Taste of Ormond
Former Bull’s Corner chef makes big impact at plantation
Chef Richard Kail
Ormond Plantation predates nearly every other structure in St. Charles Parish. The plantation was built in 1790 for Pierre d’Trepagnier who grew indigo and sugar cane. After d’Trepagnier’s mysterious disappearance in 1798, the plantation has been passed from owner to owner. Some of those owners have led the structure to decay and others used their time with the building to make improvements.
Johnny "Irwin" Carmouche bought the property 16 years ago. Under Carmouche’s ownership the plantation has been in use as a bed and breakfast and venue for weddings and parties. Carmouche is disabled and confined to a wheelchair and unable to run the property himself.
For the past two years the plantation has been managed by Robin Priest, Carmouche’s sister.
Priest said the family grew up down the road in Destrehan and they always loved the building.
"I guess he bought it to save it," Priest said. "I just love this place."
It was Priest’s idea to open the plantation restaurant up for lunch for the first time in 12 years.
Priest said the addition of Chef Richard Kail to the staff was the reasoning behind opening.
"I had this wonderful chef who was working my weddings for me, but you know you can’t do weddings seven days a week," Priest said. "So we opened up for lunch primarily so we could give our staff the work."
Kail was formerly chef at Bull’s Corner in LaPlace for 22 years before they went out of business.
Kail trained under French Chef Lete Bouillon at the La Pavillion Hotel in New Orleans as an apprentice before striking out on his own.
Though Kail lives south of Hammond, he has been working the River Parishes for the past 26 years and he said he plans to stay in the area.
Kail said he would like to begin expanding the restaurant portion of the plantation.
"The next obvious step is to do a Sunday brunch," Kail said. "And then maybe move on to Friday and Saturday night dinner services from there."
Priest said she knew opening the plantation restaurant again would be a success.
"I had no doubt in my mind," Priest said. "The food he cooks is fantastic and just the ambiance of the plantation brings in a lot of people."
Though they have had early success the restaurant is not a runaway hit yet.
"In this business they say you can’t expect to make a profit in the first five years. A lot of people get into this business thinking they are going to be successful right away," Kail said. "My goal is to turn a profit at the end of the second year and we are on track to do it."
Priest and Kail said the restaurant’s business has grown despite investing very little in advertising.
In addition to adding the lunch service, Priest has made numerous improvements to the property.
Before Priest took over, the bed and breakfast had only three rooms to let. They have now renovated another three rooms–a task she said was complicated by the building’s age.
"This place has had 10 renovations in its lifetime," Priest said. "So whenever something goes wrong you have to find out where its coming from."
The building didn’t receive electricity and indoor plumbing until the mid-1940s when Mr. and Ms. Alfred Brown, owners of Brown’s Velvet Dairy, bought the plantation and began one of the most comprehensive renovations. Those included attaching outbuildings on either side of the main structure, called garconnieres, to the main building.
After Ms. Brown died, the plantation and 17 acres of land were sold to a developer who attempted to turn the plantation home in a clubhouse for a golf course he was planning on building on the land. Priest said the renovations were undertaken by the developer himself and resulted in structural problems for the building.
In addition to the restaurant taking off, the plantation has a lot of dates filled up already for weddings to be held this fall.
Kail said he really enjoys working the weddings too.
"It is one of the most important days of their life and you work hard and they give you hugs at the end of the night," Kail said. "It makes you feel good. And at this point in my career, I am happy with that."
Although the plantation holds numerous events throughout the year summer is traditionally slow for the business.
"During the summer we have fewer bookings due to hurricanes and unpredictable weather," Priest said. "We start picking up again in September and October and host a lot of Christmas parties during December."
In addition to providing a location for events in the parish, the plantation does a lot of charity work as well.
"If we can help people out we do," Priest said.
Recently the plantation hosted a silent auction for Jeremiah Gerlach, a local eight-year-old who raised $20,000 so he could purchase a diabetic alert dog. Every year the plantation hosts the "Disabled Prom" as well events for the ARC of St. Charles.
Priest said under her reign the business has grown, but there is still some growing left to do.
"We’ve still got a way to go, but where we’ve come from it’s been a long way," Priest said.
Lunch at the plantation is held every day from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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