Many Louie’s Cafe patrons have never seen the old-school diner in daylight, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable. After all, it would be difficult to forget a place where the smell — grease and more grease — follows visitors long after leaving.
“You’ll remember it even if you’re drunk,” said Louie’s fry cook Jeremy Lewis.
Everything about the 24-hour cafe seems to be outdated and covered in grease spots, Lewis said, which takes gumption in today’s day and age. It is perhaps that rusticity and the guarantee of an old-fashioned diner meal that draws University students there in the middle of the night. Countless hangovers and other college-induced maladies have been soothed atop a red stool at the counter of Louie’s, all while making small talk with a cook who is frying up an oversized omelet or a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.
Once Louie’s moves this summer from the West State Street building it has occupied since 1986 to the nearby former Wendy’s restaurant on Lake Street, however, diners will find a roomier, less grease-saturated experience — for a while, at least. Owner Jimmy Wetherford told The Daily Reveille earlier this month that the new location will include the iconic open kitchen, counter and stools.
Employees and patrons alike are confident the new Louie’s will maintain its signature atmosphere, too, but it’s not because of the setup of the building.
When Jessica Poni moved to Baton Rouge from Sudan, she found both a job and a home away from home at Louie’s. Poni has worked at Louie’s for 13 years now, doing everything from washing dishes to waiting tables. She doesn’t mind the smell or the slightly ragged building, she said, because it completes the environment that is home to her Baton Rouge family — coworkers who believe in teamwork and customers always willing to have a friendly conversation.
“You can have a beautiful building, but the people are what matter,” Poni said.
Fortunately, Louie’s appears in no danger of losing customers, even once it moves. The experience of eating there is a tradition, according to English freshman Vincent Rodomista and finance sophomore Logan Williams. Both students are New Orleans natives whose mothers ate at Louie’s when they attended the University in the 1980s. When Rodomista visited the University for the first time, his mom brought him to Louie’s, and he has since developed a soft spot for diner food.
So has Williams, who first dined at Louie’s after an outing in Tigerland. With its traditional menu and small, somewhat cramped diner atmosphere, Louie’s represents an American phenomenon that is becoming harder to find but that everyone seems to embrace, Williams said.
Baton Rouge probably won’t be letting go anytime soon.