BY AMY GUIDRY OAKES
Casa Mañana Sulphur
For a restaurant, celebrating 40 years of success is nothing short of a feat. Family-owned and operated, Casa Mañana proclaims their success is due to the amazing support of Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana.
After relocating their family from Conroe, Texas, to Lake Charles in 1974, Dody and Darrell Martel reestablished their Pizza Inn franchise, which was sold years later. Once they became aware of the lack of Mexican food options in Lake Charles, Casa Mañana became a reality — stemming from their mutual love for Tex Mex dishes.
Ted Smith, Mrs. Martel’s father, who was living in Atlanta, came out of retirement and studied the culinary art of authentic Tex Mex cuisine at establishments in Houston.
The original location in Lake Charles was founded in July, 1976. Dody Martel commented, “This has been the best decision we have ever made.” This location has experienced continued growth, which required expansions in 1980 and 1995. There are plans to expand yet again, with a focus on the bar/lounge area.
Darren Martel, son of Dody and Darrell, explained that he and his sisters, identical twins Heidi and Holly, worked in the restaurant growing up. Heidi and Holly worked as hostesses in the 1970s and 1980s, while Darren worked as a busboy starting at age 14 during the mid-1980s.
The family also opened CM Peppers restaurant in 1989, which was sold 10 years later, but not before it was deemed one of McNeese students’ favorite party spots.
In addition to Casa Mañana, the family currently owns Que Pasa Taqueria, opened in 2006 and located on Nelson Rd. This restaurant focuses on a coastal Mexican atmosphere, while Casa Mañana promotes an authentic Tex Mex vibe.
Holly and her husband, Steve Janca, currently direct Casa Mañana’s catering division, which provides many types of food, not solely Tex Mex, and served crowds as large as 2,500 for one event.
Lake Charles’ residents may have also spotted the Casa Mañana food truck, decorated in vibrant yellow and blue colors. The truck can be spotted frequently; it sells Tex Mex food.
Casa Mañana’s success and traditions have been carried into their second location in Sulphur, opened in January, 2016, as a grateful celebration of the Martels’ 40 years in business. Darren stated, “We are Tex Mex and proud of it!”
It is no surprise that, with this enthusiasm and genuine love for the culture, the Martel family intends to continue growing their franchise in the near future. They will continually strive to provide excellent service, good value, and a consistent, quality product.
All locations are served by Waitr, and Casa Mañana in Sulphur has a drive-through window for the convenience for their patrons.
To celebrate their 40 years of success, the Martel family is planning specials, parties and giveaways through July, 2017. Simply follow the Casa Mañana, Sulphur, Facebook page for details.
Darren wants to thank their alumni of great managers, including, but not limited to, George Nolan, Elcid Caesar, Dan “The Man” Hardesty and Curtis Clarke.
From the moment you step onto the parking lot of Cotten’s Downtown, your mouth begins watering from the aroma of juicy hamburger patties.
Upon entering the building, you are immediately greeted by a waitress who lets you seat yourself. The old-fashioned diner is full of nostalgia, and you can sense the many stories, laughs and cups of coffee that have been shared through the years.
I sat at the diner bar on a round, green stool, and introduced myself to Kate Cotten, the owner. She was doing what she loves — cooking burgers, eggs and hash browns. I asked Kate to share the history surrounding the current Cotten’s, along with her reason for opening her own restaurant downtown.
She began her story by explaining that her “Pop,” as she called her Father, opened the first Cotten’s in 1982, shortly following Kate’s birth. Pop, the “King of the Grill,” started his career working at The Colonial Inn for a local Greek family known as Yianaridis. Kate reminisced about going with her Pop to Mary Ann’s Café, established in 1950, to visit George Petrou. She explained that her Pop would have coffee with George while she sat at the diner bar alongside them. You could see the pride on Kate’s face as she related the story.
Kate worked with her pop for 13 years, beginning at age 12. After attending college at McNeese, and with a mountain of student-loan debt, Kate discovered that Mary Ann’s Café was for sale. It was her dream to own and operate her own Cotten’s — but only if she could get Mary Ann’s Café.
After discovering it was out of her price range, she let go of her dream, but only temporarily. It wasn’t until eight years later that the current owner approached her pop about buying the place. Someone else’s love and appreciation for Kate’s vision became her dream opportunity.
Opening in Nov. 2014, Kate spent the first six weeks scrubbing, cleaning and moving new equipment to her very own Cotten’s Downtown. She struggled with the decision of keeping the name, “Mary Ann’s Café” or changing it to “Cotten’s.” She changed the name, but she maintained Mary Ann’s tradition of serving not only burgers, but breakfast, as well.
Since opening, Kate’s experienced much success, which she attributes to hard work, as well as “unsurpassed” help from friends, family and her landlord.
I spotted a Waitr computer screen in the background, so I inquired as to the impact Waitr has had on the restaurant. Kate indicated that it has been a wonderful method to raise awareness of her location.
Kate describes the diner as a helpless infant that requires a village to be successful, including her supportive and regular patrons. She foresees only continued growth in the future. After eating her specialty Aflac burger, I agree with Kate’s prediction. Whether you are passing through Lake Charles or are a resident, Cotten’s Downtown is a must-eat.
Amy Guidry Oakes is the owner of Southern Business Consulting.