D.I.’s Cajun Restaurant is an unassuming building out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Tee Mamou Prairie rice fields in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. You know you’re in the right place because the gravel-and-beer-cap parking lot is filled with locals that have eaten here for generations, enjoying live cajun music 3-4 nights weekly. Owner Sherry Fruge tells why and how she and her late husband, D.I., started the restaurant when farming got tough back in the ’70s. Never dreaming that D.I.’s “special way of boiling crawfish” would become a local cultural icon that’s since been inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, she describes hands-on involvement, memorable events, and why restaurant and community are one in the same.
D.I.’s: Where Delicious Dining & Culture Collide
And you’ve heard me say it a million times, if you want to get an idea about what the local culture is like, just put feet under the right table and right here is the right table in the right place.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I’m way down in Basile, Louisiana near the Tee Mamou Prairie, 53 miles north of the Gulf, smack in the middle, down a country road surrounded by rice fields and Acadia Parish, today’s guest is Mrs. Sherry Fruge and she is the owner and proprietor for a long time of DIs Cajun restaurant. And you’ve heard me say it a million times, if you want to get an idea about what the local culture is like, just put feet under the right table and right here is the right table in the right place. I found that out the other night when we drove down country road and across bridges and through the woods and rice fields and I got brought here for the first time, but not the last time and was privy to some really good eats and some really good Cajun music. Miss Sherry, how are you today?
Sherry Fruge: I’m doing great, glad to have you again.
Ramsey Russell: What nights are you all open?
Sherry Fruge: We’re open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 with live entertainment on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Ramsey Russell: And besides the great food and the great atmosphere, which the minute I walked through those doors, I felt home, I didn’t know a soul in here but the folks I was with, but I felt like I was walking into almost like a family reunion of folks I didn’t know that’s just how I felt. And I feel like that’s a part of this Louisiana certainly a part of who you are. But what got me is how this business started all those years ago? Tell me, you all grew up in this part of the world, Miss Sherry?
Sherry Fruge: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: How did you all decide to open a restaurant? What was going on that you all decided to open a restaurant?
Sherry Fruge: The farming that my husband was in rice farming, he was also planting soybeans and the price dropped tremendously and he needed to have a third crop to keep us going and it was suggested by the Ag Department that we do crawfish. So therefore, we went to LSU and got information as to how to go about doing that to have a good crop and we were one of the first in this area to start crawfishing.
Ramsey Russell: When would that have been on a timeline?
Sherry Fruge: Probably in 1978.
Crawfishing: The Start of a Cultural Phenomenon
Could you have dreamed back then that 36 to 40 years later eating crawfish was going to be as big a deal to Louisiana and throughout the United States as it is?
Ramsey Russell: Mid late 70s. That’s when the crawfish industry was born, really down here in this part of the world. What was it like before then? Were folk eating crawfish, catching crawfish at all?
Sherry Fruge: No, not really. In the ditches the kids would maybe catch a few of them that they could see, but not really until that started.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me what it was like growing up in this part of the world. Did you meet your husband in high school?
Sherry Fruge: I did. I was a couple of grades behind him, but I caught up with him and his father drove a school bus so he wanted to continue farming, his father did and he made him quit school to drive the bus and I worked in the library at the school, I lived across the street from the school and he would park his bus and come meet me. So that’s where it all began.
Ramsey Russell: And after you all got out of high school, you got married and did he just kind of fall in the farm naturally because that’s what his dad did.
Sherry Fruge: His dad had given him a little piece of land to support himself. So we got married and neither one of us had finished school and that’s how it started with that little piece of land. And we raised our eats, we raised cattle, we milked cows are sold pasteurized milk, we raised chickens, we sold eggs so much to subsidize the farming back then because it was kind of rough.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, farming was tough back in those days. And so in the mid late 70s, Ag said, hey, you all ought to try this crawfish, this aquaculture because it go right in with these rice farms you all are doing. What did you all learn? I mean, like you went to a course at LSU, like what they teach you, what you all learn or what were you all thinking? Hey, this may be worth it or?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, I mean, they told us like at a certain time, the stubbles of rice after you had harvest that you flood it back up with water and these crawfish are down in the ground and they will surface like in the late fall, they also taught us about aerating the water to make up the size vary a little bit and different suggestions of different ways to try to control the size of the crawfish.
Ramsey Russell: Could you all have drained back in the mid late 70s? Could you have dreamed back then that 36 to 40 years later eating crawfish was going to be as big a deal to Louisiana and throughout the United States as it is? Could you have imagined when you were sitting in that classroom and LSU listening to that guy, could you imagine it was going to be like a cultural phenomenon because I’m a little bit younger than you are and I can remember maybe, in the 80s, some folks came up from Louisiana to a deer camp, I was in and brought crawfish and I thought everybody ate it and I mean, I’ve been eating it ever since like it’s a religion.
Sherry Fruge: It is very much so. And today there’s so many people that is their life. The craw fishing is their life depends totally on that crop.
Ramsey Russell: It sure is down here because it’s rice. I mean, for everywhere I’ve been between all this part of the world, it’s just rice fields. But like we’ve been teal hunting and as you’re walking in, you see all these little mud bugs because they’re all crawfish ponds now, they’re rice, but it’s crawfish ponds. That’s a big deal. And it’s not just that consumers like me eat them and love to eat them, it’s a big deal to the local economy down here to crawfish.
Sherry Fruge: Correct. Because normally your rice stubble, you flood them up to make a second crop, so you hope the second crop is going to aid to the first one and you can pay your loan that you did to put all that in the ground.
Ramsey Russell: So you all started farming crawfish and then what, like your daughter was telling me that, your dad began cooking crawfish. What was that about? Was it just a way to get rid of some of you all’s inventory? Some of you all’s crop or what?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, because the price on that dropped because everybody had jumped on that bandwagon and he started tinkering with seasoning and all kind of stuff, so we decided we’re going to boil them and let people come and eat, which we did in our farm born, we would set out picnic tables and it was $5 all you can eat and we were making more money than if we sold it to the market. Bring your own ice chest because we didn’t have a liquor license, so we did that for 3 years.
Ramsey Russell: They’re like a backyard party.
Sherry Fruge: Correct. And our yard became saturated with people coming and the word just kept spreading and our customers kept saying, man, you all need to find a place, you’ll need to get your own place where you can sell your beer and you can do this and that. And so that’s how all this began.
Ramsey Russell: I know it’s been a long time, but can you remember the first backyard bowl, you all had like that? Can you even remember how many people you think showed up the first time?
Sherry Fruge: I still have all that paper work.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, you do. The very first boil, you all threw in your backyard 36, 37, 38 years ago, 40 years ago, how many people showed up?
Sherry Fruge: I would say maybe 25.
Ramsey Russell: That’s pretty big.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, we were amazed.
Ramsey Russell: And you all out right here literally in the middle of nowhere, I’m going to say you have 10 or 15 minute drive from the nearest red light, maybe 15, 20 minute drive to the nearest shopping center. How did you get the word out? How did everybody know, how them 25-30 folks know to show up in your backyard and eat something called crawfish.
Sherry Fruge: Word of mouth, back then there was no media.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, were no social media.
Perfecting the Crawfish Craft
It was a flavor that he wanted to stay in by the last bite when you ate that you remembered that particular flavor.
Sherry Fruge: But the word of mouth just kept spreading and spreading and we were not able to handle the amount of people that would come to sit in the barn.
Ramsey Russell: Your daughter also said you all had a unique way of boiling. How did he learn to boil crawfish? Did he learn that at LSU?
Sherry Fruge: No. Just picker with different seasonings and different times seeing what more or less to boil made them all our crawfish, the minute you cracked them, the meat just came out perfect. It didn’t stick, it was awesome and people began to see that and it was like that nowhere else.
Ramsey Russell: It really is kind of an art I think, cooking crawfish. But you don’t overdo them, you don’t under do them, you want to pinch the tail and just all come out one big piece. What was his – and I know from talking to you and locals around here that you all’s recipe is top secret, but your husband eventually developed that, he kept tinkering around and he developed that season that is you all’s hallmark. How many tries? How long did it take him to develop that recipe?
Sherry Fruge: Oh, a few months. And he was very particular about everything. So sometimes it wasn’t quite what he wanted, so he would cut back on something and it could give several months.
Ramsey Russell: What was he looking for? Like, was it a certain flavor profile or was it enough heat but not too much heat?
Sherry Fruge: It was a flavor that he wanted to stay in by the last bite when you ate that you remembered that particular flavor.
Ramsey Russell: How long was he making his unique bowl in the backyard? How long were you all doing it like that? And were you catering or going around to church functions and doing other stuff, back in those day?
Sherry Fruge: No, not in those days. Our youngest son was helping on the farm, our oldest son was helping on the farm, so we really didn’t have time to do anything else or the means, it just went on in the barn.
Ramsey Russell: How long after that was it that you all would go down to a bar, there was a bar.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, about 3 years into this, a bar down the road was losing his business and he asked us to go and boil crawfish on Friday nights and he would sell his on goods and we would sell ours.
Ramsey Russell: That was a match made in heaven, cold beer and hot crawfish.
Sherry Fruge: So at that time, the evangel and oil field was in boom and all the guys at the rig would see 55 gallon drums lined with plastic and ask us to fill them up, so some nights in 3, 3.5 hours we moved as much as 1200 lbs of crawfish.
Ramsey Russell: On a typical night, average night back in that 3 year, 4 year period of time, how many crawfish were you all boiling? Do you remember back? Well, I’m just trying to put you on a map from 36 years ago. How many crawfish you all were bowing back then?
Sherry Fruge: Probably, a total or a –
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, total for a weekend or for a night.
Sherry Fruge: Probably about anywhere from 1000 to 1300.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a lot. Well, where did you go from – because you all been in business 36 years and you all are a staple of this local community, how did you go from cooking in your barn right next door here and down at Jack bar to this, to a restaurant? How did you make the quantum leap into opening a restaurant?
Sherry Fruge: The customers kind of pushed us into that, they wanted us to be able to serve to reap everything from what was going on, so we found this building that was a restaurant, a small one and moved it over here and like in 6 months, we opened up in 1986, February of 1986.
Opening Day at D.I.’s
I can just make a guess but it sat like 80 people and I would say probably 300, 400lbs that first night, which was awesome.
Ramsey Russell: February, 1986, that’s coming strong in the crawfish season. And what was this? Was it an old home?
Sherry Fruge: It was a catfish shack from Mamou, Louisiana. We moved it over here.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a picture of it over here on the wall.
Sherry Fruge: Ok. So it took us about, I guess about 5 months to get it secured and meet the Board of Health Rules and all of that and we opened on that day at a spur of the moment.
Ramsey Russell: What do you mean, spur the moment?
Sherry Fruge: DI said, okay, we opening it up tonight and I’m like, we don’t have a menu, we don’t have nothing to open tonight, so I ran to Jennings and –
Ramsey Russell: Now, wait a minute, when did he tell you that, over a cup of coffee that morning? He just said we opening it tonight.
Sherry Fruge: That’s it. So, I ran over there and had a little tiny menu printed out and all the prices were written in pencil and we opened that night and at the end of the night, the people were in line to the road to the sign outside and that –
Ramsey Russell: In 1986 there was no social media, there were no text messages, there was no internet, they must have just been on the phone saying, hey, they’re open tonight and it’s going to be good and folks just started coming. Get off work, park a tractor and come on out here, let’s go eat some crawfish with our neighbors. How many people showed up that first night? How many pounds did you all cook that first night? How many people showed up would you guess, do you remember?
Sherry Fruge: I can just make a guess but it sat like 80 people and I would say probably 300, 400lbs that first night, which was awesome.
Ramsey Russell: Now, how big was this catfish shack? How big was this little building you all moved here?
Sherry Fruge: Probably about 48ft by 40. My kitchen was extremely small.
Ramsey Russell: What was your kitchen like back then?
Sherry Fruge: It was like a kitchen at a home because I had a four burner apartment range, a house, refrigerator and a chest freezer and that was my means of cooling and cooking and it remained like that for 2 years. Our crawfish cooler was our big cooler and it was behind our home, which is next door and we would run all night long, back and forth to get tomatoes, lettuce, beer, whatever we did that for two years.
Ramsey Russell: You think back and you say, well, man, that was crazy, that was some crazy time, but in the time you’re just doing what you got to do. My wife and I started off a business and we had no ambition of – we could not have imagined that 20 years later, we would be where we are with it back then, we just did what we did, and it just seemed so natural. So you go out that back door and run down, go get some tomatoes, go get some lettuce. Do you miss those days?
Sherry Fruge: Sometimes maybe.
A Community Cornerstone
Well, that speak volumes, Miss Sherry, that just speaks volume about who he was as a human being and it brings me to the point of how special this restaurant has become.
Ramsey Russell: Was DI always – he was self-made, he was a farmer, he did what he had to do to take care of his family and take care of his farm. Was he always like that just full steam ahead, hey, let’s open tonight. Did he wake up and pouring his coffee going, yeah, I need to go do it right now. Is that how he was his whole life?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah. I mean, there was no putting off anything when he made a decision, it was done.
Ramsey Russell: So talking about him a little bit, times were tough back in the 70s and 80s for farmers and a lot of farmers went bankrupt and declared bankruptcy. And DI didn’t do that, did he?
Sherry Fruge: No, when we opened the restaurant, we more so opened it to pay off a farm loan, which was back then was extremely large. And he said, we owe these people this money, we are not going to file bankruptcy, we’re going to work and we’re going to pay it off and it took us several years.
Ramsey Russell: Back in those days he probably knew that farmer, he knew the people, he owed money, he knew the seed folks and the chemical folks, they were a part of this community also. They weren’t just some blind corporation and he wasn’t the kind of guy that just out of his obligations, he said, no, we’ll do what we got to do to take care of these folks because these are our people.
Sherry Fruge: Right. Because back then, a lot of people will be odd. You borrowed, I’ll just say $1000 from these loan companies to live, I went to town once a month to get groceries and the grocery stores in the area here would charge for 8, 9 months until we harvested. They would carry that and that’s unheard of.
Ramsey Russell: I can’t imagine them doing it now. I mean, it’s like, the grocery store, the gas station, the bank, everybody is in this crop together. And DI said, they carried me and I’m going to do what I got to do to pay them back. Well, that speak volumes, Miss Sherry, that just speaks volume about who he was as a human being and it brings me to the point of how special this restaurant has become. Now, it is still a cornerstone of the local community.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: Did you figure back in those days you all were just going to seasonally cook crawfish?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, I was a hairdresser and my agreement was 6 months out of the year, 3 nights a week and that never happened. It was 5 nights a week and when crawfish season was over, people were like, you all can’t close, where are we going to go eat? And back then on Tuesday nights, we had Cajun music that would come in the little dance floor –
Ramsey Russell: When did the Cajun music start?
Sherry Fruge: Maybe the end of 1986, 1987 for sure. One of his cousins wanted to help us get going, so he decided he was going to come play music on Tuesday nights to help the restaurants go make it and it started from there.
Ramsey Russell: And then what? I mean, because you told me yesterday in this little room right here, like a great big dance hall out here, but that wall was right there and it was just one man in room for, I mean, how many people could dance in this little space with all these tables?
Sherry Fruge: Like 6 people, 3 couples.
Ramsey Russell: And so they were all dancing, was there always six people dancing to that.
Sherry Fruge: Correct, I have a CD of that too.
Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing.
Sherry Fruge: And people even back then because DIs family was instrumental in the Mardi Gras legacy being kept in this area and back then we would have 6 or 8 Mardi Grass come in and perform on Ash Wednesday in this little hall.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m going to ask you because when most folks myself, including I’m just 5 hours away, when most folks think Mardi Gras, they think New Orleans, have you ever been to New Orleans?
Sherry Fruge: I went once.
Ramsey Russell: One time, never went back.
Mardi Gras History
This was a tradition that was carried over from France and everything they do has a specific meaning and it’s a great story of what they do and why they do it.
Sherry Fruge: No. Very different than what we do over here. This was a tradition that was carried over from France and everything they do has a specific meaning and it’s a great story of what they do and why they do it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s what I want to ask you is, to me growing up, Mardi Gras was a big crazy, don’t bring your children party in New Orleans, but here it’s very traditional. What is Mardi Gras, what technically is it? And then what’s the difference in here versus New Orleans?
Sherry Fruge: Well, New Orleans is, I call it theatrical, all it is riding on floats and throwing beads, where over here, this tradition was carried over from France, the people in France who were very poor people that got evicted out of there and settled in southern Louisiana and these people were sharecroppers for the royalty back then. So, Mardi Gras Day was the last day that they could rejoice before lent would start on Ash Wednesday. So they made costumes, mimicking the royalty out of scraps, tearing up this and that and making like fringe happenings on their clothing, using screen out of their windows to make masks and their copy shawls, which was their hats they wore, mimicked the royal kings and queens as to what they wore on their heads. So all of that has a meaning, it’s not real ritzy garments like in New Orleans. They go around begging for food to make a gumbo and then invite the people, they begged to come and eat with them and then that night they have a dance and celebrate for the last time for 6 weeks.
Ramsey Russell: So Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, the whole big crazy celebration emanates from, I need to have a party and celebrate and sin and then I’m going to spend them days repenting during lent. That is just a Mardi Gras. If I got to repent for 6 weeks, I’m going to have a whole lot of fun for then. You talk about the meaning, some of the things taking special meanings and DI, your late husband had a crew, the Mamou Mardi Gras. What were his colors and what did they mean?
Sherry Fruge: The colors became red, green and yellow instead of purple, green and gold because their farm equipment was those were the colors of the three tractors that they had. So they had paint to repair them, so that became the colors Mamou colors.
Ramsey Russell: And John Deere, green, Case, yellow, International Harvester, red.
Sherry Fruge: So it has just followed suit because their wagon that they rode around to go to the farm places was painted in that color and it has been like that ever since.
A Dance Hall for Mardi Gras
So, DI said, we got to build a room where Jared can have his Mardi Gras, so that was the reason for that to be built.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a good story. You all opened this restaurant, when did you all have you? Because Damon tells me if I want to experience honest to God, Mardi Gras, real Mardi Gras that I need to be right here at DIs restaurant nowhere near New Orleans, he said, man, you need to be right here. And when did you all have your first big Mardi Gras after you all opened?
Sherry Fruge: We added on 4 times to the building and the third time was the big room where the music is –
Ramsey Russell: How did that come to be?
Sherry Fruge: His brother was captain of the Mardi Grass at that time and back then you could go in the gyms of schools, but then because they were drinking beer, they would not allow them in there anymore. So his brother had no place for this tradition to be carried on. So, DI said, we got to build a room where Jared can have his Mardi Gras, so that was the reason for that to be built.
Ramsey Russell: It’s quite an impressive dance hall, I was here the other night, I think it was Wednesday night and there were live music and it was excellent and there were families and they were friends and there were children and babies on the dance floor and they were grown ups on the dance floor and that wasn’t nowhere near Mardi Gras, that was just a regular Wednesday night. But yesterday you took me on a tour and told me about that, take us on a virtual tour of where the materials and the woods and everything came from and who put it together.
Sherry Fruge: It took us quite a while about 6 months to build that room, a lot of it was done by family. The Eunice Rice Mill was closing and they offered us, it’s like everybody in the community was there when we needed something or was doing something different to the restaurant. So they knew that we needed wood and they gave us the flooring that was in the Eunice Rice Mill. So it was pressure washed outside and let dry –
Ramsey Russell: That’s the walls in there now.
Sherry Fruge: And that’s the walls that are up there. The bottom half is a corral that we tore down and used on the bottom of it. DI’s brand for his cattle is in one of the boards.
Ramsey Russell: I saw that yesterday, that’s special.
Sherry Fruge: The porch is a porch that his great uncle had that we tore down and put it back together, even use the rusty nails to put in the rusty tin on the roofs.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s where in the porch you call it, it’s kind of like the band stage, that’s where the bands play. It’s like you’re sitting on the front porch.
Sherry Fruge: Correct. And the window that’s on that porch, one of our neighbors had that in his barn that came over on a wagon train in the late 1800s and it has blown glass in the pains. And they also gave us a washboard that has, runnings instead of like corrugated metal, which I had never seen before. So it has a history, very strong. The flooring, we went to Mississippi and picked up some regular hardwood floor that I don’t think you can buy anymore and it took us one week to nail it down because it’s like about two inches at a time and people loved it because it did. It just danced so smooth.
Ramsey Russell: You described to me yesterday, we were sitting in the center of it and you said when we bought it, it had the prettiest finish and then we got off towards the edges on some tables and you could see the original varnish on there. But now it’s smooth, it’s like, somebody sanded it. How did that come to be?
Sherry Fruge: The dancing, we would put corn meal on the floor back then and when people would dance, their feet would slide, so they kind of got that off.
Ramsey Russell: Is that a Cajun thing?
Sherry Fruge: That is a Cajun thing, yeah. I wanted to redo it every year and DI said, no, we need to let it be what it is.
Ramsey Russell: Gives it a soul kind of, doesn’t it? So you got the dance floor, when did you and how did you evolve from DIs brother in law to bands coming in 4 nights a week.
Sherry Fruge: While we were in the process of starting the room that was felt on the walls on the two by fours and DIs was planting rice for one of his people and he wanted to have his birthday party over here. We had no roof, everything was black felt, we had no roof anywhere, all our supplies were in that room and he wanted Elliot to come and play and he wanted to have his birthday party and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. So on Tuesday nights, we would sweep everything in the corner, he wanted 50 people to come in for his party. So we had no tables and chairs, we had to go to our little church, borrow some tables and chairs, sweep everything in a corner and we had our first band to play in that room. And by the end of that night, with that amount of people we knew the room was not large enough, so we added an extension to the back of it and made that the whole area.
Ramsey Russell: And now you all have all this. Where do the bands come from?
Sherry Fruge: They come from all over Lafayette, Liberia, we have a waiting list of them wanting to play. Then we have one guy, Mr. Al, he would play every night because he likes the atmosphere, he likes the people, he likes the family oriented in here.
Ramsey Russell: And it is family oriented. It speaks a lot about the culture down here of the people, is how family oriented, is like, if there’s any strangers in here, it’s because you ain’t walk up and introduce yourself, it’s that way every night, isn’t it?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a blanket hanging back here towards the men’s room, what is that about? You told that story one time, I know, we’re circling back to way back in the day when we first opened.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, when we started building the big room, there was only two restroom facilities in the front of the original building that we bought, so therefore it was kind of rough at night when it was full of people. So, DI hung a blanket in the little side area and put buckets at different levels on the wall. And the men thoroughly enjoyed that and when we built the larger restrooms, they didn’t want him to move their blanket with their buckets. So having said that in the new restroom, the urinals are at different levels like the buckets were, so he kept that for them.
Ramsey Russell: You all have a big Mardi Gras every year, Damon said there’s people hanging from the rafters, he said, it’s unbelievable. Describe a modern day Mardi Gras event here at DIs Cajun restaurant.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, the Mardi Gras come in, they sing in the middle of the floor, the traditional song that came over from France and then the band will start playing and they dance with the people that are sitting in here and then once they’re done, the captain tells them that they have to go, so they hide underneath the tables and the captain and say, okay, Mardi Gras, we have to go now and my grandson, for one of them was allowed to go up in the rafters. So he climbs and jumps from rafter to rafter up there and everybody cheers it on.
Ramsey Russell: You got an airstrip out here, tell me the story about your airstrip you got, there’s not many restaurants that got airstrip.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah. Our youngest son is a pilot for Delta Airlines and when he was able to moved back home and go to Atlanta to pick up his trips, we built an airstrip for him and his friends and it became very – before COVID hit, we were open for lunch, after COVID hit, we couldn’t find employees to reopen the lunch, but we would have anywhere from 20-25 planes flying for lunch of local people Roundy Ritter, all these clubs would fly in and his friends, my son, they have airplanes as toys like he did. So the airstrip was made for him back then. And now we host the Stearman Fly in the 1st Friday of October every year which brings anywhere from 50 to 60 airplanes for that day.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a pretty impressive photo to see that many planes park back here. Speaking of photos, you got a lot of pictures in here hanging up, when you all built the place and I see like a celebrity corner over here who are some of the folks that have come here and eaten with you all over the years.
Sherry Fruge: Buford Jordan that played for the Saints, Tim McGraw. Yeah, Tim had one of the people from Eunice that did a lot of his background lighting and all of that and he brought them here.
Ramsey Russell: Do you all have any special events here? Like wedding parties and stuff like that over the years?
Sherry Fruge: No, we have a lot of calls to rent the restaurant for that, but we just never adventured into that.
D.I.’s House Specialties & Recipes
So I like to tinker with food and try different things out and our blackened food is not like most, it’s not charred.
Ramsey Russell: It stays busy enough and keeps you busy enough just having folks coming in 5 nights a week. So you all were going to open up the crawfish, they said, no, where would we go eat? But you get began to expand your menu and the other night I was in here and you all had a list of specialties. Damon didn’t even take a menu, he knew what he was going to get, he was going to get the black and catfish with the top of that and I could help but I got the shrimp. Tell me about some of you all house specialties and how you all came up with them recipes and what are they and how did you come up with them?
Sherry Fruge: A lot of people that come here often will see me walk out sometimes with something and they’ll say what is that? And when I tell them what it is, they’re like, well, we didn’t know it’s on the menu, we don’t look at the menu, we know what we’re coming to eat, so we don’t look at the menu and it’s kind of funny. But just playing around, I like to play around with food and kind of tinkering like what he did with the boiled crawfish and I do a blackened grilled oyster, which is not a thing, it’s just blackened on the grill, which I have got more people to eat oysters that never would eat oysters, but they love them. So I like to tinker with food and try different things out and our blackened food is not like most, it’s not charred.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t have that bitter taste.
Sherry Fruge: Bitter taste, yeah. So I make some bread pudding now, blueberry and strawberry bread puddings which was just my creation in playing.
Ramsey Russell: And what do you top those bread pudding with?
Sherry Fruge: A rum sauce.
Ramsey Russell: Real rum. And do you cook blueberry and strawberry every night?
Sherry Fruge: No, I do blueberry one week and strawberry the next week and I have customers that mark their calendar to know when is what.
Ramsey Russell: They come here for the bread pudding. What are some of your other specialties? Because I know you all got some. What about the crabs?
Sherry Fruge: Oh, we do a barbecue crab.
Ramsey Russell: Explain that to me because I wish I’d gotten it the other night, is it the whole crab in the shell?
Sherry Fruge: We take the back part off of it, the top shell off and we cook them like that on the pit and then again, that seasoning we made also, so it’s quite different than any other and we sell a lot of those.
Ramsey Russell: And nobody else really does that, do they?
Sherry Fruge: No. Crabs are you have a lot of loss sometimes, excuse me. But DI would always say it’s a calling card. So you may get a table of 10 people and two people are going to eat crabs and other people will eat different food, so it adjust itself. So that’s pretty much been our theory through this thing.
Ramsey Russell: You invented these recipes yourself, did you learn to cook from your folks, it was your mom and grandma was a good cook, is that that what inspired you to some of these recipes?
Sherry Fruge: Correct. And I always liked food, I like to cook and it got me where I am good or bad.
Ramsey Russell: How secret are a lot of these recipes? Do the folks back in the kitchen know about them or is that just a family secret? So, there’s some recipes here that just the family knows how to cook, that’s amazing. Is that something you teach your daughter, your daughter teaches her daughter and keep it in the family. You were telling me one time about, I was asking you about because it little restaurants like this connect communities, same way the farming did it. It’s very interlinked, a lot of the neighbors eat here and visit, you all used to – tell me the story about you all were cooking something and all the proceeds were going to a church.
Sherry Fruge: After about 3 years, I would say, oh, well, maybe a little – we opened the big room in 1990 so probably started that year. We were so blessed with the amount of people and we were able to pay off that huge loan and get our son through flight school and our family situated, we decided that one Sunday every 6 months we would donate to the church. So we would sell barbecue tickets as much as 1200 tickets and we had neighbors that would come and start cooking at 4 o’clock in the morning and everything that was sold in the restaurant that day, whether it be a pack of gum or back then a pack of cigarettes, all of that proceed went to our little Tee Mamou church.
Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing. And you’d also told me a story about the time a tornado blew through here.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, we were open maybe 3 years and a tornado came between the house and the barn and the only thing that saved the house, we had an attic fan and all the windows were open, so the air just like went through the house and that day it was a Friday and it had tore up everything in our water well, we were on a water well, at that time and it was unbelievable the amount of people that drove up and offered to help us that day do whatever, clear the yard, do whatever so that we could open the restaurant that night, it was amazing.
The Place to Go for Live Cajun Music
How do you feel about being the Cajun ambassador?
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to circle back before I start wrapping up, I want to get back on music. How important is this music to your culture? It’s a Cajun music. You got accordions, you got fiddles, I think there must have been 6 or 7 people in the band up there the other night, how important is it to the local culture?
Sherry Fruge: It’s very important because the tradition of this Cajun music is dying out, a lot of establishments don’t have the authentic Cajun music. We were awarded two weeks ago into the Hall of Fame, the Wall of Fame for supporting the Cajun Music Association for 36 years.
Ramsey Russell: Official Cajun Music Hall of Fame. And how many establishments like DIs guys between say Lake Charles and Lafayette have live music, live Cajun music like this anymore?
Sherry Fruge: None but us. We’re the only ones from Texas border, we do have people from Texas that come to listen to that music that grew up in it and can’t find it anywhere else.
Ramsey Russell: I posted up, I was doing a little video clip while we eating dinner, stuff like that for Instagram stories and posted it up and had folks inbox me saying I’m from Louisiana, I haven’t been there too long and that music makes me homesick, that’s something isn’t it?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah. I don’t know, to me it’s consoling when you hear that because it makes you think back to all these people that was their livelihood back then they played in bands and kept their families going and we lose in the French speaking with our children right now.
Ramsey Russell: One day, one morning DI woke up said we opening tonight and 5 gallon bucket behind a blanket one time and one man, six people dancing in a corner at this little restaurant, you had a full burner stove, a home refrigerator and you add it on and you built, you running back and forth to your house to go get tomatoes and lettuce, a loaf of bread, whatever you needed to make it happen. 36 years later, you’re here with a huge community following people that probably come here every Wednesday night or one night a week or more they come here, Mardi Gras, they ain’t going to miss being here. Giving back to the community to the church, you’re inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame. People say that the Crawfish ambassador is right here at DIs Cajun restaurant, how do you feel about that? How do you feel about being the Cajun ambassador?
Sherry Fruge: It’s emotional.
Ramsey Russell: When you go somewhere like – because surely, I mean, I’m thinking, I know you live right here, you’re born and raised right here, but surely you go over to adjacent town and you’re going to somewhere like Applebee’s, I’m not picking on nobody, I’m just saying, you go into some corporate restaurant, how would you describe the level of service and food quality there versus here? And do you ever say – I don’t go to, I try not to go to corporate restaurants because I like places like this. But what’s the distinction between something like that and something like this?
Sherry Fruge: Well, I like to meet all my customers, especially if they are new customers, help them along with their choice in the menus, make suggestions, offer samples and check on them regular while they are eating, that’s my enjoyment. And they say that there is no place they can go and have that treatment and that’s a big deal to me.
Ramsey Russell: Because it’s personal to you. Which leads me to my question is what does DI’s Cajun restaurant, 36 years later, what does it mean to you personally? What does this mean to you now? How does it connect you to your community? How does it connect you to your late husband and to your family?
Sherry Fruge: I don’t know how to answer that.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t want to answer that?
Sherry Fruge: I don’t know exactly how to answer that. It’s so rewarding.
Ramsey Russell: It’s more than a job. It’s got to at some level, be definitive of really who you are now, it’s your life.
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, it’s my life. It has been for 36 years and it’s awesome. I love it.
Ramsey Russell: Can you even imagine a life without DIs restaurant and all you all been through and all you built and done?
Sherry Fruge: No.
Ramsey Russell: How many pounds of crawfish a year do you all cook? You had to guess? How many tons I’m going to guess of crawfish. Because back in the day 1200 lbs how many now? What would a busy night be like here during the peak of Mardi Gras crawfish season? How many pounds might you all cook in a night or a week or a season?
Sherry Fruge: A bunch. I don’t know, probably 3000 lbs in a week.
Carrying on the Family Tradition
Ramsey Russell: For months on end. That’s a lot of growth, a lot of difference between now and then, wasn’t it? Your daughter told me she made DI promise and she described to me, of course, grew up in this and had some kids and went on to be a mom and now she’s back helping run this place, what was that promise you made to it?
Sherry Fruge: She promised to help me to keep it going, she promised her dad.
Ramsey Russell: And she has, here you are. Do you think you’ll leave DIs to your family? Will you leave? Do you think one day you’ll pass it on to your family, will that be your family’s legacy to DI?
Sherry Fruge: Yeah, definitely.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, I sure have appreciated it. Thank you very much for your time. Like I said, the other night we drove and Damon lives out in the country itself, down dirt roads, left, right left, right down gravel road, across bridges and bayou and woods and rice fields and we pull up to the middle of nowhere and there’s this little building out in the middle of nowhere, but the parking lot was slap full. I said, oh, this is going to be good, this is my kind of restaurant, Sherry.
Sherry Fruge: I don’t know, I’m not bragging, I’m just making a statement, but I don’t know if anywhere, I don’t go that many places, but we park 3 rows of vehicles and on Friday and Saturday night at 6 o’clock, there’s no more parking left and that you walk out there and you see that and your heart just gets very big.
Ramsey Russell: Does your heart good, doesn’t it? Makes you proud of what you’ve done and what you built and what a part of a community you are. Speaking of that, what was it like, when you’re the hub, when you’re such an important hub of a community that gathers and eats and shares good times and good food, what was the pandemic like? Did you all just shut down?
Sherry Fruge: We did take out orders, which we had a tremendous support during that time, unbelievable more than I would have gathered because when they allowed us to go 25% because the restaurant was so large, 25% was still a good amount of people to hire people to work in the kitchen. But it was a little bit slow back then because people were leery about gathering together with other folks. But honestly, it was good to us.
Ramsey Russell: It just kept on built to drive in, folks come in. Were you all serving your full menu? Were you serving bread pudding?
Sherry Fruge: Definitely. Yeah, we never cut back on our menu, I was able that I could afford to have a good staff. So the full menu was offered.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, thank you very much for sharing your story. And you all do have a social media page, don’t you? And a website is DIs Cajun restaurant? I’m going to do my level best, I usually travel during Mardi Gras, but I’ve never been to Mardi Gras anywhere, I want to come to Mardi Gras right here and don’t forget my face now, I’m going to be coming through that door every year, when I come down here to hunt, I’ll come in the back door, I promise you. Folks, you all been listening to my friend Sherry Fruge at DIs Cajun restaurant in Basil, Louisiana. If you come down 10 corridor, it might be 15, 20 minutes out of your way, but if it’s at night and they’re open, it would behoove you to pull in and grab a bite because you all welcome folks coming in here and I’m going to end on this last story. You were telling me about a motorcycle club coming through one time and they have to camp out here and camp out here on your grass. Tell me about that one more, before we close.
Sherry Fruge: It was a bicycle, they were on bicycle and they wanted to pitch tent in the yard and I offered them my little apartment building that is next to the house, which sometimes people fly in and it’s like an Airbnb now. So they will call and see if it’s vacant and they spend the night in there because it’s fixed up where someone can overnight in there and they just couldn’t get over the hospitality.
Ramsey Russell: I think that defines you and your family and your restaurant more than anything else is just the sheer Cajun hospitality, that’s why you’re the Cajun ambassador. Folks, you all have been listening to Sherry Fruge, DIs Cajun restaurant, thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.