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Cajun Works expanding beyond Acadiana

Cajun Works expanding beyond Acadiana

Megan Wyatt, mbwyatt@theadvertiser.com11:21 a.m. CDT July 5, 2016

 

A business owner who prides himself on serving “the real Cajun deal” plans to expand his operation beyond the Atchafalaya Basin in the coming months.

Toby Kimball, who opened Cajun Works: The Real Cajun Deal in Breaux Bridge deal a year ago, is finalizing franchise details for his quick-serve Cajun concept. He expects the first few franchise locations to be open and operating by the end of the year.

“The beauty is that I’m not just selling food,” Kimball says. “I’m selling a whole experience. To me, the experience begins from the time you drive up. The decor is equally if not more important than the food. Our history — our becoming of a culture from nothing — is overlooked. You have shows about it, but it’s not true. It’s different when you’ve got somebody putting their heart and soul into it.”

Cajun Works offers counter service and seating as well as drive-thru service at the flagship location. The restaurant itself is dripping in all things Louisiana — from a history of the Acadian settlement and a swamp mural on the wall to crawfish paper towel holders and blue crab salt and pepper shaker holders at the tables.

Kimball, 47, calls himself an “Atchafalaya Basin Cajun.” He grew up in Krotz Springs hunting, fishing and cooking at “the camp” most weekends and wants to bring the food, culture and community he cherishes to others across the globe.

“I’m not saying I’m right about representing all Cajuns,” he says. “But I know I’m right about representing my Atchafalaya Cajuns and my family’s heritage and the way I was raised.”

Cajun Works serves a number of traditional Louisiana foods, such as etouffee, boiled crawfish, gumbo, red beans and rice, boudin and cracklins. The fast-casual restaurant is becoming best known for its grab-and-go savory pies and balls, however.

“I started looking at my ancestral history,” Kimball says. “And I developed an easy, fast, good quality, home cooked meal in the meat pies and meat balls.”

The deep-fried hand pies include filling options such as red beans with rice and tasso, smothered chicken with rice, alligator etouffee, rabbit etouffee, crawfish etouffee, shrimp and crab stew, and meat with rice and gravy. The pies, some of which are seasonal, cost $2.89 to $3.29 each.

The deep-fried balls include filling options such as boudin, chicken, venison, rabbit and turducken. Some of the balls are also seasonal, and cost $1.89 each.

Kimball developed many of the recipes he uses at Cajun Works during long weekends at his camp in Krotz Springs. He perfected the recipes from customer feedback at his Krotz Springs gas station operation, Cajun Corner Cafe, which he opened in 2007.

“I couldn’t find anybody in town who cooked worth a s***,” Kimball says. “So I said, ‘I’m going to open up a little restaurant and cook like I do at the camp.'”

Kimball eventually plans to sell his gas station operation and focus solely on franchising Cajun Works.

His franchise has been approved in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and California. Kimball says he has investors interested in opening franchises in the Dallas, Houston and Corpus Christi markets in Texas; the Miami and Florida Keys markets in Florida; and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills markets in California.

“I can’t wait to share our culture with others,” Kimball says. “I don’t want them to see us as people going out and shooting alligators. I don’t want them to see what Discovery wants them to see. I want them to see what we see, and that’s the simple life. It’s getting the family together every week to eat and talk and have a good time.”

Kimball has wanted to develop a Cajun franchise since witnessing the success of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, which was born in Baton Rouge.

“I thought, ‘If he can do that with some chicken tenders and crinkle cut fries, I could do that with my products,'” Kimball says. “And what’s his story? A dog that barks? I have a real story to tell.”

The real challenge in franchising his concept came in finding a processing center that could make his Cajun recipes in a franchise-friendly, freezer-to-fryer form that he was satisfied with. That would be the key to making his restaurant work on a broader scale, he said.

In 2014, Kimball found a good fit with Comeaux’s Wild Game Processing in Breaux Bridge. In 2015, he opened his franchise prototype, Cajun Works, also in Breaux Bridge.

“It’s an easy franchise to open,” Kimball says. “The menu is done. It’s done my way. It’s un-screw-up-able. Somebody can walk into their own store, and the decor is there and the food is developed. They don’t have to do anything but just show up.”

Kimball said he also plans to have extensive training in place to ensure new franchisees understand the history and culture of the Atchafalaya Cajuns before opening.

In addition to fast-casual restaurants with drive-thru service, Kimball hopes to open grab-and-go Cajun Works restaurants in casinos, universities and national parks. He also hopes to open larger Cajun Works restaurants that could offer a more immersive Cajun experience through live music, dancing and cooking demonstrations.

“I would not hesitate to say that this thing will be in 10 to 12 states within three to five years,” Kimball says. “I want to be international in five to seven years.”

Cajun Works is located at 1880 Rees St. suite 206B in Breaux Bridge. Learn more about the restaurant or franchising opportunities by visiting cajunworks.com.

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