DARRELL’S: 20x BEST OF SWLA WINNER

Brad Goins Sunday, December 22, 2013 0
DARRELL’S: 20x BEST OF SWLA WINNER

One Of The Four Businesses That Have Appeared In Lagniappe’s Best Of Awards For 20 Consecutive Years

It’s now been 20 years since Lagniappe published the results of its first Best Of Southwest Louisiana survey.

In the two decades the Best of SWLA has existed, four businesses have made the list all 20 years. They haven’t always won in the same category, but each year they’ve managed to win the public’s support for something.

As it happens, all four are perennially popular food establishments that have stood the test of time. All serve dishes or drinks that are favorites of the public; any one of these might win a Best Of Award in any given year.

Lagniappe now takes a special look at these four repeat performers: Darrell’s, Pat’s of Henderson, Casa Mañana and Steamboat Bill’s. We’ll try to determine what they’ve changed in the last 20 years and what customer-pleasing features they’ve worked hard not to change at all. Here’s a look at Darrell’s:

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The first big move made by Darrell’s in the last two decades was the move to its present location. (The venture had opened on Ryan Street in 1985 and also spent some time on Common Street.)

With the move to College Street, the owners owned both the business and the building, which they built from scratch.

At first, it was a building that was designed solely for a bar. Given the enduring popularity of Darrell’s sandwiches, one might not have thought that a bar alone would be much of a draw. But owner Susie Derouen recalls, “After McNeese football games, you couldn’t walk around up front. And it wasn’t just young people.”

Susie and Darrell Derouen

Susie and Darrell Derouen

Patrons have long noted the mixed nature of the crowd that congregates at Darrell’s. Much of the diversity in age at the spot is due to the fact that Susie’s late husband Darrell — the namesake of The Darrell’s Special — first opened the bar so that he’d have a watering hole for him and his friends who’d previously gathered at OB’s for after-work drinks. That helped create an atmosphere in which people from all generations felt comfortable.

Darrell’s was open about a year before the owners realized a bar wasn’t going to bring in a lot of customers from 11 am-5 pm. That’s when the idea of the Darrell’s sandwich was born.

The sandwiches enjoyed the sort of surprising immediate popularity the bar had. Susie recalls that on the first day sandwiches were served, she called Darrell at home and told him, “I made 25 sandwiches today.

“We didn’t expect [the immediate demand for the sandwiches],” says Susie. “I had to find help. It was a zoo … We were really stunned. It took off so fast. We ran out of bread. It was frightening.”

Most people attribute the popularity of Darrell’s sandwiches to their unique sauce. “Darrell and I worked on that gravy and barbecue sauce together,” says Susie. “We had many trials and hits and misses.”

She says she and Darrell were also the first in town to develop a jalapeno mayonnaise.

Once the sandwich operations got underway, Susie settled into an extremely demanding routine in which she did paperwork from 8 to 11 am and made gravy and sandwiches from 11 am to 4 pm.

With the recent death of her husband Darrell, her routine has changed, and she’ll be taking some time to put things into perspective. She still talks of Darrell often. “He was something,” she says. “He was a good man, and I’m going to miss him.”

Although Darrell is gone, the restaurant will continue with the same sort of enterprise it’s been known for in the past. “We’re not going anywhere,” says Susie.

In fact, there’s substantial expansion and change underway. Darrell’s is undertaking the project of adding two new outdoor signs and five televisions to the premises. (One might not think televisions could make much of a difference to this sort of business, but apparently they do — especially when there are big sporting events. “Oh my God, [you should see it] when the Saints play,” says Susie. “And LSU …” She notes that before Darrel’s had its present battery of televisions, Saturdays could sometimes be “a little slow.”

The venue has also removed the pool tables in order to create more seating.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the last 20 years is the role of manager Patty, who’s remained Susie’s “best friend and right hand.” During that labor-intensive start-up time for the sandwiches, Patty put in a lot of hours, and didn’t always charge for them.

One of the points of pride for Susie must be the way in which the knowledge and admiration of the sandwiches has spread throughout the region — and perhaps even the country. She remembers a time when she was vacationing with Darrell in Florida, and they ran into a tourist wearing a Darrell’s shirt.