It won’t be long before Beignets and Po’ Boys will be cooking in Camden.
Doug Herbert and his wife, Diana, are opening Frenchy’s, Camden’s first Cajun restaurant.
For the Heberts, the restaurant is a long-time dream. It became a reality sooner than anticipated when Hebert, retired after 21 years in the Air Force and working with a company in Bishopville, was laid off from his job.
“It wasn’t anything personal -- it’s just the economy of that business,” Hebert said. “And I know I can find another job in manufacturing and take care of my family and be happy. But we both realized that it was now or never and if we didn’t give this a try, we would always wonder what might have been.”
The Heberts, who currently live in Dalzell, said they both fell in love with Camden the first time they ever visited and often thought of opening a business here.
But there’s more to the dream than just making a living, or even bringing a taste of the Bayou to the land of horses and history. For Hebert, especially, opening Frenchy’s is not only a way to share something he loves with others. It’s a tribute to his father, a spiritual reconnection with his heritage and a way to showcase that connection as a true reflection of the heart, soul and strength of America, he said.
“Cajun is not just food, Cajun is people,” he said. “One of my goals is not only to serve really good food but to show that they are a people. Like many, they went through hard times they had to overcome, and they did. It’s one more special thing about this country.”
Hebert also notes Cajun and Creole cuisines are sometimes confused.
“Cajun food is of the land,” he said. “It’s more about making use of what you have. It’s not as spicy as Creole, which has a lot of Spanish and West Indian influences.”
Hebert is descended from French-Canadians who left the Acadian region of Canada in the late 18th and early 19th century for the promise of a new life in then Spanish Louisiana. He grew up along Bayou Teche in New Iberia Parish, La., speaking English and French. His father, who grew up “so far in the Bayou they had to pipe sunlight to the house,” spoke no English until he was about 10 years old, when the state of Louisiana mandated all children speak English in public schools. Hebert’s grandmother spoke no English at all.
“The state’s idea was good but they went about it the wrong way,” he said. “My father was actually whipped for speaking French at school.”
Hebert’s grandmother, while insisting on good behavior and best efforts from her children, went to the school and had some choice words -- in French -- with that teacher, he said.
Hebert’s father left home at 11, eventually learning English, finishing school and joining the U.S. Air Force, where he picked up the nickname “Frenchy.” The name of the restaurant is a nod to him, Hebert said.
“Being bi-lingual was a major advantage for my father,” Hebert said. “He worked in the motor pool, but he always said when he saw the command jeep coming, he knew they didn’t need him to fix it.”
Hebert’s father was severely wounded in a mortar attack while serving in the Vietnam War.
“He was hit pretty badly -- they re-trained him as a chef,” Hebert said. “Later, when he got out, he opened several restaurants -- he did pretty well with them, too.”
Hanging on the wall in front of Frenchy’s cash register is a picture of Hebert’s parents in a restaurant they owned in Tennessee, a place they called La Petite Louisiane. Hebert first started learning about the business working with his father in that restaurant, he said.
But Hebert realized he wasn’t quite ready to settle into the business. Like his father, he wanted to see the world and, like his father, joined the Air Force. He still helped out in the restaurant, though, whenever he was home and cherishes and draws strength from those memories.
Hebert said his father got up very early every morning so he could bake the breads fresh and prep everything for the day; the man would put in a 13- to 15-hour day nearly every day of the week.
One morning, Hebert was home on leave and was going to go help his father at the restaurant. The first thing he realized was his father had awakened even earlier than usual so he could make his son breakfast before they left. But as Doug was walking to the kitchen he happened to see his father in another room struggling to put on a compression sock. The man, in chronic and excruciating pain, would wear this under his clothes to help his circulation and ease his pain, Hebert said.
His father never saw him. But that moment truly defined courage and character for him, Hebert said.
“He never complained about anything, even though he was in poor health and chronic pain; he just did his thing and did it well and always with a smile on his face,” Hebert said. “Here I am, I’ve got my health -- if he could do what he did, in excruciating pain, every day, and not only be successful but find joy in it, I sure can do it.”
Frenchy’s, 951 Broad St., will be open for breakfast and lunch serving classic Cajun and South Louisiana favorites such as fresh beignets, Po’ Boys, gumbos, crawfish etouffee, and boudin balls.
“We’re going to keep it simple at first and see where it goes,” Hebert said. “We want to be another great option in a pool of great restaurants already here. We’re looking forward to getting to know the community and hope everyone will stop by.”
For more information about Frenchy’s, call (803) 572-5292.