Louie’s Cafe to get new, larger home near longtime location

Customers and employees of Louie’s Cafe, the longtime LSU-area diner, said they are excited about the restaurant moving to a new location with more parking and seating near its current spot on West State Street.

“This is all about giving Baton Rouge the best Louie’s,” said General Manager Fred Simonson, who will mark 23 years with the restaurant next month. Simonson said he was looking forward to the move, because he will have more cooking space and he won’t have to go outside to get ice or items out of the cooler. “I think all of the employees here are excited about this.”

Jimmy Wetherford Jr. and Frank Duvic, who own Louie’s, bought the former Wendy’s hamburgers restaurant at 3322 Lake St. for $825,000 in a deal that was filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s Office on Thursday. The Wendy’s location closed several months ago, and Wetherford and Duvic moved quickly to acquire the building.

Wetherford said the plan is to remodel the space, adding an open kitchen and counter seating, and move in during the summer. The classic menu of omelets, hamburgers and hash browns will remain, but Wetherford said some new items may be added.

“This building has a lot of features,” he said. “It’s more robust with a bigger walk-in cooler. And there are windows on three sides.”

The new building will have seating for about 90 to 100 people, compared with the current Louie’s seating, which has room for 60. It also has 32 parking spaces; Louie’s currently has four.

The larger space and additional parking should relieve some of the problems that happen at Louie’s at busy times, when diners have to park several blocks away and wait in front of the café for a table or a stool at the counter.

“I’m excited about this, because the parking will be so much better,” said Chuck Jeffcoat, who said he has been coming to Louie’s for about 30 years. Jeffcoat said his visits to Louie’s have picked up in the past two years, since he started working as a facility supervisor for some apartment complexes nearby.

Louie Sisk opened the diner in 1941 at 214 W. Chimes St., directly behind the restaurant’s current location. It was called Louie’s Dutch Mill, and a windmill was mounted on the front of the building. After a storm blew off the mill and awning, the restaurant became known as Louie’s. The restaurant had 11 stools at the counter, so diners would have to wait outside for Sisk’s food.

“I daresay there’s nobody who went to LSU that doesn’t have a Louie’s memory,” said Clarke Cadzow, owner of Highland Coffees and head of the North Gate Merchants Association. “They’re a pillar of the North Gates. They’ve been open so long and served so many people.”

Sisk died in 1977, and a year later, Wetherford and two partners bought the café. Duvic joined as a co-owner a few years later, and in 1986, the restaurant moved to its current location at 209 W. State St.

Wetherford said he hopes the restaurant can move to its new location with minimal interruptions to the 24-hour diner. “We’re hoping we can do it in one day,” he said.

Most of the reaction from customers about the move has been positive, Wetherford said. But he has heard concerns from people that Louie’s will lose its ambiance and atmosphere once it moves to a bigger location. “We’re going to do everything we can to recreate Louie’s,” he said.

Jeffcoat said he wasn’t concerned about Louie’s losing what makes it special in the move. “For me, it’s about the employees and the food, and those things aren’t going to change,” he said.

Once Louie’s moves, the old building will be leased to a new tenant, although Wetherford said he has no idea what business will move in.

Cadzow said he hopes a well-run, unique business moves into the old Louie’s space.

“This area has got real challenges,” he said. “It’s off the beaten path, there’s not a lot of parking and it gets real slow when school is out,” he said. “We need a committed, passionate business owner who will draw people from the outside.”