Amber Dugas OF TOLA Cafe’ and the D.S. City Council

About TOLA Cafe’

TOLA Cafe’, est.2003 is a local family owned & operated full service restaurant located in Historic Downtown Denham Springs, but wow is there so much more to this popular eatery!

About this Episode of Local Leaders: The Podcast

Jim Chapman of Local Leaders: The Podcast sits down with Amber Dugas, Owner of TOLA (Taste of Louisiana) and discovers not only more about this place but also learned so much about this Leading Lady who also serves on the Denham Springs City Council.

We go deep into the struggles of COVID-19 as it related to her business, the keys to the longevity of TOLA Cafe,’ and so much more!

We also present Amber with her plaque recognizing her as a 2021 Local Leaders: The Podcast “Leading Lady” – in honor of Women’s History Month!

You will not want to miss this episode of Local Leaders: The Podcast!

Video Transcript (Beta)

it’s mardi gras season and premiere credit is ready to throw you some cash any loan any reason and fast for more information call 225 667 8100 or apply online at premiercredit.com premiere credit a proud sponsor of local leaders the podcast all right miss amber degas how are you doing good so let me first say welcome to local leaders the podcast we’re going to cover a bunch today we’re going to talk to you in regards to your business tola cafe taste of louisiana for those of you that aren’t good with acronyms right in addition to that we’re going to talk about your work on the denim springs city council a little bit uh but first i want to get into your personal business yeah tell us where you were raised where you attended high school and a little about your family um well i was raised i mean lived in louisiana my whole life with the exception of a couple years in the 80s when there was the oil bust which hopefully we’re not going to go back through my parents my dad worked in the oil industry he was i worked on the rigs so when everything went bust my parents lost everything and we were forced to pick up and literally just moved with like a truck i mean it was it was a minivan and moved to uh tennessee because my granddad worked construction and lived there and had a business we were very lucky in that sense that my parents could just pick up and go and move there’s me and my younger brother so with the exception of that i’ve lived in louisiana my whole life walker denim springs i went to school in denim high school in walker and moved back to denim after high school and so i’ve denim’s pretty much been the epicenter of my life you’re pretty that’s right yeah lp yeah it’s there you know it’s interesting there’s a lot of people in louisiana especially in this area that kind of have ties to tennessee somehow yeah and i guess it’s just far enough away that you feel like you’re away but it’s close enough that you can always come back that’s sure you can get back in like a day it’s a long drive but you better that’s right that’s right what uh was it east tennessee or west nashville now ashfield okay because it was when nashville was building uh was booming and the building was going up there building apartments all kinds so i mean uh real estate at that time was huge there and i mean it could still be now i’m just not familiar with it uh but that’s immediately my dad had a job and we could move and and they could pick up and keep going you’re married to your high school sweetheart yeah yeah yeah awesome awesome knowing him pretty well yeah he’s baton rouge so it took me a minute to get him out here but once you do you know my wife can relate to that as well yeah he said i can’t believe it took this long i should have moved out like what was i thinking and that’s a different world it’s a different it’s just so much you know community is so much different in denim and um livingston parish as a whole it’s just so much more inviting so you grew up in baton rouge and it’s just a little bit more segmented you move out here and everybody’s loving everybody so it’s you know i agree yeah a hundred percent i mean i grew up right there off millerville road which is not too far from here i mean i was real close to the meet river but uh never came out here uh until i met my wife and then uh the rest is history uh you also have some fur babies yeah i’ve got um we have a doberman she’s 80 pounds and then we have the other in the spectrum which is a three pound chihuahua who we just inherited uh two years ago my grandfather passed it was his dog and uh that’s what you know he said oh take my dog and i said okay you’re a puppy and she’s she’s three pounds and so we’re it’s totally different i’ve never had a small dog i’ve always had big dogs i’ve always had like 70 pound dogs so uh it’s it’s been a change but we love her but it’s just craziness well you run a gamut on them you have a cat as well yeah yeah we have a 20 pound uh persian he’s just he just goes with the flow he’s like i don’t know what’s happening here i’ve got this huge dog he keeps wanting to baby the chihuahua and she’s eight years old she doesn’t want any of that so he’s like oh she’s a baby no yeah it’s it’s it’s funny because you run the gamut on those on those fur babies where you’ve got a giant one a little bitty one and then a cat in the middle do they all get along yeah they do they do but um it’s strange because the chihuahua i’ve never been a chihuahua person like i was always like i don’t yeah taco bell yeah

she doesn’t bark like she’s only 12 i’ve ever been around that doesn’t bark so which is even stranger because she makes no noise so then whenever like you’re paranoid you’re gonna step on her you know you’re like walking around don’t step on her don’t sit on her don’t and uh but they all get along they’re all really good but we’re lucky they’re all a little bit older too they’re all yeah yeah definitely definitely now uh you get a little bit of free time and when you get it you like to do crafts various crafts and things like that oh yeah yeah i do that and and run for office that was my other yeah when you asked that question i was like extra hour in the day here somewhere what do i do in my extra time it’s like i do like craft stuff i am one of those people that bought that little cricket cutting machine yeah so i’m like let me stack like putting stickers on everything and vinyl stuff on everything so that’s been fun but um scrapbooking yeah like in dollars yeah a little a little but not as much because i’m um i don’t have time to print stuff right i’m like you know scrapbooking you got to have pictures printed out and right you got to kind of plan ahead my stuff is like whatever is around at that moment can i glue it to something can i add a little glitter where’s that ribbon i’m good you know well you know it’s a funny thing with business energy you don’t have a lot of free time and people ask me all the time they’re like so what did you do this weekend and i’m like uh yeah work work and they’re like what did you do this day it worked you know i would scrub the floor yeah you almost feel bad about yourself it’s like they’re all like oh all you do is work and i’m like okay yeah i love it when they’re like sorry i was like well i didn’t say it to you to make you feel bad that’s what i thought i had to get done yeah it’s just kind of life

so after high school and during college i found it interesting that you worked at several restaurants which i would assume kind of sparked your love for the restaurant industry and at some point it was your mother i believe who was thrown around the idea of opening a restaurant so what i want you to do is take me kind of through that decision and how it led to opening tola cafe well we my mom had worked she she was working at restaurants also managing kind of doing all the back end work um and she with that uh it you know she got to see a lot of that part the business and and ordering and prep work and i because i was in college like they’re not letting college kids in the kitchen so i worked on the front end hosting and waitressing and that type of stuff but the thing about when you work at a couple of different businesses you also get to see different management styles different bosses and kind of what you don’t want to do yeah um as a business owner and then you see what you do want to do you get to see both ends of that so um my mom kind of was seeing the same thing i graduated from lsu and i was going into law school and i said okay look i need a break because i went directly from high school into college i finished college in four years i was like i might i did all my summer courses i did an intersession i was like i’m getting this done wow and i said i’ve got to have a break because i am like burnt out yeah on school in a minute so my mom said well i think i’m gonna i’m gonna open a restaurant because i’m i’m really kind of tired of working for other people and i said okay okay well let’s let’s look around we’ll see like if something opens up then let’s do it if it opens up by the time i have to finish my application for law school we’ll go full full on well just so happened a local guy down by the interstate we originally started by the interstate where petco is now it was a big flea market with 70 000 square feet um it was all a petco office depot that stage that whole center was one space so we were in uh there was a man in there and he was selling all of his equipment he was getting out of the restaurant industry he was tired of it so he listed it and my mom saw it was like oh well i mean that’s kind of a good price for that equipment let’s go look we went and looked and uh she said i really think we should i think we should do this and i said okay mom let’s do it

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until we hopped in and um at the time i was working at a law firm and so i went in because i was a runner for him i went in and said hey guys uh i think my mom’s gonna buy a restaurant and they were like what how how do you think and i said ah i mean she’s going to talk to the guy right now and talk about money and see how how much he wants and stuff and uh it just kind of worked it all worked out it was strange so we were just like all right this is meant to be let’s go with it and also it helped that i was 21 and young and yes very very optimistic and fresh and ready to go ready to go you know i mean my bills were i think my bills at the time were four hundred dollars a month yes like including rent everything my rent was 250 a month so uh it wasn’t real hard to make those bills yes you know so i was like oh we can do it it doesn’t matter if we don’t make a lot of money we can we’ll make it and uh we we went with it and it i mean i love it and it just kind of all worked out my husband at the time was working construction he said oh well no i love cooking let’s go and we’ll we’ll we’ll try all these new recipes we’ll try some of my grandma’s old recipes and so we got into it and it uh being in a market it’s like being in a mall kind of gives you a captive audience people are there shopping they’re going to be there all day they want to eat so it really allowed us to test stuff and gave us room to grow because we did have a captain’s audience like they were going to come in and get a burger yes yeah they were they we knew they would do that they’d get a cup of soup maybe they’d get some chips at the time it was roll closer to concession stand type stuff quick real quick serve um and it gave us that opportunity to to really feel it out yeah and give us some growth years whereas um if we’d gone stand alone restaurant i just don’t i don’t see us i don’t feel like we’d have made the jump if it was stand alone right because we don’t because i mean we were really we were naive and we were new business owners but we did really um go through and make sure to check everything and make sure um to do the back end work like what the licensing was going to cost how much this rent how much we had to sell to make the rent um all those look like we i say we jumped in but we did do a good deal of homework uh yeah you knew you broke even yeah yeah we did so we we did that and thank you for stand alone we’d probably pass but it was one of those things in life that just kind of fell together perfectly and rolled with it and it and i said you know look we’ll give it five years if we’re doing good in five years we’re making it in five years we’ll stay with it and so we did and it kept going so fantastic yeah and it’s it’s uh you probably picked the best time in your life to make that decision because at 21 if it don’t work out it don’t work yeah yeah you know when you’re when you’re 45 a lot of people have families and they have you know mortgages and if it don’t work out it can literally literally ruin your life yeah i mean some people can come back but a lot of people it’s um you know to be able to walk away yeah that’s where it’s at you know i mean it’s if can you just walk away from it stop and leave and um at 21 that’s way easier yes you know a great 100 and i i always tell young young people i’ll say you know take your chances when you’re young exactly if you got something on your mind and you think it’s a good idea do it before you’re you know 40 and you’ve got all this responsibility exactly viewing your bio it stood out to me that you described your your turn your words you describe them as army bribes oh yeah yeah so i think this is a key point i having come from a military background being you know being surrounded by a former military my entire life i know exactly what you mean when you discuss core values you were raised with such as family god hard work and community service were the four that you mentioned how beneficial have those values been in running toilet cafe from a work ethic standpoint um i think it it when you just have that in the back of your mind it’s just something um when i say core values it’s just like breathing to me you know it’s it’s just built in you don’t have to think about it it’s there and when your parents have built that into you um staying an extra hour to do something is nothing like you just expect it to happen why wouldn’t you do it you know you don’t question it it’s oh we have extra hour work one you do you just do it it has to be done and um you know it’s the same thing with community service it’s oh you see something that needs to be picked up or fixed you just do it because you should because you’re part of the community you’re part of that system um and i think both my parents being raised in the army and being army brats and moving around but still finding that that community because they both were raised on army bases um yeah you still have to find that community and you make it you make the community and um that’s i think with a restaurant it’s the same kind of thing you make your regulars you make your community and you just become part of it and you become part of their you find a way to be part of their lives and they in turn find a way to be part of yours so it’s that’s what i mean by core values it just it it’s so ingrained in you that you just really don’t think about it so i know for me when people ask about it i’m like i have to stop and think about it instead of um you know it’s it’s really just a part of you so and in restaurants that’s so needed because you have um the people in restaurants just become so tight because it you go through so much in the restaurant industry you’re there they’re the ones part of your team they’re you know catching your slack they’re making they’re helping make you you know i guess something bad happens they’re gonna make the excuse for you they’re gonna have your back um they’re gonna fix it so you’ve got to have that family kind of that family group that family court going the whole time and it’s important in business you know to have that yeah i agree 100 and it’s it’s uh probably the the most valuable uh asset when it comes to business ownership to me is work ethic right you’re gonna work you know you’re building something um if you’re someone that one you know wants kind of like an eight to five type thing don’t open a business because it’s not eight to five yeah how nice would that be i know you know i think about it sometimes it’s like a joke yeah i live vicariously through people on facebook it’s a mirage you look at it they’re on vacation and you’re like wait is that a that’s a place yeah and there’s a picture that’s right yeah that looks like fun maybe maybe one day but uh but it’s like like you say it’s like breathing we’re just kind of used to those sorts of things and and uh and probably will be way out of place without definitely something to do every second of every day um now another thing you mentioned was in college you discovered author ann rand who is known for two books actually fountainhead and atlas shrugged uh tell us a little bit about her influence on you uh that you’ve learned through reading your books um with her she you know an atlas shrug for me was the big one um and it in it she’s a entrepreneur they run the uh the railroad throughout the country at the railroad line and it and it talks about how well first her being a woman entrepreneur in a um just largely there’s actually in the story there’s no other women but like there’s no other women business owners in the story um and it just shows the challenges that she has with that but one of the things that caught me was that was not a hindrance to her that was she was okay with that she knew it was part of the system and she said okay i’m this is part of the system i’m in and i will work through it yeah i’m gonna work around it if this is what they expect that’s fine i will i will overcome that i will work above it and i will keep going um down to where um and i feel like especially in kind of today’s society with the with the federal government and how everything’s going um regulations on businesses uh and an atlas drug it was so huge the regulations of businesses uh the government kept putting and choking the businesses out um they just kept saying okay i’m gonna work around i’m gonna get other business owners we will talk one-on-one we will get we’ll make deals we will get all this together and we will make our businesses thrive and it just showed how she kept working within the system but she was she was going to overcome and beat the system going through it yeah instead of it being a and i and i kind of think that with my mom i learned that with her also it was okay it doesn’t matter if somebody thinks you can’t do it do it right do it you don’t have to talk about it you just get out there and do it and then they’ll know they’re going to see that you did it so um why waste your time trying to change their perspective through speaking to them because they just haven’t had that experience yeah so you need to uh they have they haven’t had that experience so you can’t expect them to know it just show them yeah once and then when it’s in front of their face they can’t help but admit that you know to themselves at least because you may not ever get admitting to you but to themselves they’ll see that it’s a possibility yeah and in that book she just constantly you know it it took her her whole life to come out on top but she did and uh it was it’s a good it’s a it’s a good book to read and some of it’s reading between the lines and those type of books because when that was written you definitely couldn’t come out against the establishment that was not something um that was okay or that you could write a book and not be persecuted for literally yeah exactly yeah that was a different time yeah back in the early you know 1900s and uh i’ll tell you one thing i i’ve learned through business i’m sure you have too is the only limits we really have are the ones we put on ourselves when you allow other people to limit you that’s when you run into problems and uh and so a lot of good lessons in that book so definitely recommend uh somebody check that out i’ll even link it in the description of this video bj pawn and gunn and denham springs wants to buy yorum wanted gold jewelry gold coins and gold bullion with 30 years of experience operating in the livingston parish area b.j palm wants to be your source when selling your gold so stop by bj pawn today for a no obligation offer b.j pawn a proud sponsor of local leaders the podcast

maybe we’ll inspire some other female business owners exactly or young and all that good stuff so how important is it in your opinion to support uh you know private family and businesses in your community i think it’s essential i mean i i really believe that um it is not just one of those like oh you should do it no it’s essential for your community if you want to have a strong just city you want to have strong schools you want to have strong after-school programs uh recreational programs you need to support small businesses little league teams or your church projects yeah because they don’t want to they just don’t want to go out and pick and choose they can’t well that’s right that’s right every every church league would want one thing to do that but the difference with small business owners your small business owners go to your church so to them it’s not a question or they went to that school so they want to support it and even if they can’t support all of them maybe they’ll support a couple extras if they can yeah um and that’s something that you don’t have to worry about that’s being part of the community small business owners just do that yeah i mean they and we have great examples of that in our community and i just think if people took a moment to really look at it and i understand you might pay a little bit more but the truth of that it’s not because we’re wanting to charge you more it’s just we don’t get the same deals that these large stores get you know we can’t buy it by the million cases it’s one it’s one case you’re buying it by the truckload they’re buying it by the way exactly exactly so your cost is different it’s so much higher but it doesn’t matter because in the end it all goes back to this community because we live here our you know kids go to school here you’re gonna buy your house here all that money stays here yeah whereas if you go to a big bag a big box store i mean i think it’s like 10 the money stays here it’s something so tiny um and you got to realize that that’s what grows your community is your local dollar stay in locally yeah that’s right and and you know with local businesses and it’s family-owned businesses even even to more of an extent uh you know you when i walk in tola cafe i know the people there right i mean we talk when i go in there uh when i go in some of these other local business family and businesses i know the people there maybe i go to church with them maybe uh they go to school with my son whatever and daughters but uh aside from all of that it’s a relationship i build you know with someone instead of a corporation and i’m not against corporations i mean they do employ a lot of people and they bring tax dollars to your city and but here’s the difference in my mind you know when there’s a pandemic hypothetically right um you know your public companies that have millions of shares of stock they’re going to be okay right their stockholders are not going to start selling their stock in all likelihood at some of these bigger places uh the business owner that’s the family business center they could literally go out of business during a pandemic and many did exactly yeah and so um that’s why you know we implore people to be cognizant of your family and businesses in your area well i’ll tell you this is an example that i use when people um talk to me whenever i’m talking as a city councilwoman um when you look from the flood because a big issue for uh me on the campaign side is and as a council member is the old albertson’s building and anyone locally knows where that’s at they after the flood uh they were open they were one of the i mean 92 percent of our buildings flooded in denham springs so they were part of that eight percent uh and they were open they did very well after the flood they had a lot i mean unbelievable support they were only grocery store that didn’t flood inside city limits i mean we they were highly supported they were open for five or six months after the flood closed that was you know 2016. yeah they had they felt at least to that building until april of this year of 2021 they had that lease wow so that building has had a lease on it and rent has been paid for five years and they closed whereas we have carter’s who is our local grocery store who stayed open struggled through struggled through losing business not having the same amount of people here shopping they kept their employees and now what are they doing moving and building a whole new shopping center and reinvesting all that back into our community where there’s going to be more people employed a larger you know really nice you know grocery store it’s it’s going to be they’re going to have other little buildings could you know other businesses there so they’ll have space for that that’s the the difference to me you may have to wait a few more years but this is a family that has been part of our community and had grocery stores for like 50 years keep building in and um instead of going oh we have money to build a new facility we could just go to baton rouge we’ll go somewhere else no they just found a space up the road and bam that’s what they’re doing yes so i mean instead of you know like this big box store that came in we supported and not that we had a choice and it was you have like we said you’re gonna shop i shop at walmart it happens you know you gotta go yeah but um to me it’s like hey if you if there’s a time where you’re questioning if you should do it go spend the extra ten dollars or take the minute to get a different brand maybe um and go to that small business owner yeah you know because that’s they’re going to keep putting money back in our community yeah and at least check in with them maybe they won’t have what you’re looking for they won’t have the stock in stock but at least check in with them and give them a shot at it well and maybe you have to instead of going to walmart and get every single thing there maybe you have to go to carter’s and get your groceries and then go to petco and get pet stuff yeah you know maybe you have to take an extra 20 minutes it i mean i know we’re all short on time but the that amount of time and that extra money to these businesses is truly you’re keeping a job here yes you’re keeping a business here keeping a family here i agree 100 love that and and uh you you know you hit the nail on the head uh so let’s talk a little bit more about tola so in 2003 you opened total cafe and then at some point you ended up in the antique district yeah tell me how that happened well for us um you know 2006 we had katrina hurricane katrina in louisiana and it was devastating but um denham springs itself was not hit as as bad or even as close as bad i mean we have water we had some wind damage but um it left all these businesses in new orleans and that area um saint bernard parish moving this way yeah and and their families moving this way because they had nothing to go back it was like us in the flood in 2016. some of them could go back and some just really could not right um so 2006 rolls around make it through katrina we’re going back to work we go into work and we find out that a business group from new orleans has bought our building and they are not renewing our lease they are choosing to not to not honor that lease which that is their choice because they were a new business coming in and they bought the building so it was hey you have the weekend to get out back up and there were i mean like 120 vendors in there so we went in on a thursday and it was hey guys can y’all get out yeah just you got to go and we were like what do you mean i mean my answer was like i guess yeah i was like 23 i was like oh when it’s paid what do you mean like yeah you hate it and they’re like no you can’t just do that yeah you do that right um and so we were very lucky and it goes back to community for us there also because um we had someone come in and eat lunch and he had been a regular of ours throughout the at that point only you know three years have been a regular and he said uh hebrew what is everybody talking about y’all are moving or closing and i said yeah robert we uh you know this building got bought out we don’t have any go and uh he said were you gonna open up somewhere else i said i don’t know i found out today like i’m looking like you know i mean i said i’ve got calls out but yeah i’ve called some people i don’t know and he said well you know we have that building downtown and uh the restaurant that we had in there is moving out you wanna come look at it and it’s yes yes i sure do so uh we drove down after work that day and looked at it and uh they still had a lot of their stuff in there and i said do you am i supposed to clean this too and he said oh no he said they’re cleaning it because i was like i will clean it tonight and we’ll we can do this yeah and so he said no they’re gonna um they’re gonna they’re moving out they’ll have everything out do you want to take it and i said yes please you know and so we back to community it was just he had heard about everything closing out and had empty space and thought hey let me go see if they want it you know he hadn’t even listed it yet so came down and took us a month which was i mean amazing moved everything out of the original business over the weekend to my parents house so i’m sure their neighbors love that because the backyard it was like chairs and tables and shelves and just piled up it was horrible um and then it was you know get to the new space paint it get it done and get all the permits done and new license and transfer it and we were there and going in a month fantastic and we’ve been there every year it’ll be 15 years in may so jim we’re swamped with these podcasts and i’m in the mood for some local barbecue for lunch barbecue casey the problem with barbecue is the speed that would take forever not at buddy’s barbecue with the drive-thru line they can get us fed fast in that sauce mmm yum it is right in the heart of denim springs do they have specials yes they have plate lunch specials every day jim and i bet you didn’t know they offer some of the best catfish plates you’ve ever tasted on fridays and on saturdays they have smoked rib eyes they are as flavorful as you can find anywhere okay i’m hungry what’s the number i’ll call it in no just go online and place your order by the time you’re finished i can head that way that is convenient and really smart yep just like me a local business and you know what i always say oh yes jim chapman loves local correct and that makes me smart oh please if you’re in the mood for barbecue go see buddies barbecue at 105 florida avenue southeast right in the heart of denham springs they’re a proud sponsor of local leaders the podcast

15 years and you’re really in the perfect spot

it uh it it just kind of fits your food if that makes any sense at least to me um you know you’re you’re right there in the center of town too which which doesn’t hurt you know um get get a little bit of traffic in that district thankfully it’s it’s improved since um now let’s talk about cove for a minute i want to just discuss uh just a little bit about it um the restaurant industry obviously took that in the hair stylist industry took the largest hit in my opinion take me kind of through that process of your thoughts when march came around 2020. i’ll tell you i did an interview with david gray when it first started and i told him i thought that if if the government did not issue out some kind of help or if regulations did not lift because this was must have been like the third or fourth week because it was when they had completely shut down indoor dining it was restaurants had to completely close out um i told them i said look i’ve got two months yeah because i told him that david i’ve been through this before i’ve packed up a move before i know um you know i have a lot more time under my belt i know how much money i have and honestly if uh if i hadn’t have gone through moving with katrina and then the flood um maybe i wouldn’t have known that but i said look i think i’ve got two months and if i don’t get something if i don’t get some kind of help if they don’t start issuing now unemployment um anything uh this is not gonna work yeah and i told him i said look if they want to completely shut everything down i will come i have i support it let’s do it let’s shut it all down and to me i’m in everything yeah and let’s get this knocked out yeah and then go back yeah because i told myself i think the most dangerous will be us dragging this out and that will make small businesses choke out because it will give it’s just too much it’s too much after the flood i said i know um what money i don’t have how much money i do have because i know what i spent coming back in trying to get back um and getting back and uh i said so i i that’s it for me yeah and he said oh you think so you think two months and i said absolutely yeah well luckily the government did get on the ball and they started issuing unemployment uh which because i don’t i said look i work for myself there’s you know i know i’ve got to pay my bills at home i have to pay my bills here um so they started issuing employment i said okay i can file for unemployment that’ll take care of my house luckily the landlord that i have uh very blessed he he said look i can give you all a couple months free because you can’t open yeah so am i even gonna go through trying to charge it like i’m not doing it um and then after that i’ll just let you fall behind yeah as long as you can pay something and so i said okay we can do that then and i told him i said i’ll be right up you know i’ll be upfront with you if it gets the point that we can’t um i will make that decision to cut and we will have to work for other people and we’ll have to you know we’ll do it yeah but um it was definitely such a gut punch to me because it was as a small business owner even with like the flood and stuff you still had i mean just the tiniest bit of control and you knew exactly like okay the waters go out you go clean it like it’s still moving it’s moving with covet it was just complete stop and now go sit yeah and that does not float well with me oh it’s like sit and do what nothing and honestly it’s your baby yeah and that it is and that’s yeah we were like oh my gosh like we left on that friday and i said oh my gosh like this is it this is it i mean it was just insane because i had gone um and and picked up lunch at pebos and while i was there they issued the um like closing out indoor dining and i said oh my gosh i thought we would at least have the weekend to go through yeah and i was like i thought at least start on monday because that week we had had three changes and rolls throughout the week it was three complete changes yeah and so i was like what are they remember can we even get one completely done like what are they doing and um and that was on the state level and it was uh just devastating watching it and uh you know i was talking to chris at whistle stop and me and her were back and forth and we’re just like what what can we do and um at first it was like oh well we can do some catering downtown and then they came through and shut down all the offices and we’re like well there goes that can’t do that yeah and uh you know it was like well we maybe we can do this like that we just kept going back and forth trying to hustle stuff and and trying to figure out new ways and finally i said chris i’m done i’m done yeah i said yeah i’m gonna i’m tapping out for a little bit and that’s i i that’s what we had to do for a while because it was just so over regulated um and i told her i said i can go buy all this other stuff but if they keep choking it out i’m going to put out so much money because i’m going to like do damage to my business going out and putting getting all these because that you know new plastic where new takeout supplies all the stuff i said if i revamped to this point i’m not going to be a restaurant anymore i need to just switch over and be a caterer right so very good you know it’s just it started you know you start looking at it on this is the you know i’m in this business so is this business gonna work or do i need to scrap this whole model and go to something new and for me i was like i’m not doing that yeah i own a restaurant and that’s what that’s my dream and that’s what i want to do so i said you know if it’s not a restaurant anymore i’m going to totally pivot and do something else you’re going to law school i was like i’m about to go take that student loan now yeah it’s going to happen they’re all paid off let’s go again but uh you know i said it’s that’s really where it was going to go and i luckily enough stuff came out and we qualified for the ppp uh loans and that stuff so it was just enough to keep us going and i told him i said i don’t mind hard times and i’m on it just enough i’m okay with that as long as i can see the light i can see us moving great way to put it and thank god for those lifelines at that time especially your industry our industry kids like to come back to work and stuff i was like you know like i mean you got all these college kids working for me and they were like what’s unemployment what’s that because i really when we shut down i said okay guys like i had all their stuff printed out for them i said this is unemployment this is what you’re gonna do i need you to file today yeah and they’re like yeah but they’re saying maybe i said no let’s sit down like let’s sit down we will listen to mrs hey i need you to do it right now and so uh because although they’re in college they all live out on their own i was like y’all these bills are gonna keep coming they’re not gonna like yeah i was like these people that you rent from and like they have to pay for that building and let’s do it right you still have to pay them and um you know i was like i know they because they were like oh they said they can’t evict people i was like don’t you do that right would you do that to those people that’s not right i was like you’re going to pay them and uh on time because you’re going to get unemployment yeah so uh it was a good unemployment too they were yeah they were oh yeah they were fine uh and and i told him i said you know look we’re like i will report you when we open back up don’t play i was like you’re going to get this unemployment and it’s good but um we open back up guess who’s coming back to work so and they were all good all my kids they’re all my employees are really good but they uh you know and i’m glad you mentioned experience yeah definitely and we’re so glad you’re on that you know it looks like all of us uh are on the other side of that yeah you know the numbers are really drastically going down everything’s looking a lot better the people that want to get vaccinated are getting vaccinated and and uh so let’s hope all that continues but you made it through and that’s that’s strong oh yeah we made it and i and truly the part of that is remaining and we’ve had opportunities for the years to expand out and get other locations and for us it was just no we wanted our we wanted our one like really truly little hole in the wall restaurant we love it we love that part of the industry and um the freedom that you have with being able to kind of create your own stuff and not having um like you get to a certain size everything kind of needs you to function correctly and run a good business it has to stay the same yeah when you’re a smaller place you can still do specials and kind of just um people come in it’s okay if they have you can really do off the menu stuff for people that maybe have dietary changes and regular customers and stuff like that but being as long open as long as we have we had our regulars that called and said hey we will get stuff to go we will do this you know um we’re gonna even if we can’t come in we will eat every day yeah and they did and yeah that’s what kept us keeping that electric bill paid and keeping that water bill paid um i know you were doing some things at the beginning as far as like call and we’ll bring it out yeah that’s it it was everything i was like whatever you need to do like we will walk it out to you i don’t care if it’s pouring down and a couple times it was pouring down the rain i was like i don’t care we will get it done because and it was you know bring it to people’s offices whatever you could do

casey have you called the plumber about the sink in the break room yep they came this morning i can’t believe you missed them what was their name again giotts plumbing wow that was quick and they did a great job they did and when you need plumbing services of any type give giots plumbing a call with over 50 years combined plumbing experience the team at geots plumbing can handle all of your plumbing needs so whether it’s residential commercial new construction or reconstruction give giotts plumbing a call at 907 6282 and get scheduled fast giotts plumbing a proud sponsor of local leaders the podcast but the the truth of that too is is that level of work you can only keep that level up for so long so finally when they started i’ll tell you i was happy to not have to run stuff out and run you know run the phones and run the to-go orders because i told him i said i am not 20 anymore yeah so i mean going home and you’re looking at it going wow i’m doing a quarter of the sales but why do i feel like i did quadruple those cells because my feet are killing me my back is hurting and i want to roll over right um so it was nice to get back to dine in and and that regular rhythm that i’d had for 15 years 16 years absolutely so glad you got that and you and you mentioned employees and how important a role do you think your staff is to the success of tolo cafe well i mean in restaurants your staff it’s it’s essential because that’s your first point of contact with your customers um for me i used to stay up front a lot more now i’m more on the kitchen end and i run back and forth like a crazy person but um mine it’s it’s very they’re essential for my business to succeed is for them to understand that customers um you know like that relationship has to be nurtured it has to be you know you have to be on top of it if i mean you have plenty of customers they’ll come in maybe they don’t remember that they’re allergic to mayo yeah like they said it one time they think that should be it yeah you know and it’s but truthfully i’m like hey guys that’s that’s it that’s what we get so you know yeah you need to remember for them and keep going and maybe they want something different or they don’t like tomatoes or whatever you know but that’s what makes a small business special is that we do remember that yeah so when they come in you know they’ll notice oh i didn’t say it or oh but it was done correctly and that’s what keeps it going so employees it’s just you can’t as a small business owner you truly can’t do everything as much as you wanna you can’t yeah so you have to delegate and you have to make sure that they your employees know what you want what you expect and then you’ve got to make sure they do it and if not you know they gotta go yeah and that’s that that’s right and you know it the the thing is amber uh the customer it may be the first time they’ve ever been in an establishment and uh if they get bad service or or even what you know we all know that sometimes people can perceive something differently right then and and but even in that situation you never you may not get a second chance and so um as the business owner you’re kind of you’re kind of saying all right here’s my baby don’t mess it up and drop it and make it yeah and make everybody feel special and uh and usually the business will take care of itself right i can tell you i’ve been in the in your place a million times and and uh never had a problem i mean we really we try to stay on top of it and uh i feel like we do a great job of it and keeping the employees going and making sure really that they know what you expect and what you want and then and following through with it but i’ll tell you for um the hospitality and service industry the worst thing is the mask for us like to get our point through because you are literally screaming at customers oh no you’re screaming at them and it does not always come across correctly because you’re screaming at them and they know you’re screaming so sometimes you know like you said sometimes the perception is you know why are you screaming at me it’s like you i’ve said it three times you didn’t hear me the first three yeah and i find it very difficult to talk through a mask for somebody you know i would make a horrible doctor i guess because i just cannot stand i feel like i’m not communicating or the person can’t see my lips move not that that matters um i found i read the lips a lot and i did not realize i did that until the mask came out until everybody had to wear a mask and i i will tell people i’m like i need you to talk a lot louder yeah because i mean i’m like i’m wearing white noise a lot in the kitchen so it takes a minute for my hearing to adjust like i need you to do it and um it throws people off but i’m like god i need to see your lips i forgot to see them yeah because i feel so i just feel like i’m not communicating correctly or that i can’t like say like i just can’t understand sometimes what people are saying or it muffles so much yeah and you can’t read emotion yeah either when somebody’s talking they could be happier they could be mad and you can’t differentiate because they got a mask on pull your mouth down let me see i know yeah so uh it’s also worth mentioning that you’re a member of several organizations here uh the louisiana western association y’all are a member of the denham springs merchant association the louis uh the livingston parish chamber of commerce uh in addition to that you also serve on the denham springs city council as we kind of discussed earlier now what was your goal when you ran for that seat

tiffany c card with homekey mortgage combines the experience and knowledge you need to make your mortgage loan a smooth stress-free process reach out to tiffany for more information on the vast mortgage programs available in the livingston parish area tiffany c card of homekey mortgage a proud sponsor of local leaders the podcast well we had so the 2016 the flood came through and chris davis uh he was a council member he left and moved to mississippi because he flooded um had different business opportunities so his seat was open there was a year left on his term so i thought well it’s a year and let me run and we’ll see um all this rebuilding in the city and my business was coming back and i’m right across from where city hall at the time it was a temporary location but now we’ve bought that building and there’s a permanent location um for city hall but it’s really it’s like across the street pretty much from me yeah so i was watching it and i just really um after the flood kind of got a little bit more involved on the i guess regulation end of things because dealing with fema and all that i was like what do you mean why is it this way so then it was more research into why things fell out the way uh they were and um what regulations what they stemmed from uh so i started going to the little community meetings that the city was having yeah for the rebuilding process and the denim strong meetings and kind of get involved there and then i was like oh well these are suggestions but how do i how would i actually change it if i wanted to do it yeah how do i do that and so then they were like well you’d have to tell a council member and i was like oh okay well i could do that but i really feel like i’m about to be really telling somebody a lot of stuff like i thought i’m gonna be a good friend with some council members um so then when chris davis left i thought well um i mean always like i said i originally was going to go into law school which probably would have led to politics anyway but i thought well maybe i’ll see i’ll run and see it’s a year and if i go in being new and never have you even talked about running for office um i we knew it would be a trial run i didn’t think i would win the first time uh for that one and i didn’t and that was kind of expected but i thought let me see if i can even kind of see myself doing this yeah so got out there ran for that first one for that last end of term of chris davis’s laura smith won that term um then everybody ran the next year so that was a full you know a full ballot so i said okay well didn’t make it this is it i know what how to do it now kind of had my little trial run um the good thing about that was that year it was a year to the next election so you never finished campaigning it was just keep going yeah ran and made it but it was really because of the flood i don’t think i’m pretty i mean really for me i’m i don’t think i’d have ran if the flood wouldn’t have happened yeah because it was just i’d have kept going in my in my lane it would have been nothing there’d been no bump there for me to even conserve consideration oh keep going when the flood happened it was just a pivot point for me um looking at everything like i said i wanted i saw i was like okay all this female money is coming to town and all this rebuilding is coming and there’s going to be all these new things happening um i just really wanted to be part of that and and to be able to give not my just because people kept coming to me they’re like amber have you heard this have you heard of this happening have you do how do we fix this and i was like people keep asking me this but i really can’t do anything for them like i was like i can’t yeah i can’t really help them but you know i just kept feeling that kind of pull of uh wanting to be able to help people and serve people and i felt it kind of kind of pulling on me and i thought why not let’s just give it a try and if it works it works so i did and like i said i think it just goes back to those core values of community service and feeling i just felt that need and uh with the flood it it just kind of accelerated it so there i ran and i won and i mean it’s been two years now so it’s going good fantastic yeah and we sure you know people don’t realize that that uh what you just said is what you want to hear out of the i hate these or term politicians but i mean it’s true but what you want to hear is those type of reasons for running i i used to have people ask me especially when i started this pocket when are you going to run for this and i’m like you know honestly when i feel like i can make a difference right right um if i felt like i had an idea that would benefit the community i might would consider that but uh you know too often you see politicians and they run for the power aspect and and not the giving back right aspect of it and i think that’s an admirable thing because look it takes time right oh yeah you’re giving up time from family and friends and in your restaurant and uh and so it takes a commitment and uh so you hopefully if you’re doing that sort of thing you have your your uh head on straight when it comes to why you’re doing it well and i think uh i am i’m part of the dental springs main street association also and uh with that association rene de la hussein who was a former council member he retired uh the year that i ran so actually we ended up getting his seat i did uh he was such a strong and is such a strong supporter supporter of downtown denim so i knew that he was going to be retiring and i was like oh my gosh we’re going to lose that support and not that the other council members don’t support us but he came to all kind of meetings and he was really um it was kind of his his thing and any kind of like new grants renee always knew about him he was always like hey out there i mean before anybody else knew because that just was his thing and he was really good about it but um i saw him going out too and i was like man this is uh because i told him i said i would have never ran against him like he was just kind of my like that was the one i went to i was gonna remember i went to is my guy and i said you know i don’t see me running against him uh because he did it he didn’t he’s doing a good job

when he retired i was like man we’re fixing to have like a vacuum we’re not gonna have that support or that representation so um that was a chunk of it too and and it worked out good but uh yeah you definitely learn when you run for all it’s it’s amazing though it’s given me you know when you’re a business owner and you’re kind of in the same business for so long it’s almost been 20 years with the restaurant um it’s just second nature i mean i learned little new like new things a little but this with the council it is like it’s amazing it’s like going back to school yeah it is new things every day new regulations new ways to do stuff new reasons why so it’s it’s been really for me mentally it’s been very challenging and and very stimulating so i like it awesome awesome well good for you doing a great job with that and you’re you know where you come from and in that your business is in the antique district what a great representative to have in a in the city council so great job there now you said something in your bio it really stood out to me and i want to quote it kind of verbatim so when asked what awards or recognition have you received related to your business you answered the cafe chef kerry and i uh have received different accolades over the years but the day that they recognition from our guests is what we treasure the most and i think that’s fantastic um you know that really is the only feedback you need is those who who patronize your restaurant absolutely and uh and so that just stood out to me that was a great uh that’s a great way to to judge your business right well for us it’s i mean really it’s the people coming in and seeing their kids or their grandkids and literally i’ve got ones that you know like they came in they were pregnant and now their kids are graduating high school or have graduated or getting married and um you know they’ll call and get stuff for different occasions and you feel like you’re just really you’re part of it and they to like they expect it it’s part of their life to have whatever that dressing is for christmas or that soup for whatever um sunday meal and it just uh it really it’s amazing how much customers truly become family yeah and how much it is like just gut wrenching when you lose one yeah and i guess especially uh with my customer base being a little bit older and with covet it was so scary because i was like really this is like somebody asked me they said well why don’t you just open i said because really y’all if one of my customers if i even in the very back of my mind thought that we caused a customer to fall ill or the cove would die i don’t like i just don’t know what i do yeah so i mean that’s um yeah i mean it’s part you truly become part of their lives and they become part of yours you do you know and so it’s it really does it means a lot more to us when we have our regulars that are like you know they love it and that’s their part of their their life so it means a lot more and not that i don’t appreciate you know like country roads doing that’s a um you know like new chef award um 225 being running for stuff like that that’s great but um you know like the stuff that really touches my heart is is the customer well put very well put and and um and you’re exactly right it’s funny in my household uh you even come in that conversation because i’ll come home with only one total salad and my wife wants to yeah she’s like uh you went to toilet today or i’ll tag on a post you know at total cafe and she’s like so uh yeah i mean those are you know that’s kind of the difference with with uh family-owned places versus kind of you know run-of-the-mill corporations is is uh everybody in your family knows the place they’re familiar with it um where the way i discovered you to show you how much uh facebook works is many years ago you hit y’all i think it was a pecan pie or something y’all made oh it was so good i went one time and then i got like hooked on it and i was going all the time just for that dessert and you know uh god was good i wish you could think of the name of it now but i think you got bread pudding yes that’s what it was yes bread pudding i’m thinking that’s what you got it was so good sweet potato bread put in the prawn sauce that’s the pecans you’re making about that’s right you add me at hello let me tell you if you have not had that trust me oh yeah when it’s warm we’ve been doing blueberry with um lemon glaze right now because it’s springs that blueberries are really good oh yeah um and that’s so good and i really don’t even like lemon stuff but i love that lemon glaze um because it’s i’m sure because there’s so much sugar in it what’s not to love about you because i’m not a lemon meringue person but i love lemon glaze yeah so what’s your most popular menu item um really the shrimp and corn soup and the roast beef po boy probably run hand to hand your shrimp bad boys are good no i love i mean for us ever i mean i really am there i’ll like every day everything so everything on the menu i eat it but roast beef po boy i think people get that because nobody like i mean it starts with a 20 pound roast it cooks overnight

you don’t want like i mean you’re not it’s not making it because you smell it all night like after the flood we had to cook it at home and i was like really this is torture yeah that’s this is torture indeed like i cannot smell this all night long like i mean i would wake up at two in the morning i was like smell it and so then it was uh finally we had enough like our prep kitchen and work was finally empty from all of our stuff being there and it was like okay now we have our room to blake cook the rose back here and it was so nice oh that sounds so good shrimp and corn soup we’ve had the same shrimp and corn soup since we opened yeah very good and uh we sell it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees outside we’re going to sell a pot of shrimp and corn soup and i’m going every time i’m going yo it’s 100 degrees do you want a salad you want a little bit lighter like i mean you could do like the soup and a half of po boy shrimp boy with it they’re like nope i want a bowl of soup give me the whole bowl okay go with it yeah now is the time more than ever to support local business alisa verret interiors and custom workroom is working hard to use made in the usa products for all their clients window coverings schedule your appointment today for a consultation on roman shades drapes shutters outdoor sun shades and even woven woods need a virtual appointment no problem call alisa at area code

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awesome uh now one thing we do on this show that uh people seem to like is we do fun facts so um i i try to pick a subject that we’re talking about that day and then and today we were talking about you know food and louisiana food and and uh so i picked uh louisiana cuisine as the subject so we’ll we’ll entice our audience with all these interesting facts so here’s one for you onion celery and bell pepper are actually considered the holy trinity of cajun cuisine the base of most dishes will have these three ingredients with bell pepper replacing carrot as the key ingredient so i found that interesting i actually knew that one bro bridge the crawfish capital of the world and rain is considered the frog capital of the world didn’t know about the rain knew about burbridge the po-boy so the po boy originated from martin brothers french market restaurant and coffee stand in new orleans during a 1929 streetcar strike so they had a streetcar strike and these even these two guys had a french market and they all these people were outside and they basically said why don’t we make sandwiches form with like fried shrimp on it that’s what they did and po boy was because they were on strike and i guess lost their job or whatever three most popular cajun dishes in order jambalaya gumbo and boudin uh the three most popular pies now this one surprised me nakedish meat pie is number one no surprise there pecan pie number two uh crawfish pie number three i don’t know where phila gumbo comes in but i bet it’s right there how many uh pounds of crawfish are consumed in louisiana season believe it or not it’s estimated yeah how many would you guess i mean it’s definitely millions yeah about to say i would think million 10 million 90 million way more than i thought pounds 90 million yeah that’s amazing that’s a lot because 10 i was thinking it was off the box yeah yeah well they say the average person when you’re ordering for like a crawfish bowl you you figure five pounds per person unless my wife’s there and it’s ten pounds yeah should trust me she’s going oh man it’s going quick uh so amber dugas staying on the subject of women this is national women’s history month in honor of this uh we have something for you so uh in honor of this local leadership podcast has chosen five of the top female leaders in the community who make a difference every day and you’re one of them uh it’s our honor to present you with this plaque commemorating your lifetime of service to the restaurant industry and to the city of denim springs it’s so much oh really well you deserve it and you have earned it and uh it’ll cost you one time

oh really thank you so much i really truly appreciate we appreciate you and uh love our female leaders around here so amber tell everybody where you’re located in denham springs and uh shout out your facebook okay so we are located in um the historic district downtown denham the antique village um right right by the railroad tracks denim springs uh it’s like 105 north range yeah yep um and then our facebook you know we have our on facebook it’s taste of louisiana tola cafe on facebook there you go so all you listeners go to facebook give them a like i know uh amber and the crew would appreciate that i do want to thank casey mcmurray for all she does for her role as executive producer of local leaders the podcast she’s invaluable to our success i want to thank everyone out there for viewing and listening to local leaders the podcast please continue to like comment share and subscribe to our social media platforms as we strive to spotlight all of our local businesses in livingston parish thanks to all our sponsors we could not do any of this without all of you and until next time i’m jim chapman reminding you to love your community support local business and keep leading thank you thank y’all

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