Merline Herbert found her recipe for success folded inside some bread. This past Monday Herbert marked 25 years in business at her Creole Lunch House, where she serves up her trademark stuffed breads and killer plate lunches.
“I enjoy cooking,” Herbert says, “and being the oldest girl in my family I did a lot of cooking with my mom. And my mother-in-law was a very good cook, and I wanted to be as good — and a little better than her — so my husband would be happy with me.”
Before she started cooking for a living, Herbert was an educator for 22 years, first teaching at Paul Breaux Elementary and later UL Lafayette, before retiring as a principal from J. Wallace James Elementary. In 1983, she opened the Creole Lunch House on Twelfth Street in Lafayette, serving lunch every weekday. “No weekends and no dinner,” she says. “I’m a teacher. I only work during the day, and I don’t work on weekends and I’m closed for holidays.”
At first, Herbert had a hard time selling the run-of-the-mill sandwiches. Then she decided to try a familiar recipe she served up for her own family — stuffed bread. The original, and still the most popular, stuffed bread is the beef, sausage, cheese and jalapeno. The two other flavors include one with Italian sausage, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese and another stuffed with crawfish étouffée and rice.
In 1986, Herbert opened a processing plant to make and sell the breads wholesale. Today you can find them at Lafayette General Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes, Opelousas General and convenience store delis throughout Acadiana.
But while the stuffed breads might be Creole Lunch House’s calling card, the plate lunches will also keep you coming back. Daily plate lunches include chicken fricassee, red beans and sausage and pork chops. On Mondays, the specials include meatball fricassee, smothered liver, and spaghetti and meatballs. On both Tuesdays and Thursdays, the stuffed baked chicken is served with rice and gravy and the vegetables of the day.
Herbert has no intention of expanding her current operations or altering the recipes that have served her so well throughout the years. “We don’t pin ourselves to anything,” she says. “We’re just enjoying what we’re doing and developing it as we go. We’ve never really set serious high goals, so we don’t get stressed out about it all. This is a second career. We’ve always enjoyed it, and as opportunities come up, if we feel like we want to do it, ‘OK, let’s try it.’ If not, we just pass it up.”
Creole Lunch House is located at 713 Twelfth St. in Lafayette and is open for lunch on weekdays. Call 232-9929 for more information.