As one of 12 siblings who grew up in the food industry, Maurice native Rachael Hebert has been cooking her whole life. Self-taught in the culinary arts and schooled by example, she eventually branched off on her own and opened Rachael’s Café in January 2012 in a strip mall at 104 Republic Avenue in Lafayette.
Despite its unassuming, tucked-away location, customers quickly discovered Rachael’s and have made it a must-stop dining spot for authentic Cajun cuisine. On a recent lunchtime visit, loyal patrons began filling the restaurant at 11 a.m. and had completely packed the dining room – and outside tables – by noon.
The Secret Sauce
“It’s her true passion,” Jordan Hebert says of his mother. “She’s always changing things and has her own flavor profiles. She has a precise palate, and she stretches with her taste profiles when trying something new.”
Jordan, along with sisters Kellie and Tiffany, help Rachael run the restaurant. “But all employees who work here, family or not, are treated the same,” Jordan says. “We are team players.”
Operating hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, and you’ll find Hebert at the restaurant the entire time – some days as early as 4 a.m. Her home-style dishes take time, and customers appreciate her efforts. The menu is simple, but extensive, ranging from starters to entrées to fit meals, filling up two long pages – plus daily specials.
When you enter the restaurant, designed with art and woodworking created by family members, you’ll see lots of action – the servers are constantly on the move, keeping up with countless orders. And yet, they still make time to banter with their customers. There’s lots of laughter and in this boisterous place – as we all know, good food leads to good moods.
And you’ll see lots of regulars at Rachael’s – singles at the counter, families at tables, and couples in corners. In fact, Rachael’s became so popular that it took over the space next door, doubling in size. But there’s no plan to add locations. “We want to keep it small to maintain the quality and feel,” Jordan explains.
People also pop in to grab to-go foods from the cooler – gumbos, soups, bisques, specialty seafood items and more. Rachael’s frozen goodies have become so sought-after that Hebert added a wholesale business last year, selling the products to shops in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Healthy Bites to Hearty Meals
A few years ago, Rachael’s added a Fit Meals section to its menu. “Customers wanted it, and it’s been a hit ever since,” Jordan says. As part of the Eat Fit Acadiana program, the items on the Fit Meals menu meet nutritional criteria designated by Ochsner Health System and supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and Lafayette General Health. From this extensive section, diners can choose a protein, including tasty items like meatloaf, tuna steak and pork chops, along with two fresh-cooked veggies (coconut sweet potatoes are a favorite).
On the heartier side are home-cooked plate lunches loaded with regulars’ most-requested dishes: meatball stew on Monday; hamburger steak on Tuesday; steak and sausage in brown gravy on Wednesday; pork roast and red beans on Thursday; catfish courtbouillon and shrimp stew on Friday; and chicken fried steak daily. Customers eagerly anticipate the first Thursday of the month, when Rachael cooks up beef tongue.
Rachael is renowned for her gumbos, including chicken and sausage and Rachael’s Signature – shrimp, crab, crawfish and andouille. She also offers shrimp and okra gumbo, beef and vegetable soup and corn and crab bisque.
“People come for the experience,” Jordan explains. “Older people come back for the stuff they grew up on.” But the real secret is quality and consistency. “Food is constantly being cooked by one or more of us,” Jordan says. “We make sure one of the family members is here at all times.”
And that’s how to run a successful family-owned business.
A NEW SIN-SATION
Rachael’s Signature Gumbo is chock full of seafood – shrimp, crab and crawfish. But it also has andouille for an additional kick. With every spoonful, you’ll get so much protein that you don’t need any- thing else. Still, every good Cajun knows that you must serve rice (or Rachael’s homemade potato salad) in your gumbo!
HEY, HEY, GOOD CHICKEN
Chicken Fried Steak is so popular at Rachael’s, that it’s a daily special. And once you taste it, you’ll know why. The huge, tender steak is pounded to perfection and fried with a crispy crust. Get it served over mashed potatoes with brown gravy – and cream gravy on the side, of course – then, take a long nap.
By popular demand, Rachael’s added a Fit Meals section to the menu, where you can choose from a variety of protein and veggies. A customer favorite is the grilled chicken with coconut sweet potatoes or baked sweet potato and green beans. Kick it up a notch by adding grilled onions and mushrooms – you won’t even realize that you’re eating healthy.