GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Get ready for some southern hospitality when you walk in the door at the new Lost Cajun Restaurant, which opens for real today in the 711 Grand Ave. building in downtown Glenwood after two days of free tastes for anyone who just happened by.
“‘Please’ and ‘thank-you’ are part of our vocabulary, always. And that’s pretty much ingrained in our staff,” said Raymond Griffin, a Colorado transplant from the little fishing town of Barataria, La., just south of New Orleans, who founded the original Lost Cajun restaurants in Summit County with his late wife, Belinda.
That starts from the moment a customer walks in the door and is greeted by an enthusiastic “welcome” from the host, continues at the table when the wait staff arrives, and is even emphasized in the way food orders are called from the floor to the kitchen line staff.
“Bowl of seafood gumbo, please, chef!” Followed by a prompt, “thank you, right up,” and maybe even a hoot and holler and ring of the bell.
“It’s the southern way of doing things,” adds Gabe Griffin, Ray’s son who relocated his family to the area from Barataria last fall and is the franchise owner of the new Glenwood Springs location.
“We treat everyone like they’re coming over to one of our backyard barbecues,” he said.
That’s pretty much how it was Wednesday and Thursday as the Griffins pulled folks in off the street and spread the word via Facebook that they were serving up free helpings of gumbo, fried catfish, pastry treats called beignets (ben yay) and a few other menu items.
“We decided it was a good way to get the crew some experience before we opened,” Gabe Griffin said. “We ended up with a line out the door and ran out of food twice.”
The Lost Cajun officially opens at 10 a.m. Friday for breakfast beignets, with a full menu starting at 11 and continuing on into the evening. A grand opening is planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with more free samples and prize giveaways.
“Our mission is to treat each other with courtesy and respect. We don’t just say it, we do it and we mean it,” said the elder Griffin, who opened the first Lost Cajun in Frisco in November 2010 and a second location in nearby Breckenridge just before his wife died two years later.
The whole crazy idea was her’s, Ray Griffin says.
After selling their fishing lodge and fleeing the Gulf Coast following three devastating hurricanes, Katrina, Gustav and Ike, and then the BP oil spill, Ray and Belinda ended up driving north then west until they got to the mountains of Colorado and eventually fell in love with Frisco.
“We were driving along one day and she says she’s hungry for some southern home cookin’, ‘We need to find a lost Cajun,’” he recalled her saying. “I said, ‘Well, we can be the lost Cajuns.’”
They found a store space on Main Street in Frisco that used to be a shoe store and started with a menus of four items served on paper plates with plastic utensils. Three-and-a-half years later, and following the addition of business partner John Espy from Alabama, the two Summit County locations are among the more popular restaurants in the area.
“People would come in and say, ‘We can’t find home cooking anywhere in town, this is great,’” Ray Griffin said.
One couple visiting from Rochester, Minn., who had southern roots, were so impressed they opened the very first Lost Cajun franchise in Rochester.
Boulder real estate investors Andy Niemeyer and Mark Licata also came to be fans of the Frisco restaurant. So when they bought the 711 Grand building in downtown Glenwood Springs and wanted to turn it into space for two new restaurants, they gave Griffin a call.
The other portion of the building is still being renovated and will soon become home to a second Smoke Modern Barbecue, in addition to its Willits location in Basalt.
Ray Griffin in turn called his son Gabe and encouraged him to get out of the property foreclosures business and move his family up to Colorado so he could run the new restaurant. Gabe and his wife, Sarah, and their three children, ages 5 to 14, now live in Glenwood Springs.
Gabe Griffin said he is always open to being involved in local community causes and fundraising events, which is also part of the southern ethic.
The Griffins also made sure to hire nearly 100 percent of their staff of 30 people at the new restaurant from the Glenwood Springs area, rather than hiring from outside.
“That was one of our goals, because we wanted to make sure to be part of the community from the start,” Ray Griffin said.
Their local manager, Rickey Thompson, has also worked his way up in the restaurant chain from washing pots and pans to now managing his own restaurant.
“We’re also about treating our people right and giving them a chance,” Ray Griffin said.
The Lost Cajun can be found online at www.thelostcajun.com, and the new Glenwood Springs location has its own Facebook page.