The family tradition of Brown’s Café
Editor’s Note: To honor fathers and father-figures for Father’s Day, this Sunday, June 17, this article focuses on the role of the late Nolan Brown Sr., a community pioneer who operated Brown’s Cafe for 40 years. Mr. Brown was also honored as the 2018 Grand Marshall of the Edward J. Searcy Black History parade.
If you teach a man to fish you’ll feed him for life, but if you teach a man a good fish fry recipe, you’ll feed the town good food for generations.
Nearly seven decades ago, the Brown family started a snack shack called The Playhouse, now known as Brown’s Cafe.
Jimmy Brown brought a recipe for frying fish, chicken and shrimp down to Brusly from family in Chicago, and soon turned his wife Leatha’s snack shack into the well-known restaurant. The recipe has been passed down from father to son for three generations, each learning the recipe from countless hours in the kitchen at the family cafe.
When Jimmy Brown fell ill and passed away in 1977, his son Nolan Brown perfected the recipe to continue the family business.
Soon after he took over, Nolan Brown renovated and updated the restaurant.
“His mother and father did extremely well with the place, but they were cooking on gas stoves,” Carolyn Brown, Nolan Brown’s wife of almost 50 years said.
Nolan Brown ran the restaurant and the school bus he drove for Tombstone the same way. Both were tight ships.
“He would tell the kids
where they had to be standing and sometimes they’d be running to catch the bus and he would just look in the rearview mirror and say I’ll be back tomorrow,” Carolyn Brown said with a laugh.
When the last kid hopped off of the bus there was a brief time to rest before opening the cafe for the evening, as long as there wasn’t any grass to be cut.
“He would cut all the grass in the neighborhood, he just couldn’t stand to see grass grow,” Carolyn Brown said.
For 40 years Nolan Brown drove his bus and ran Brown’s Cafe. Anyone who wanted an opportunity to work got one, but he would often take cash out of the register to send an unwilling employee home early.
Jimal Brown, who worked as his dad’s right-hand man for more than a decade, said the job was demanding.
“He expected me to manage it like a real manager, to keep my eyes on everything, get orders out in a timely fashion and make sure our customers were happy,” He said. “If anyone returned with food saying something wasn’t right, no questions asked it got fixed over again.”
He spent hours in the kitchen alongside his dad, learning and perfecting the recipe and the business the way his father had learned from his father.
“Dad was definitely a hard worker and he instilled that in me,” He said. “You can’t cheat it. You have to work hard to get results.”
All four of their children benefited from the lessons learned while working at the family cafe, Carolyn Brown said.
“Dad taught me don’t despise the day of small beginnings, as small beginnings often come with hard work and teach great work ethic,” Shaeeta Brown Williams, Director of Basketball Operations at LSU, said. “This generous, stubborn, hardworking, loud talking man taught me so much about life.”
Now Jimal Brown is following in his dad’s footsteps in the restaurant industry, taking the family recipe and adding his own twist to it.
To honor the legacy made by his father and grandfather, Jimal Brown partnered with his brother Nolan Brown, Jr. and cousins Norman Brown and Cedric Brown to open Jimmy Brown’s Wings Sliders and Seafood behind Vibes in Port Allen. The restaurant uses the same base recipe and concept he learned from his father, with a few adjustments. Instead of cooking all parts of the chicken, Jimmy Brown’s specializes in wings.
The Friday and Saturday-night-only restaurant boasts of three wing flavors, party platters, and like Brown’s Cafe, family-oriented fun. One of the specialty items at Jimmy Brown’s is the Dynomite Shrimp plate, fresh Gulf jumbo shrimp prepared the way he was taught then tossed in homemade sweet chili sriracha sauce.
The nights spent behind the counter at Brown’s Cafe after football and basketball games have paid off, Jimal said. Jimmy Brown’s customer base is growing and already looking to expand hours of operation.
“It’s something to give the West Side,” Jimal’s sister Rasheta Brown Edwards said. “It’s where people can have a good time without crossing the river.”