Jerico Nelson has served up plenty of highlights during his time as a football star. These days, the Destrehan High School alumnus is serving things up in a more traditional sense. Nelson has opened up a restaurant, Rico’s Café, located on Longview Drive just off River Road — not too far away, in fact, from where Nelson played prep ball with the Wildcats, with whom he was a part of arguably the greatest team in school history, the undefeated 2007 Class 5A state champion.
“I’m very blessed,” said Nelson, who is an assistant football coach with Destrehan in addition to pursuing his restaurant venture. “And I’m very excited. This has been a goal of mine, and through all of the ups and downs we’ve had, I just want to keep pushing until we break through.”
Initially, there were bumps in the road for Nelson, who purchased the building for the restaurant in August of last year. A Dec. 1 opening was compromised by tragedy as it came the same day of the tragic shooting of former John Curtis, USC and NFL star Joe McKnight, a close friend and former teammate of Nelson’s.
That pushed the opening date back, and by the next stage of opening, Nelson got a call to play football professionally in the Arena Football League.
But at that point, Nelson’s mother, Sheryl Lee, was able to lend an assist. An experienced restaurant manager herself, she was able to take the helm as Nelson continued to pursue his dreams on the gridiron. The restaurant opened in February and Nelson, now back home in Destrehan, says things are ready to ramp up into full gear.
“She knows the process of everything,” Nelson said. “She’s been in the food business as long as I’ve known. I was able to rely on her, as always.
“Some things slowed the process down for us. We’re trying to get situated and making an effort to launch this thing full steam.”
Po-boys, seafood and wings are among the items you’ll find at Rico’s, which takes its moniker from Nelson’s nickname. One of his personal contributions to the menu is his “Wildcat Juice,” a special fruit punch mix he puts together. There are specials throughout the week for patrons to enjoy, such as Rico’s 50 cent wing nights each Monday and Friday.
It’s a place to take in a football game or enjoy a fight night with friends and family. While many venture outside the parish to a Buffalo Wild Wings or other sports bars, Nelson envisions his restaurant as a place locals can go to enjoy that same experience without having to venture outside the community.
“Being at (Destrehan as a coach), I hear that from the students, that they wanted a place closer, something out toward this area,” Nelson said. “I see this as a chill spot for people to hang out … I think the sky’s the limit.”
Nelson has seen plenty of success during his athletic career. He was the starting running back and one of the key offensive weapons on the high-scoring 2007 Destrehan state champions, a team that beat all five of its playoff foes by a landslide. Nelson played alongside big names on that offense like Jordan Jefferson and Tim Molton, who each went on to LSU, and Damaris Johnson, who set several major records at the University of Tulsa.
That team started a run of what became 30 consecutive wins over two years, a school record.
“That was special,” said Nelson, who played at Destrehan for all four years of high school after Hurricane Katrina relocated him from John Curtis.
He learned plenty from both Coach J.T. Curtis of John Curtis and Coach Stephen Robicheaux at Destrehan, each architects of two of the state’s premier football programs. Many of those lessons extended beyond the football field and into how to be successful in life.
“They teach you character and discipline, above all else,” Nelson said. “The value of hard work. That’s one thing you always learned from Coach Rob … if you’re on his team, if you wear that uniform, you’re going to display those traits, or you won’t be there for long.”
He now hopes to apply those lessons toward making his café a mainstay in the Destrehan community, less than two miles away from his old stomping grounds at DHS.
“I’m happy that we could make this happen here in this area, because this is a special place and always will be,” Nelson said.