The New Rouses Market Draws From A Century Of Coastal Louisiana Food Traditions
By Brad Goins
I interviewed Rouses Market CEO Donny Rouse at the company’s new store in Carlyss the day before it opened. My first question was simple. Why Carlyss?
“Carlyss is booming,” said Rouse. “Look at the traffic; the people. We want to be part of that.”
Rouses Markets have always followed a unique and striking business plan. The company opens markets exclusively along the Gulf Coast — the vast majority of them on the Louisiana coast.
Rouse said that specifically, the stores have been arrayed east and west of I-10. The Carlyss store is as far west as Rouses has ventured.
What accounts for this concentration on a particular part of Louisiana? Donny’s explanation is short and sweet: “We’re a Louisiana company.”
For at least a century, the Rouse family has lived in Louisiana, and in south Louisiana in particular. Donny grew up where his grandfather first went into the food service business — in Thibodeaux. As an infant and child, he lived in the house that sat directly across the street from the Rouses Market corporate headquarters. He has, in effect, been in the family business his whole life.
I had another question: why should a Lake Charles shopper make the drive to shop at this new market? Again, the answer hinged on the family’s close connection to Louisiana and its food producers.
“There will be more Louisiana products [here],” said Donny. “We really focus on Louisiana produce … We connect with local farmers. If it’s local to the area, we’re going to have it.” The company also sorts, packs and ships fresh Louisiana produce for sale in the supermarkets of other companies in locations as far away as Alaska.
Such Louisiana favorites as boudin, spicy andouille and sausages are made with the recipes the Rouses have used in Coastal Louisiana for generations.
A Grab-And-Go Dream Come True
What else is distinctive in the food offerings of the new Rouses market?
Well, there are the Italian lines sold exclusively at Rouses — including the company’s own Delizioso Product of Italy line. “We import truckloads of products from Italy,” said Donny. “We source them directly from the companies in Italy.” One prime example is Rouses’ wood-fire crust pizza, which is built on a crust prepared for the company in Italy.
The Rouses, whose family heritage is Italian, choose products for Rouses’ exclusive Delizioso Product of Italy line when family members make shopping trips to Italy. You can find Delizioso products throughout the new store.
Running down the right side of the new store is a long row of stations offering food and drinks that can be consumed immediately. The stations in this row include a Mongolian Grill, a sushi prep area, a deli, a coffee shop, a barbecue station and a hot dog stand. When the season is right, boiled crawfish will be served.
Running along the bottom of this row of hot food stations is a long section of serve-self foods in see-through containers. These also run the gamut, including everything from full-pie-sized quiches, batches of tamales and asparagus that’s already been grilled.
Put all these things together and you have a grab and go food complex that it’s going to be hard to beat for variety. You can enjoy your full meal in the store’s dining area or in your truck; or you can take it straight home and have your meal ready to eat in minutes.
Other store specialties will include a large number of organic and non-GMO products.
The wine selection is vast, occupying three full aisles of the store.
A florist service is housed in its own large space.
Donny told me the market regularly hosts “different events.” One of these is cooking classes. “We’ll have our chefs or bring in chefs to teach our customers how to use our products.”
If the large size of the store seems a little daunting, you can arrange to get a tour.
Catering is available. So is same day delivery. Provide your grocery order and the Rouses staff shops for it and brings it to your home. (See rouses.com for more information.)
The size of this new building is massive. It may be the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. Even with the dozens of employees and construction workers at work and the wide variety of machines moving product here and there, I had no trouble moving about in the space the day before the opening. There seems to be plenty of space for everything housed in the store.
The design of the interior is strictly industrial. Look up at the ceiling and you’ll see plenty of jet black latticing. Hanging from this latticework are hundreds of black metal casings that hold spot lighting. If you’ve been troubled by glaring lights in grocery stores before, you should be able to rest easy in this spot. The industrial look is clean, simple and attractive.
Rouses Markets publishes its own bimonthly magazine — Everyday. The periodical is all color and printed on thick, glossy paper. The September/October issue runs 82 pages. Everyday is free to store shoppers, who can get their copy at racks placed near cash registers.
The theme of the new issue is home cooking, and there are a number of pieces on Coastal Louisiana favorites. But in this issue of the magazine, “home cooking” largely equates to comfort food; there’s a mac and cheese section that runs for six pages, a meatloaf section that also runs for six pages and four pages on spaghetti. The spaghetti section includes a feature story on Mama Reta’s Kitchen in Lake Charles.
The magazine has a two-page feature on “Spicy Gulf Coast Seasoning Basics.” A few dozen recipes are scattered throughout the magazine. Another two-page spread offers “100 Ways To Improve Your Cooking.” (No. 36: “Refrigerate tomatoes until they’re sliced.”)
Advertisers of particular interest in the magazine include Guidry’s catfish from Breaux Bridge, Cajun Country Rice from Crowley, Jambalaya Girl ready-to-heat Cajun dishes (with no MSG) and Mapleleaf antibiotic-free whole ducks. Of course, all these food items are available in the store.
An Independent Grocery
Rouses is an independent grocery, meaning that it’s family owned.
In 1923, J.P Rouse began the City Produce Co. in Thibodeaux, La. With J.P.’s death, son Anthony and cousin Ciro take over operations in 1954. Donald is in charge when the first Rouses Market opens in Thibodeaux in 1975.
In 2011, Donald’s son Donny becomes the general manager of the first Rouses Market in Lafayette. Five years later, he is named the CEO of Rouses Markets.
Before I met Donny, I chatted a bit with events coordinator Brittney. She confirmed my suspicions that for the many workers I saw scurrying around, the lead-up to the grand-opening would be an all-night affair. It could hardly be otherwise. After all, such products as sushi, shrimp and fresh produce can’t be brought in days before an opening. They must arrive at the last possible minute.
Even with all the work that remained — concrete was still being poured outside — I thought it was extremely likely that the entire store would be well prepared for the onslaught when the grand opening took place at 7 am the next morning. Donny felt the same way. “Oh, we’ll be ready … We like to make a splash.”
Rouses’ coastal splash will continue. In the coming weeks, the company will open new stores in Moss Bluff, Baton Rouge and Covington.