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MIDDENDORF’S: COMFORT, CONSISTENCY AND 75 YEARS OF MAMA JOSIE’S RECIPES
Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac, Louisiana will turn 75 years old on July Fourth weekend 2009. Mention this to anyone and they will tell you their Middendorf’s story. For many and most it is a family tradition along with the history of the Middendorf’s.
They often say that blessings come disguised, and so it was for Louis and Josie Middendorf. Louis Middendorf lost his job in the 1929 stock market crash so he and Josie moved to Manchac where Josie’s mother and twin brothers lived. In Manchac, like most of the swamp residents, they fished and hunted for a living. Fortunately for Louis, as he was not very good at fishing and hunting, in 1934 all Veterans of WWI received a $500.00 bonus from the US government. With this and a $500.00 loan co-signed by a former Mayor of New Orleans, T. Semmes Walmsley, Louis and Josie opened their “cafe.” Louis found his calling as he was excellent at talking and tending bar. Mama Josie, as her granddaughter Suzie called her, used her personal recipes and did all the cooking. Mama Josie was the one to come up with the now famous thin cut of catfish. It was a combination of the two that brought the customers coming back.
Josie’s son, Richard Smith and his wife, Helen took over operations in 1947. In 1966, Richard had Ragusa and Sons of Hammond completely renovate, modernize and enlarge the kitchen adding a much needed walk-in cooler and freezer. He added a “private” dining room to the north side of the building and upgraded the other dining rooms and bathrooms. At the same time, Suzy, their oldest daughter, began working in the restaurant. In 1970, I-10 opened from Metairie to Laplace and business skyrocketed followed in 1981 by I-55 opening from LaPlace to Ponchatoula. Overcrowding on the weekends became a serious problem so in 1972, Dick built a second restaurant two lots from the original restaurant. At that time there was a restaurant where the middle parking lot is today called Ship Ahoy Restaurant and Bar.
Suzy and husband Joey Lamonte officially took full control of the business in 1984. Experiencing many special days in the 40 years they ran the restaurant, two days pop quickly into their memory of fondness. One is the day Prince Albert of Monaco ate at the restaurant which as Suzy says was exciting but truth be told more buzz is abound when Eli, Peyton and the Manning parents are found dining at the restaurant. The other is the day they were featured in Gourmet Magazine. After 40 some years and no family to hand down the restaurant Suzy and Joey decided to sell the restaurant.
Once again blessings come disguised this time for Horst and Karen Pfeifer. Both, with a love of the restaurant business and the energy needed to jump on this fast train, they dug in and learned the history and love their guests have for Middendorf’s. Right away, they realized the responsibility of keeping this Louisiana icon the “same” and at the same time upgrading and making the improvements necessary to help it continue another 75 years. In the spring of 2008, the Pfeifer’s built a waterfront deck for dining, along with a large sandpit for the kids and in 2009 a new air-conditioned kitchen built on pilings will be unveiled between the Deck and the renovated –due to Hurricane Ike- original building.
The actual opening date of Middendorf’s was July 4th, 1934 but the celebration will continue the entire year of 2009. Comfort, consistency and 75 years of Mama Josie’s recipes will bring you back time and time again. Ask anyone their story of Middendorf’s and you’ll get a big smile. Hope to see you soon and thank you for being with us through thick and thin.