Louisiana Up Close: Palace Cafe has been feeding public for 89 years
The Palace Cafe in Opelousas has been serving residents for nearly 90 years. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
Manager and head chef John Romero throws some hash browns on the flat top grill at the Palace Cafe in Opelousas. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
The Palace Cafe as it was back in 1927. This two-story wooden building was torn down in 1954 and replaced with the current brick structure that still stands today. (Photo courtesy of Palace Cafe)
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
OPELOUSAS — Michael Munro always enjoyed stopping off for a bite at the historic Palace Cafe.
The businessman who has owned and operated everything from donut shops to hotel restaurants always felt that the Palace Cafe had something unique to offer.
“When I would go up in that area I would stop off and grab a bite to eat,” Munro said. “I was intrigued by the old style kind of restaurant, the historic location and of course the good food.”
That made the decision easy for Munro when the family-owned cafe came up for sell back in 2013.
“When I heard it was up I made an immediate move,” Munro said.
The Palace Cafe is considered to be the oldest restaurant in Opelousas. Located at 135 W. Landry Street which is across from the St, Landry Parish courthouse and beside the famed Jim Bowie Oak Tree, the Palace Cafe has been serving Opelousas businessmen and women lunch since 1927.
Greek immigrants George and Mary Doucas, known to locals as Mama and Pap Doucas, purchased the Palace Sandwich Shop in November 1927 and changed it into the Palace Cafe. The original two-story wooden structure, which was remodeled in 1938, was built in 1893 and the rooms on the second floor were rented out to travelers.
The Doucas specialized in Creole and Cajun dishes but also introduced many a local to the Greek pastry dish of baklava.
In July of 1946, Steve and Pete Doucas, sons of Mama and Papa George, purchased the cafe. The original building was torn down in 1954 and replaced with the present brick building, which was designed in a way that if an owner ever wanted to add a second floor later they could.
So when Munro bought the place from third-generation owner Tina Elder, he and his new manager-head chef John Romero wanted to respect the landmark’s place in city history and keep its old-fashioned diner feel.
“We wanted to respect the history of the place and it being in downtown Opelousas,” Romero said. “We didn’t change much of anything.”
With help from a Redevelopment Incentive Grant through the Louisiana Main Street Program, new ownership was also able to restore the cafe’s well-known neon sign to its original 1950’s glory.
Munro and Romero also opted to keep many of the cafe’s most popular items, such as its chicken and sausage gumbo, Étouffée and fried chicken salad on the menu. There is also the traditional diner food such as club sandwiches and hamburgers.
The two also retained the existing staff, including a pair of cooks that have a combined 30 years of experience in the kitchen.
“That was a big reason why we left things like we did,” said Romero, who learned how to cook from his grandmother Inez Suire. “Customers didn’t want us to change much.”
That doesn’t mean that Munro and Romero haven’t put their own stamp on the Palace Cafe.
Romero has added a buffet table for lunch but the biggest change has been the expansion of the breakfast menu. According to Romero, the cafe was averaging around 15 people for breakfast when they took over and that number has now increased to 45-50 per day.
“We have a very good breakfast,” Munro said. “A lot of places will serve breakfast but it is not a real good breakfast. You can eat breakfast in a lot of places. There’s a certain way you have to do those things.”
Munro is looking to give the cafe some further upgrades this summer, with repainting walls, redoing the ceiling, dress up the interiors, add some flat-screen TVs and transform the back wall of the cafe into a historical archives of the cafe’s existence over the decades.
“We have actually redone it in its original style,” Munro said. “You don’t want to make a drastic change in atmosphere or the physical look. You don’t want it to look like a 2016 restaurant. We want the Palace Cafe to be updated but still be that same favorite spot it has been for so many people for all those years.”