill of Baton Rouge — sought to develop a New Orleans-style barbecue.
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