By Bill Coyne
A success story doesn’t happen by wishing and hoping. It’s forged through hard work, a vision and the determination to make it happen.
In 1948, 18-year-old Pat Huval set out to open his own grocery store with his wife Agnes in Henderson, La. With little to call his own and a small investment loan, he was able to purchase a small building and operate his store.
Searching for ways to appeal to more customers, at the end of the day after the store closed, Huval joined the crews on fishing boats and offered the fresh catch in various plate lunches served at his store.
After only four short years, Huval’s dream of owning his own waterfront restaurant came to fruition. He and his wife took their earnings and purchased a set of buildings. A simple burger stand and a dance hall on the levee of the Atchafalaya became Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf. And so began the legacy.
In 1978, with eyes set on expanding their business in Lake Charles, the couple opened on the edge of Chennault.
After a few short years, their daughter, Nancy, and her husband Richard purchased a piece of land, on which they built what we all now know as Pat’s of Henderson.
For generations, this family has been synonymous with traditional Cajun cuisine, and their recipes remain unchanged.
Last year, Richard made the decision to retire, and offered his son, Nicholas, the first opportunity to buy the business.
As a business management major, Nicholas has certainly made his mark in business over the past several years. He earned the inaugural McNeese State University Entrepreneurs Award, having opened a construction company and a seasoning company, as well as a real estate business.
But Pat’s was not going to be just handed to him. Nicholas was going to have to work this deal as any other potential buyer would, on his own.
He had to create his plan, find his financial support and backing, and execute the transition.
Possessing his grandfather’s drive and his father’s work ethic, as well as business experience, Nicholas was bound to make it come together, and he did.
The multiple dining rooms, the bar, the art and the décor are all warm and inviting, and there are big plans for expanding and improving the rest of the property.
But what really draws people here? If you’ve ever been to Pat’s, you know that the parking lot is always full.
The food, the experience and the welcoming staff is exactly why.
Early in the restaurant’s history, the family took a young lady named Menola under their wings, hiring her to help to take care of Richard and Nancy’s children. But Menola’s role began to shift to the restaurant. Chef Menola is now orchestrating the kitchen, and Nicholas is at the helm of the operation.
A little bird told me Pat’s of Henderson has a great little bar vibe going on Friday nights. Walking in, my wife and I were greeted without hesitation and with cheerful smiles from everybody. The bar was full of conversation and laughter. Our servers, Tiffany and Drake, made our evening wonderful.
We started with the combination platter — fried crab fingers, catfish, alligator and stuffed mushrooms. The plate was piled with food, and all of it had wonderful flavor.
My wife ordered catfish courtbouillon and fried catfish. It was, in her words, the best she’s ever had. I had the ribeye — medium-rare, because that’s how a great steak is prepared. (We can debate that another time, but it is, and you won’t convince me otherwise.) It was tender, flavorful and just perfect.
We walked away beyond satisfied.
There’s a history to this place, and that’s what prompted me to reach out and ask Nicholas to tell me the history and fill in the details of how this business came to be. We chatted for hours, and I could hear his passion for the restaurant, his staff and his family. I could sense his vision and gratitude, and his desire to carry on what his grandfather started, what his mother and father created for Lake Charles, and, most likely, what he will pass on to the child he and his wife are soon expecting.
Thank you, Nicholas.
Patrick “Pat” Huval
August 22, 1929 — January 6, 2018