The Lost Cajun

Lost Cajun

The Lost Cajun brings authentic Louisiana flavors to a wider audience.

By Tim O’Connor

For 15 years, Raymond Griffin operated a successful fishing lodge in Barataria, La., an island city south of New Orleans. His business survived and thrived through numerous hurricanes, including Katrina, the most damaging storm in U.S. history, but the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 finally burned Griffin out on all the disasters.

His wife, Belinda, was a terminal cancer patient and the couple decided to spend their remaining time together living in the mountains, away from hurricanes and hot weather. During a vacation to Colorado, they stumbled across Frisco, a small town located on a reservoir west of Denver near many of the state’s most popular skiing destinations. Belinda knew that was where she wanted to be and the couple soon found a home in the scenic mountain town.

Griffin never intended to open a restaurant – he knew a lot about catching fish and shrimp but nothing of the foodservice business. Still, he was a pretty good cook and something smaller seemed more manageable, so he established a 20-seat hole-in-the-wall gumbo shop near his new home. The authentic Louisiana dishes were unlike anything else in Colorado and The Lost Cajun quickly became a popular spot for locals and skiers alike. “People loved the food and atmosphere,” Griffin says.Lost Cajun info box

Griffin was content with his bustling stand with a frontier general store façade for two years until his fishing buddy Jon Espey moved into the area and inquired about expanding The Lost Cajun concept. In 2012, the two friends-turned-partners opened up the second location in Breckenridge, Colo., one of the most-visited winter sports destinations in the United States. Breckenridge skiers and snowbirds were enamored with The Lost Cajun the same way they had been in Frisco, and vacationers began asking about franchising the restaurant in their hometowns.

The feedback encouraged Griffin to seriously consider the idea and franchising began in 2014. Today, the franchise has 12 full-service locations in operation in Colorado, Tennessee and Texas, only two of which are company-owned. Another five are scheduled with open in Texas in the first half of this year with two more planned for Colorado.

Griffin attributes the brand’s rapid expansion over the past four years to two primary traits: a process that can be replicated and real New Orleans bistro flavors. “We just got lucky, I guess you could say, and we found a niche market,” he says. “No one else is serving with authentic Cajun food.”

Replicating the Process

Introducing authentic gumbo to communities that are unfamiliar with Cajun cooking brings with it a necessity for education. When Griffin opened the first restaurant he had only four dishes on the menu: two gumbos, fried fish and a beignet. Since then, the menu has grown to include oysters, po’ boys, jambalaya, lobster bisque and pastas.

That can be a lot of choices for someone who has never tried gumbo before, so The Lost Cajun offers a free sample plate to guests to help them choose their favorite flavors. “The customers are able to have 2 ounce samples of all of our gumbo when they come in,” Griffin says.

The sample plate is an example of the personal touch Griffin puts into making every guest experience a good one. But figuring out how to keep that experience intact as the company grew was key to turning The Lost Cajun into a franchise success with same-store sales growth across all its restaurants.

“The biggest challenge for us was learning how to replicate what I was doing naturally, the type of service I gave in the original,” Griffin says. The first step was to develop a comprehensive training and operations manual that detailed each role within the restaurants. “If you give employees a good plan that they’re going to do every day, it makes them comfortable and makes for a better, hard-working employee,” he adds.

The operations and training manual continues to evolve with the addition of each restaurant. “We’re still young enough to know there’s a lot of errors we can improve on,” Griffin says. “Every time we open a store, me and my management team sit down and talk over what went well and what we can improve.”

The manual has become a complete guide to how to successfully open a Lost Cajun franchise. “There’s no magic here,” Griffin says. “Just follow the book, treat people nice and follow the culture of courtesy and respect.”

As someone who had no restaurant experience himself, Griffin understands the importance of training new franchisees on The Lost Cajun way. Before opening, every owner-operator and their manager are required to complete a two-week training course at the nearest Lost Cajun location.

Training covers the entirety of running the business, from cooking to how to wash pots. The process continues a week before opening, when a live training team visits the restaurant and goes over the day-to-day operations with the new staff over a two-week period.

Griffin is confident he can teach anyone the business with The Lost Cajun’s extensive training process. The more difficult part is finding the right franchisees. “The biggest thing we look for in a franchisee is passion,” Griffin says. “Someone who has eaten our food and fallen in love with our concept.

“We choose our partners very carefully,” he continues. “To see these people who have always wanted to own their own business and have the American dream of being their own boss and see them do well … that’s pretty amazing.”

Family Friendly

At the heart of that operations manual is The Lost Cajun’s culture of courtesy and respect. The company trains its employees to take pride in maintaining a clean restaurant and provide good service, both when interacting with the customers and with each other. “If we can do that then the employees will take ownership of the store,” Griffin explains. The open design of the kitchen means that guests can hear and see that culture in action, creating the active but polite atmosphere the company is know for.

Even the youngest customers are considered when creating that culture. Children get a bad rap at many restaurants. They’re noisy and have difficulty sitting still during a long meal. Many maître d’s create strategies for dealing with potential interruptions by segregating families with children six or younger in the corner, where their sound is more likely to be muffled out by the rest of the conversations in the dining room. The Lost Cajun takes a different approach, embracing families like any other customer and encouraging kids to get their energy out and run around.

To give kids a creative outlet, many Lost Cajun restaurants have walls covered in chalkboard paint and concrete floors, allowing children to draw on the surface in chalk and create outlines of each other. Drawing provides children with a fun activity and a way to interact with each other while their parents enjoy a good meal.

“It’s our goal to make you feel like you’re having dinner in your neighbor’s backyard or your friend’s house,” Griffin says.


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