GONZALES, La. (BRPROUD) – For nearly three decades The Jambalaya Shoppe has kept our region fed. Since opening their doors in 1993, the Fontenot family has expanded to 17 locations across south Louisiana.

Just walking into the kitchen of “The Jambalaya Shoppe” in Gonzales, the smell of iconic south Louisiana food hits you.

Cheryl Fontenot started the restaurant with her late husband, Stefan, and her five sons helping.

”My husband and I worked together, our children worked with us and everything. Our ultimate goal from day one was to feed our children,” said Cheryl.

In the ’80s Louisiana’s economy tanked, and Cheryl and Stefan’s jobs went down with it. Both took jobs they didn’t want, and with the stress of raising five boys, it became too much.

Her breaking point came while on her way home from cleaning houses. She found herself lost and not able to figure out how to get home.

”I can’t explain the hearing. A thought, or a voice. You know, all I know is that I heard stop turn around go back where you came,” she said. ”I talked to the Lord. I said, ‘I can’t feed us anymore. You’re going to have to.’”

That weekend The Jambalaya Shoppe came to her. Her husband enjoyed making jambalaya, but it was always for their family, not the whole town. When family and friends found out they had gotten an old donut shop in Gonzales to run their business out of, all but one was skeptical.

”Everybody told us, ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’ because everybody cooks jambalaya. Except for Ronnie Ritchie, who said, ‘Yes, you can do that. What you need to do is get a fax machine and fax all of the businesses in Gonzales,’” Cheryl said speaking of her friend, warmly.

After one of her sons sent the fax on that first morning, The Jambalaya Shoppe took off. All five of her sons and many of her grandchildren own their own shoppe or are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations.

The economic downturn was not the only hardship the Fontenots faced. However, no hurricanes or storms compared to the COVID pandemic. It nearly took them out of business.

”All of this was closed, the window is what saved our life.”

The drive-thru window of the old Pizza Hut building in Gonzales they moved into a few months before the pandemic was their lifeline.

Now in her 70s, Ms. Cheryl is retired – but if you ask her, being retired is not full-time.

”Ten in the morning and I get a phone call from my daughter-in-law, says ‘Can you come help us?’”

She wants the younger generation to not let Louisiana’s food culture die.

She hopes that her family will play a part in keeping alive one of the main reasons that our state is on the map.