You might think you’re a restaurant regular — until you meet these folks.
November 15, 2006
Gerald Judice points to one of the 20 wooden plaques on the wall over Booth 2 at Judice Inn. “Mr. Gassie’s was the first one,” he says.
The plaque reads:
In Memory of
J. Howard Gassie
After Gassie’s death, a family member brought the plaque into the restaurant and requested that it be hung at the booth. “After that,” Gerald says, “many of the families of the gentlemen that came here, after they passed away — it might be weeks, it might be months, it might be a year or so — they would bring in a plaque to be hung.”
Brothers Alcide and Marc Judice built and opened Judice Inn on Johnston Street in 1947, outside Lafayette’s city limits. Today it’s in the middle of the city, on Johnston Street across from — and in the shadow of — the 16-screen Grand Theatre. Judice Inn continues to serve up small, deliciously greasy hamburgers and ice cold 8-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola. The restaurant is still owned by the brothers’ widows, Pearl Cormier Judice and Gladys Bourque Judice; and Gerald, Marc’s youngest son, has managed the eatery since the late ’80s, after his father suffered a stroke.
Booth 2 stands out from the rest of the 13 booths. It’s flanked by two benches with green cushions, but its yellow Formica tabletop is worn. The plaques surround a large faded black and white aerial photo of the Atchafalaya Basin. Nailed to the white frame is a plaque for J.D. Lambert, who donated the photo and who died in 2002. The rest of the walls are decorated with UL memorabilia and newspaper clippings of family members’ public triumphs, framed and shellaced.
The Judices never adopted a formal policy for displaying the plaques at Booth 2. “Dad and them never wanted to do that,” Gerald says, “because they would be choosing which customers or friends they would put on the wall. So they left it strictly up to the families. And I still do the same thing. Whatever’s brought in we’re honored and happy to hang it up here, but we don’t pick and choose which ones to put up and which ones not to put up. We let the families decide if that’s something they’d like to do or not.”
Thinking back on all the men who used to frequent Booth 2, Gerald can’t recall one who still comes in on a regular basis. Most of them have died. And to remember and honor all the men who made the tiny booth, their second home throughout the years, Gerald says there should be at least 25 plaques.
The men who frequented Booth 2, between their jobs and their home lives, were men cut from different cloths — lawyers, doctors, professors, bankers, oilfield workers, accountants, carpenters, landmen and business owners. But they had conversation in common. They spoke of everything from politics to sports to World War II, and everything in between. But rarely did they speak of their personal lives.
“In general,” Gerald says, “they didn’t socialize all that much outside of the inn. Many of them, I would dare say, had only met each other’s wives once or twice during the period they were coming here. I barely met some of their spouses over the years. Most of them didn’t do social things outside of the inn together.”
Membership at Booth 2 was loose, unofficial and fluid. Over the years, Gerald says the nucleus remained the same, but the men came and went, as the demands of their personal and professional lives dictated.
One plaque for Dr. Bob Henderson reads: “The Ragin’ Cajun, Booth #2, Judice Inn, 1996.” It’s rumored the professor was the first to strike upon the name for the local university’s current mascot. Another plaque remembers Kenneth J. Bailey, an attorney who died in 1994, a quiet man who Gerald remembers would only speak when he had a witty, one-liner to add to the conversation.
Bill Thornton, who passed away several years ago, loved to reminisce about World War II. And although Gerald has had dozens of customers tell him that they were his father’s first customer, Marc always told his son that the first customer was Booth 2 member Dr. P.W. “Phil” Rivers, who died in 1980.
Before his death in the early 1990s, Coy Dickerson worked for Baker Oil Tools, but he spent so much time at Judice Inn that his customers called him there, not at his office. He was the first one to arrive at the booth and usually the last one to leave. Occasionally, he would leave before the rest of the group, but only after he had intentionally started an argument between two other men.
The smallest plaque of all reads simply: “and SCHEX 1979.” Mr. Schexnider, as Gerald remembers him, was a handyman for the inn who was absorbed into the fold at Booth 2.
“Having a group like that,” Gerald says, “it was like an extended family. They become good friends of yours. The gentlemen that used to come in and sit in Booth 2, they were almost like uncles. They would correct us and teach us, just like my dad and them over the years. They would give us their different insights. It was a such diverse group as far as their backgrounds. They all had their 2 cents to add to our upbringing, as well as telling us about career choices and different things like that. It was kind of a neat way to grow up.”
Today, Judice Inn can seat 60 people at a time and serves about 300 burgers every weekday and around 600 on Saturdays. About half of its business is call-in orders, but the family business continues to be driven by regular customers. “Our business was built on our regulars,” Gerald says, “the families that have come, and then their kids start coming.”
But Gerald says the men at Booth 2 were of a different ilk than today’s regulars who might stop in once a week. It wasn’t uncommon to see a Booth 2 regular in the restaurant three or four days a week, usually in the afternoons between work and supper time at their homes. Even after retirement, some of them would return throughout the week at the same time. “I guess it just became a habit,” Gerald says. “That time was for Judice Inn.”
The men at Booth 2 were more than customers. More than regulars even. “They became my dad’s best friends,” Gerald says. “This was their social life. This is where they lived their lives.”