GENERATION NOW: Husband and wife Ryan and Jessica Legauxs officially took over the 43-year-old bastion of New Orleans cuisine Harold & Belle’s two years ago when his father Harold Legaux Jr. died of complications from pancreatic cancer.
The young Legauxs expand on family tradition of excellence
“When we made the decision to take this business over, we decided that the status quo wasn’t good enough,” said Ryan Legaux, third generation owner of Harold and Belle’s.
Right now, he and wife Jessica want to start in house at the restaurant’s bar and lounge area, they want to build a banquet hall, and enlarge their existing group dining area, they said.
“Me personally, and I told my dad this too before he passed, I said, ‘I don’t have a problem taking over the restaurant but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life just here. I’m either going to have multiple restaurants or different things going on.’”
“We turn down a lot of business because of people wanting big groups so we want to convert what is now our storage facility into a 100 seat banquet hall,” Ryan said.
The young Legauxs officially took over the 43-year-old bastion of New Orleans cuisine on the west coast two years ago when his father Harold Legaux Jr. died of complications from pancreatic cancer. But even before then, Ryan had come from UC Davis with a food science degree eager to implement new ideas and bring the restaurant into the 21st Century. Jessica was excited and just as eager and wanted to help him, but the pair was confronted with reluctance.
“You have this generation that’s like, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” said Jessica.
“[So,] the fact that we were able to even get a website was huge. We got on Facebook, it was like just trying to maintain it and now we’re like over ten-thousand fans on Facebook.”
While here, Ryan began managing the restaurant at night but he soon became restless.
“After a couple of years, it got to a point where I didn’t necessarily like what I was doing because like Jessica said, I had these ideas, these things I wanted to implement and I was getting a lot of push back from the four owners (his parents Harold Jr. and Denise Legaux and Al and Susan Honore),” Ryan recalled.
“They were set in their ways, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. So I decided to leave and go get my MBA.
“While I was doing that, my second year, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And as soon as that happened, he and my mom immediately stepped out of the business. They were living in Palm Springs at the time. They decided they were not going to work and would just concentrate on his health.”
That had been a tumultuous year, not only for the family but for the business as well. The economy was taking a nosedive and the neighborhoods surrounding H&B were some of the hardest hit. It came down to a decision: fight for the legendary restaurant, jobs and well-beings along with it or let it go.
“But we’d given so much of our lives to this place,” Jessica said of why they chose to remain open.
To help them, they applied for and eventually secured an approximately $2,000,000.00 Section 108 Loan from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Department in 2011. The Legauxs got some backlash from the procurement. But, they said, they’re using it to provide jobs and to do their part in keeping the community above water.
“We were a business that’s been in the community for 43 years and we were just trying to save the jobs,” said Jessica.
“Our employees are like family. We feel extremely responsible for the people who work for us.”
Despite the proposed updates and changes, Ryan and Jessica will keep their menu, the fare that the community has come to know and love. Recipes like file gumbo, catfish strips and crawfish etouffe are what separate H&B from the pack. Those were his father’s recipes.
“My dad was a kind and generous person. He loved hospitality and serving people.”
He sees himself as the same type of person.
“That’s part of the reason you see such big portions at Harold and Belle’s. He would look at the plates and say, ‘it doesn’t look like enough. Just put more.’ He was very big on presentation.”
“Even when he made dishes at home,” said Jessica, “they would be the prettiest plates you’ve ever seen.”
“You’ve heard the saying, people eat with their eyes,” said Ryan. “I’d like to take it a step further and involve all the senses. The food should be an overall experience.”
Everything starts with good ingredients.
“There’s no way around that,” said Ryan.
“[For example] our scampi is not like any other scampi you’re going to get,” added Jessica.
“Creole food is a process,” she said.
“You don’t cheat the process.”