Comfort, Consistency And 75 Years Of Mama Josie's Recipes
The story of Middendorf’s Restaurant, how it came to be and its continued success, is one of perseverance and determination. Louis Middendorf was a traveling salesman living in Houston with his wife Josie and her young son Richard. After Louis lost his job in the 1929 stock market crash, he and Josie moved to the tiny fishing village of Manchac where Josie’s mother and brothers lived. With the help of a $500.00 loan co-signed by a former Mayor of New Orleans, T. Semmes Walmsley, Louis and Josie opened their “cafe” in the summer of 1934. Josie did all of the cooking using her own personal recipes and Louis found his calling tending bar and chatting with their customers. Louis and Josie were the entire staff. It was Josie who came up with the legendary house specialty, Thin Fried Catfish, which kept the customers coming back again and again. The busy couple also ran the post office in Manchac.
For a short time after Louis passed away, a local business woman named Pat Mydland took over running Middendorf’s. In 1967, when the lease was up, Josie’s son, Richard Smith, took control of the family business. Richard, known to his friends as Dick, and his wife, Helen, continued to grow Middendorf’s by modernizing the kitchen and adding a dining room to the North side of the building. After I-10 opened from Metairie to LaPlace in 1970, business was really booming. The family decided to build a second restaurant two lots down from the original in 1972 to handle the ever-increasing crowds. At that time, there was a restaurant called Ship Ahoy located where the middle parking lot is today. Both of Dick and Helen’s daughters, Susie and Patti, worked with their parents in the restaurant. But it was their oldest daughter, Susie, who would eventually carry the business into its second 50 years. Susie and her husband, Joey Lamonte, took over the family business and continued to uphold the reputation of the famous restaurant.
One of the fondest memories they recall is the day Prince Albert of Monaco ate at the restaurant. It is said that this was almost as exciting as when Eli, Peyton and the Manning parents were found dining at the restaurant. After more than 40 years of working in the restaurant, with no family to hand the restaurant down to, Susie decided to sell the family business.
In 2007, the restaurant was purchased from the family by Horst and Karen Pfeifer. Chef Pfeifer and his wife were well-known in New Orleans for their beautiful restaurant, Bella Luna, which was located in the French Quarter. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, Bella Luna was closed. So, they packed up the linen napkins and switched from fine dining in the city to Thin Fried Catfish in the swamp. Although they have not strayed from the recipes and specialities that made Middendorf’s famous, this energetic husband-wife team are always looking for fun and exciting things to add to the Middendorf’s experience. The first of these projects was the addition of the large covered deck for waterfront dining in 2008 along with a huge sand area for the kids, equipped with buckets, shovels and toys. It became immediately popular with guests of all ages. Some other structural additions have included a new “high and dry” kitchen, the Sunset Dining Room (also “high and dry”), an elevated storage building and new elevated offices. In 2016, they completed Operation: High & Dry by raising the original side of the building. Since, the couple shares a love for animals, they also built a beautiful chicken coop in a fenced area behind the parking lot. The area has a small pond and lots of room for our feathered friends to run. At times, it has also been home to ducks, geese and even turkeys.
2019 was a big year for Middendorf’s. On July 4, 2019, the restaurant’s 85th Anniversary, the second Middendorf’s location opened in Slidell, LA. Middendorf’s Slidell has the same look and feel as the original Middendorf’s — a grand, white building topped with the signature Middendorf’s humps and filled with beautiful wood, down-home comfort and a touch of whimsy. Venture outside, and you’ll find an open-air porch overlooking an inviting sand/play area for the kids with fountains, palm trees and tiki huts. Eventually, there will be a pond out there too.
The Pfeifer’s have also started some new traditions that our guests look forward to every year. In September, it’s Fettuccine Frenzy every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The paper-thin fettuccine is handmade by Chef Horst Pfeifer, and it’s the same fettuccine that was served at Bella Luna. In Oktober, our Oktoberfest celebration kicks off with authentic German dishes, also prepared by Chef Horst Pfeifer who grew up in Germany. Oktoberfest runs every Wednesday and Thursday for 6 weeks. Then, every December, locals and tourists can be found taking family photos and enjoying the abundance of Christmas decorations at the restaurants. And, who could forget the Middendorf’s Express G model train. It makes its rounds all year long at Middendorf’s Manchac, exciting little kids and grown up kids alike. Another thing that the kids really enjoy is going to the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, located in downtown Hammond, and “working or eating” at the mini Middendorf’s. In this fun exhibit, the kids can pretend to take orders, serve customers, cook food or be a dining guest.
Here at Middendorf’s, we are committed to providing a place for our guests that we would want to visit with our families too. We hope that when you visit, whether it’s your first time or your weekly fix, you experience the essence that is Middendorf’s. Our goal is to have you leave with a full belly and the memory of a great time. Most of all, we want you to come back and experience it again and again! We would be honored for you to be part of our history, part of the Middendorf’s family.