PEPPER POPSICLES, OSTRICH FEATHERS AND GOAT’S MILK SOAP
Diversity Is The Big Thing In This Year’s Downtown Development
By Brad Goins
It’s time for Lagniappe’s annual update on new businesses and business developments in downtown Lake Charles. This year, the general drift of development is somewhat different from the norm. As a rule, downtown development is mainly about new eateries. In 2017, we see development that’s much more evenly divided between restaurants, retail shops and services; there’s even an unusual real estate component.
This general direction of development is indicative of a new diversity. Whether this diversity reflects some major new phenomenon in local business or culture, I can’t say. What we can say is that an increased diversity of business should translate into a wider variety of types of consumers coming to the downtown. Let’s turn now to the major areas of downtown business that have seen major changes in the last few months.
POPS AND ROCKETS
104 W. Pujo St. • 978-7677
Mon-Thur 11:30 am-9 pm; Fri-Sat 11:30 am-10 pm; Sun 11:30 am-6 pm
This much-discussed new venue offers a variety of popsicles and ice creams. Some of the flavors are quite exotic and unexpected. There are also seasonal flavors, which are rotated in and out of the menu.
There’s a lot of humor in the names of the products — 99 Red Doubloons, No Cream Compares To You, Raz/DMC, Pop You Like A Hurricane, and my favorite, Marscapone Needs Women (mango and cherry). I’m guessing that last one is giving at least a nod to the great z-movie Mars Needs Women.
Unexpected popsicle flavor combinations here include caramel and sea salt, chocolate and peanut butter, chicory coffee and sweet cream, chocolate and jalapeno (the Mexican Radio), strawberry with cracked pepper, and white chocolate and cashews. Not all these flavors will be on sale when you visit. A large, colorful, descriptive menu behind the counter will quickly get you up to speed on the current selection.
The venue’s pop culture decorations mesh well with the product. Walls are decorated with reproductions of the sides of cassettes of popular New Wave albums. There’s a stand-up Ms. Pac Man game and a sit-down Gallaga game. The hip black plastic space-age bachelor pad seating in the hallway is a small but savvy touch.
The feature many patrons will undoubtedly like the most is the touchscreen Rockbot program that enables customers to pick the song they want to hear played in the venue.
I talked briefly with Reigan Saltzman, who was working behind the counter. To stick with the venue’s focus on all things ‘80s, I’ll report that she just as well as told me, “don’t believe the hype” that all these popsicles are being sold to children, teenagers and young adults. She said all ages are buying the products on a regular basis. Apparently, many multi-generational families see this place as a good destination for a family outing.
She also suggested that I encourage devotees to tag Pops and Rockets on Instagram and Facebook.
329 Broad St. • 337-602-6365
Tues-Thurs 11 am-10 pm;
Fri-Sat 11-2 am
All the original deep red brick of the tall walls is still there. Those walls are adorned by several works of art. Especially appealing to this patron were two large psychedelic canvasses and one psychedelic wall hanging, which I thought was reminiscent of the humorous art of Basil Wolverton.
One could easily miss local artist’s Julaine Piatt’s stencil or painting of Aubrey Hepburn on a small wall in an enclave that’s easy to miss. The charming work is done entirely in black.
Decorations at Sloppy’s include an old Symphonola Juke Box. One of the songs offered to customers when this machine was in use was Louis Jardon’s 1946 hit “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.” There’s also a 1930s National Cash Register that was once used in Goldband Records.
My wife, Nydia, and I picked Sloppy’s as the restaurant where we’d be dining during our downtown walkabout.
The Poblano Fries appetizer is made up of generous slices of poblano peppers fried tempura style. The batter was free of unnecessary oil. In this configuration, the heat level of the poblanos was about that of a raw green pepper. Those who want a higher heat level can use the red pepper emulsion that’s served with the dish. The lack of excess grease and an amount of cooking time that was just right made this a tasty finger food.
The Sloppy’s Poboy will not remind diners of the Darrell’s Special. In spite of the name Sloppy’s, this sandwich isn’t as sloppy as Darrell’s signature dish (not that that criterion has anything to do with the quality of the food).
I noticed other differences from Darrell’s; the large shrimp that are among the Sloppy’s sandwich’s proteins create an entirely different texture. Also, generous slices of jalapeno ensure a good spice level. It’s hard to go wrong with slices of jalapeno that’s hot enough. The shrimp were big and juicy. The sandwich’s tasty remoulade sauce was lagniappe.
Of the dishes I tried, I’d have to go with the Fish Sandwich. The wide toasted bread is in itself quite a treat. The cook gave this sandwich a generous dressing of many shredded vegetables (cabbage, purple onion and red peppers). That gave the sandwich the pronounced vegetable texture that a good sandwich almost has to have. The sandwich’s light sauce (including aji, siracha and soy) had an intriguing spice profile. If you like fish sandwiches, I’m betting you’ll like this.
I’ll mention one final plus of Sloppy’s Downtown: there’s a fine selection of imported beers and microbrew’s.
324 Pujo St. • 436-6251
Tu-Thur 11 am-2 pm; 5-9:30 pm;
Fri 11 am-2 pm; 5-10 pm; Sat 5-10 pm; closed Sunday and Monday
What makes the new venue The Villa most exotic is that it’s quite old. As you may know, The Villa was established in the old Noble Building, which was restored and remodeled in a historically faithful manner. You can see that right away in the beautiful tin ceilings and the occasional irregularities in the plaster walls. The original staircase was retained.
The building supports, the staircase and the rails that run alongside it and above it are all in dark brown wood. While that could make things look dour, in fact, the space looks open and inviting. You can relax here.
Many documents and artifacts from the Noble Building’s long history are displayed in several parts of the restaurant.
Art is minimal (meaning there is no more than is needed to create patterns on the walls). I urge you to go upstairs and look at the small, whimsical painting of a black cat peaking over the bottom of the frame.
The food theme here is, I think, a Cajun twist on Italian food. While I’m not sure how that works, I can vouch for the superlative taste of the food.
Someone recommended I try the oysters appetizers. The fried oysters come with a substantial but creamy cheese sauce. I recommend cutting the oyster in half with a fork and scooping up a generous bit of the sauce with the meat.
This was the best tasting oyster dish I’ve had, and I’ve had plenty. I will warn you that the dish is somewhat small for an oysters appetizer. (The diner gets three oysters.) But, if you have plenty of walking around money, you won’t find a better taste experience.
My favorite Italian dish is carbonara. The Villa’s was a success. The egg and cheese sauce was provided in exactly the right amount to barely coat the pasta. I don’t care for carbonara in which sauce pools around the pasta.
The Villa must have used a special sort of bacon in its carbonara. It tasted like flavorful cracklins with an almost fluffy texture. The serving size for this dish was ideal for an entrée.
Since this is an Italian place, I wasn’t sure it would have Louisiana beers. Thus I was pleased to be served a Crying Eagle Ready To Mingle. I also noticed that when I ordered a second beer, my server knew what I was drinking even though I’d gotten the first beer from the bartender. The Villa has every appearance of being a smooth operation.
BESPOKE HAT CO.
725 Ryan St. • 436-5454
Owner Kashia Spears sells hats by the Goorin Brothers, who’ve had their family business in operation since 1895, and have two big stores in N.O.
Spears has quite a few styles on display, and they’re for men, women and children. Right now, she has premium straw, felt, canvas (ideal for walking in the sun) and other styles. Spears says Goorin hats in general provide “a really classic look.”
Warmer styles will come before winter.
Why did Spears want to sell hats downtown? “I love hats,” she says. “I own a lot of hats. I wanted to do something different for Lake Charles.” What she means in particular by “different” is that Bespoke carries hats in a variety of sizes. You’re not just stuck with the hat on display.
Bespoke can easily give you a custom hatband of leather or suede trim, ribbon, feathers or rope. (If you want to go the feathers route, the selection is generous; ostrich is definitely an option.)
Bespoke has been in business since March. Spears says it’s “going well.”
She says men and women sometimes have different objectives in hat buying. Women are often concerned about protection from the sun. Men are more fashion-minded. Often, men have already put together an outfit for an upscale event such as Derby for Dollars or Rouge et Blanc and want a hat that will match.
It’s never too early or too late to start stylin’ with hats. Bespoke offers an easy way to get into a game that’s nothing but fun.
CAJUN GYSPY CORNER MARKET
Many have been wondering what will replace Keith’s Pawn Shop, which did business for so many years at the heart of downtown — the intersection of Ryan and Broad Streets. Turns out the new occupant will be a much-needed community grocery store.
Construction of the new Cajun Gypsy Corner Market operation is going at a brisk pace. The store is set to open for business in mid-August.
HARLEY’S HELPING HANDS THRIFT STORE
Corner of Common and 7th Streets 332-496-4997
Mon-Fri 10 am-6 pm; Sat 10 am-3 pm
To walk in this shop is to see something that looks a bit like a Goodwill store. When I visited, beds and other furniture were the dominant features. A large antique bed was the highlight of the group. For whatever reason, there were many comforter sets still in the plastic packages.
Of course, there were several racks of clothing. Each clothing item in the store is priced at $1.75.
There were some books; more knick-knacks. There was a box full of baseballs priced at 50 cents each. (That’s obviously pretty cheap entertainment if you’re expecting a lot of kids to congregate in your back yard over the weekend.)
One other note: if your thing is DVDs of action movies, this is your place. Look at the rack under the front of the counter.
This new space is building on the Harley’s Helping Hands that’s already been established in Sulphur.
Co-owner Delton Domingue says the store is meant to serve as an alternative to punishing, exorbitant rent-to-own stores. He says Harley’s is set on “working with the community.” The store has a program for helping those who are having trouble paying the utilities bills. It also donates items to benefits.
Delton’s wife, Janet, is the co-owner and co-worker. Harley is the name of one of the couple’s grandchildren. The “Helping Hands” are those of the couple’s 12 grandchildren.
THE ROUND ABOUT RECORDS AND GOODS
311 Broad Street • 337-602-6452
Tues-Thurs 11 am-7 pm;
Fri-Sat. 11 am-9 pm
Lambert tells me that new albums at The Round About are those that are still in the factory sealing; “basically, new here is not opened,” he says.
Some of these vinyl albums are brand new issues; most are re-issues. I saw such familiar names as Social Distortion, Rancid and The Descendants, as well as many now-forgotten pop acts from the ‘60s, such as Tony Joe White.
I also made one unimaginably unlikely discovery of a recording I’ve considered extremely rare and desirable my entire adult life: Musique Concrete. This pioneering recording was a compilation of works by many leaders of post-World War II experimental electronic music: Pierre Schaefer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, etc. This is one of those records that was always destined to be outside my budget. The price in The Round About is $34.98, which is about what it would have been when I was collecting these sorts of recordings in the 1980s. If you have enough walking around money to buy this, it’s certainly worth every penny.
Most of the used vinyl in The Round About appears to be of popular Top 40 acts of the ‘70s through the ‘90s. But there are some obscure items to be found. When I visited, there was an old Judy Holliday disc, as well as one of Keith Jarrett’s jazz keyboard double albums. Lambert says the used recordings “move very well” with Millennial customers.
Used albums that have recently been traded in are put in a special part of the store so that regular shoppers can go straight to them.
Not everything in the store is vinyl; there are a dozen CDs by local acts.
Walls are decorated with much music-related art. Especially impressive is a large All-Things-Must-Pass era poster of a pensive, long-haired George Harrison.
Pops and Rockets items are sold in the store.
Lambert knows his business and enjoys talking about it. If you have a music recording question, try bringing it to him.
706 Ryan St. • 337-429-5744
Tues-Fri 10 am-6 pm;
Sat. 10 am-2 pm
This store, which specializes in apparel, jewelry, art and home furnishings, has been open nearly a year. As far as I can tell, the majority of the products on display are made by local or area artisans. The slogan here is: “Home, Body, Soul: Locally Inspired Goods.”
Owner Susanne Johnson told me Shop 706 carries “as many Louisiana-made items as we can.” She treated me to an extensive tour of the spot.
She makes jewelry for her Olive and Indigo line, which is one of many area or regional lines highlighted in the shop.
Another such line is Sparrow, which offers clever, casual hand-painted shirts, each of which bears a short message, such as “c’est la vie” or “get localized.”
There’s the Soul line of candles. Hand poured and blended in the shop, they’re clean burning; made of 100 percent soy wax and essential oils; and have a 40-hour burn time. During my tour, I detected a subtle peppermint-lavender scent that pleased me well enough. (It was certainly a pleasant alternative to the Febreze-type chemicals I smell all too often.)
There’s a collection of organic cotton scarves that are loomed in Louisiana. A line of perfumes is made in New Orleans.
Cyndi Cagle, the artist in residence, places all sorts of art works here and there in the shop. One appealing set of works is a number of oyster shells coated with a sealer, with each shell framed by a small block of wood painted mostly in a single hue. Numerous simple abstract paintings of an easily managed size hang on the walls.
A large part of Shop 706’s stock is women’s clothing: rompers, dresses, denim, leather bags. Although almost all the clothing here is for women, shoppers can find gifts for men. Especially appealing is the large The Man Can, which is filled with Plum Island Soap and other personal care products. Unlike most gift ensembles designed for men, this one is pleasing to the eye and has a little bit of quirky humor to it.
Curiosities are tucked away here and there. I noticed a personal care item called the Zum Bar, which is made of goat’s milk.
The store isn’t entirely about Louisiana products. It supports some “cause-related brands.” There’s an extremely attractive travel bag crafted by women in Uganda to whom Seiko pays a good wage so that they can save enough money for a higher education.
Shoppers or other interested parties are invited to follow the store at @shop706downtownlc on Facebook.
727 Ryan St. • 337-602-6378
3b&e held its grand opening two weeks before this magazine hit the stands.
The specialties of the enterprise include digital and social media marketing, website development, public relations, branding, work with print materials, the creation of logos and creative design. The business also handles media events.
I talked briefly with the group’s graphic designer Amber Mims. She told me the group is keen on social media, and is happy to help the customer wrestle with the complexities of Facebook. (On a small chalkboard behind her desk, the words “Let’s Be Social” had been hand-written above a hand-drawn Facebook logo.)
The lobby of the building is decorated in a sharp, clean minimalist style, with the walls featuring large fields of white and black and many of the accents in bright yellow.
There’s a similar style at work in the interior, which is predominantly gray. Accents inside include large artistic representations of the # and & signs and an enormous light bulb (enormous meaning more than a foot tall).
There are plenty of work and meeting rooms in the building, as well as a large photography studio.
Intern Libby Peet is comfortable with the office’s vibe; she told me, “The people all know a lot [about the] field. They’re really willing to help me out.”
The three owners Kerri Krob (337-794-7460), Becky Dupre (337-794-8849) and Jimmie Richard (337-244-0871) will be happy to talk with you about how you want your business to be marketed.
Observant pedestrians will notice an extremely colorful new retro mural displaying the old slogan “Royal Crown Cola — Best By Taste Test” in a glorious field of blazing bright colors. This is on the south end of the old Berdon-Campbell Building (619 Ryan). If you’re old enough to remember when Royal Crown was one of the big soft drinks, this mural will give you a nice wave of nostalgia. And the colors should please anyone.
Downtown streetscape development has established an attractive presence all down Ryan Street. There are abundant benches of stone and cast iron shaded by a variety of trees. Blooming flower beds appear here and there. These islands of repose and refreshment don’t interfere with traffic flow and they’re a real boon for pedestrians.
One new island sitting directly across from the historical Calcasieu National Bank Building features three benches and a group of trees.
If you happen to get a good look at the United Way building at 815 Ryan St., don’t be fooled by the old school New Orleans-style brick front and wrought iron balcony. This is a brand new building that was constructed from scratch. The United Way folks are all settled in now and getting used to their new digs.
More than once, I’ve sat on the porch of MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub drinking a dry stout almost strong enough to take off the top of my head and watching the goings on in the new dog park. This is the Bark du Lac Dog Park.
The park has a very large area where pets can run or chase toys. There are all the necessary fences and gates.
People and dogs have fun using this park. But of course, both people and dogs have to be kept safe if there is to be fun. Be sure your dog is on a leash before and after you take it into the park. Close the gate behind you when you come in the park. Don’t bring more than two dogs. It’s not cool to bring young children or puppies into the park. And of course, if your dog is in the park, you should be there too.
As far as I can tell, it’s OK for owners to bring their dogs onto the porch at MacFarlane’s, so both pet and owner can lounge there. If in doubt, ask the staff.
Construction is going on in a large space at 629 Ryan St. and appears to be at a fairly advanced stage. Twelve chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The entire area is surrounded by a mezzanine with wrought iron railings. The walls and ceiling have been completely restored. No word yet on what this will be.
The new housing craze that’s been inspired by the boom is as evident downtown as it is everywhere. New apartments are being leased above the Pujo Street Cafe. Call 337-433-4353.
A row of brand new luxury houses fronts the street on the block of Hodges north of Division.
And the sign for the Erdace Apartment project still stands at 600 Ryan (or Ryan and Division).