Childhood friends take over historic restaurant


April 09, 2008 at 4:29 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Most childhood friendships dry up as the years drag on as fast as a puddle of rain water in the red-hot southern Louisiana heat.

That wasn't the case with Donald Spahr, Ted Bergeron and Brent Roger, who are not only still friends after three decades, but together own one of the top seafood restaurant chains in the River Parishes Region; Spahr's Seafood.
And not one of them thought that would be something they would ever do.

"I think in the back of their mind, everybody wants to open a restaurant," D. Spahr said. "We didn't go to school for it, but since we have some background in cooking and bartending, we did have somewhere in our heart where we wanted to do something like this."

Though D. Spahr worked at the restaurant growing up, since it was owned by his grandfather, he actually has a master's degree in higher level education in addition to his degree in business administration. Roger at one time had his mind set on being a physical therapist, getting degrees in biology and chemistry a long the way, while Bergeron has a bachelor's degree in marketing.

"So we all have different skill sets and they just all happened to converge in one place," Roger, who began working at Spahr's as a bartender in 1992, said. "We knew this was a successful restaurant and we knew it had a lot of potential for growth."

Spahr's Seafood actually started out as a service station in 1968. Bill Spahr, Donald's grandfather, also used to fish and trap at the location as well as serving as a tour guide for hunters and fishermen. Though the store did good business at the time, it was the oil field boom that actually helped convert the service station into a restaurant.

See, in addition to being in the gas trade, B. Spahr also sold hunting and fishing gear. While that brought a lot of the oil men in, it was the store's bar that really pushed business over the edge. Instead of using normal bar fare such as peanuts and pretzels, B. Spahr started frying the fish he would catch that morning in bite size pieces. Those catfish chips soon caught on, and B. Spahr found himself removing most of his merchandise display cases in order to make room for tables.

From that point on, Spahr's became a seafood restaurant.
However, the store didn't fully evolve until the three friends made their move into the business. To begin expanding the restaurant, the three men began looking at new locations, and were actually in the middle of putting a lease together in Thibodaux when tragedy struck the Des Allemands location.

In 2002, the building was lost to fire, creating a void for the food and service that the locals had come to expect. B. Spahr, along with his daughter and son, opened a temporary Spahr's Seafood Restaurant in Mathews, but a year later, the business officially became a chain with the opening of the Thibodaux location.

After another year, the business once again expanded, with D. Spahr, Bergeron and Roger opening up the third location inside of the Ramada Inn Hotel in Houma.

And in 2006, the restaurant was able to return to its roots with the re-opening of the Des Allemands location.

"From where we started to where we our now, we've grown tremendously as far as our management skills and knowledge," Roger said. "We've been able to be really successful with all three locations."

Bergeron said that success has a lot to do with the chainís nearly 100 employees, several of whom have been with the business for 20 or 30 years.

"We have a really good core group of managers that has really made a difference," he said.

Roger agrees.

"We were lucky enough and wise enough in choosing our employees that we had great people who were capable of helping us run each of the locations," he said. "Any successful company has to have great employees."

And while the service is one of the reasons behind Spahr's success, the food is the major one.

"We have consistent recipes, old Creole Cajun recipes that go way back and we have a great team of chefs to execute them," D. Spahr said. "All of them are culinary trained and their execution is just phenomenal."

The most popular of those dishes is still the catfish chips, which are a delicacy in this region. Along with the catfish, Spahr's is also known for their homemade gumbo and mind-altering Bloody Marys.

Plus, most of the food that's eaten at the restaurant comes from our area.

"We try to support local fishermen and the local community by using local products," Roger said. "We could get products cheaper if we bought them from other places, but we'd rather support the local community because they support us."

Spahr's has the same menu for both lunch and dinner, though the service may change slightly depending on the time.

"One thing we concentrate on is that we know that people for lunch have limited time for their lunch hour, so we try to get it out quickly," Roger said. "At dinner, people have more time to get the full experience and just relax. We try to accommodate both sides."

And while the menu has basically stayed the same, the three men have made small changes over the years. They have added a fresh catch to the menu, while also trying to diversify it with pastas and homemade desserts. They are also starting to grow their own fresh produce, such as green onions, parsley and bell peppers. They hope to grow all of their own produce in the future.

"Very seldom do you go to places nowadays and find a kitchen that cooks their own recipes," D. Spahr said. "We don't just open up a bag here."

And even though the food may be of a high quality, that's not reflected in the price.

"For the product we put out and the service we offer, we feel our prices are more than competitive," D. Spahr said.

Though the group hasn't ruled out any major changes in the future, such as opening their fourth store, one thing is certain; the service will never change.

"We are very family oriented and a lot of times you will see the owners working in the kitchen cleaning dishes and just doing anything else that needs to be done," Roger said. "This is our house and we don't have any customers here, only guests."




View other articles written By Jonathan Menard

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