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Nestled on a well-groomed corner of a mostly residential neighborhood at Jefferson and 10th Avenue in Central Los Angeles, Harold & Belle’s Creole Restaurant began over 38 years ago as a small billiard (pool) hall and bar. Founded by Harold Legaux Sr. and his wife Belle, it is now one of the finest ethnic restaurants in the nation and indeed last year was ranked the Best Ethnic Restaurant in Los Angeles by Los Angeles Magazine.
After making the difficult choice from so many enticing selections on their luncheon specials menu, I enjoyed a delectable meal of Crawfish etoufée, crawfish tails simmered in a spicy rich crawfish gravy served with steamed pasta, preceded by a cup of their famous clam chowder. With a level of service that was well above average, this writer had an opportunity to speak with Ryan Legaux, grandson of the founder and current general manager of the restaurant.
“My grandfather was born in New Orleans and he was quite an entrepreneur. He started several businesses including a bicycle shop and a hamburger-stand and pool hall, which later became Harold & Belle’s. Among all of his other business endeavors, he always enjoyed cooking,” Legaux explained.
“In 1979 my father (Harold Legaux Jr.) took over the restaurant, following my grandfather’s passing and in 1984 he completed a major renovation that expanded the dining and kitchen area. Now,” he described, “we operate seven days a week, offering gumbo, our house specialty, and a broad selection of Louisiana-style/Creole food offerings, and are able to accommodate lunch as well as dinner patrons with the kitchen closing at 10:00 pm.”
Established in the early 1960s, Harold Sr.’s first significant food outlet was Hungry Harolds. In a facility that remains in operation today at Crenshaw and Slauson, the restaurant was best known for its hamburgers, chili dogs, and pastrami sandwiches.
“My father was also an entrepreneur while his father had developed a successful restaurant. In addition to the major renovation he spearheaded,” Legaux explained. “His influence also became visible in his quality and quantity of food offerings and in our focus on customer service.”
With the third generation patriarch now serving as general manager of the restaurant, with overall day-to-day responsibility for business operations, Harold Jr., still ‘performs his magic as a chef’ on a regular basis.
“I share my father’s passion for cooking,” Legaux explained. “And I received my orientation at age 12 when I began peeling potatoes. At age 13, I was a busboy in the restaurant and in High School and throughout college, when not at University of California at Davis, I waited tables.”
In the early 1980s to facilitate the expansion, Harold, Jr. added two business partners, Al and Sue Honoreé. Long-time friends from Louisiana, Al and Sue had created a successful electrical business. The couple shared many mutual friends and acquaintances and also shared the Legaux’ passion for cooking.
At the present time, Harold & Belle’s Creole Restaurant operates with a staff of around 50-60 full and part-time employees on a regular basis, usually serving in excess of 1,000 meals each day.
“One of the biggest challenges,” Legaux described, “is dealing with the problems and personalities of individual staff members. We try to maintain a family environment among our staff and we always try to bring them along and help them in any way that we can.”
Recognizing the competitive nature of any food service operation, Legaux said, “I also rely on our staff, like my Aunt, Marie Ruffo, who has been with us over 20 years and is now the restaurant manager, to treat our lunch and dinner guests the same way they would like to be treated.”
That quality service level probably contributes significantly to the many loyal customers who return to Harold & Belle’s Creole Restaurant on a regular basis as well as the national and international reputation they have captured in attracting customers from across the nation and around the world as they visit Los Angeles.
Two of the most notable patrons who made plans to stop by for the food and service that has made the restaurant famous are Oprah Winfrey and former president Bill Clinton. “Regrettably,” Legaux explained, “both of them had to cancel at the last minute even after their advance team had made all of their arrangements for their dining experience.”
On a more regular basis, it is not uncommon to see many of Los Angeles’ business, community and religious leaders, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers players, as well as visiting basketball players from across the nation, not to mention the regulars who have made this their first-choice when eating out.
Harold & Belle’s Creole Restaurant offers a full service catering service and is capable of handling external parties, weddings, funeral repasts/receptions and other similar events as well as special occasions at the restaurant.
With a complete Creole menu featuring their filé gumbo and po-boy sandwiches that are served all day to a complete appetizer, entrée salad, a broad and delectable fried fish and meat selections to their home style-favorites, extras, their famous clam chowder, fried seafood dinners, sautéed specialties and off-the-grill items; their menu also features luncheon specials, served until 4:00 p.m. each day, as well as entrée salads for the light eaters and luncheon entrees if you have a more hearty lunch-time appetite.
In addition to the warm and friendly staff you will find when you enter the restaurant or at the bar if you are stopping by for liquid refreshment, you will notice the warm ambience and pleasant aroma of a family-friendly restaurant and staff that is ready to ensure that you eat well and have a pleasant experience.
You may also notice several plaques and commendations that are prominently displayed on the restaurant walls. A few notable ones that are a testament to the quality of their establishment include the Steve Harvey Hoodie Award, the California Restaurant Writer’s Award, and Los Angeles Magazine’s Best Ethnic Restaurant Award for 2006.
Legaux summed-up the Harold and Belle’s restaurant experience quite nicely.
“Ours is a family establishment that has been serving the community for years and with a passion for service and a strong desire to please our customers. Our customers may always expect a great meal with excellent quality and quantity of food, and excellent service in a friendly, family oriented atmosphere.”
“Excuse me waiter, may I request a take-out order of sautéed lobster scampi, grilled spicy crawfish salad, and a side order of jambalaya, red beans, and hot sausage? Thank you.”