- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

MONROE, La. (AP) - Anyone who describes Genusa’s as a family restaurant isn’t just talking about the dining style.

The Monroe eatery is celebrating 50 years of service in the Garden District, and the owners - Francis and Cherry Genusa - are passing the eatery on to their children and grandchildren. The couple’s daughters, Ann Genusa Williamson and Rachel Genusa Dickey, manage the business along with Ashley Genusa, Francis Jr.’s daughter. Grandson Cole works there a few nights a week.

Francis said the family gradually has been building up to 50 years.

“We have a lot of people that stop by, just from years ago if they come back to town. They call and say ‘Are you still there?’ Yes, we’re still here. ‘I’m coming. I’m coming to see you,’” she said.

The official anniversary was Jan. 19. They celebrated by handing out Italian cream cupcakes and champagne, and Cherry said they plan to keep the party going with events throughout the year.

Their customers are tight-knit, some are like family. During his chemo treatments, Francis said, customers have come by just to ask how he’s doing.

“We’ve probably got the greatest customers that have sent our jarred sauces, out meat sauce” to their kids at college he said. “We’ve gone through generations of kids.”

“There’s a lot of sentimentality with that because these parents brought their children out here in the ‘70s and ‘80s to eat because it was one of the few family restaurants. We had Johnny’s, and we had McDonald’s. The Monroe Steak House came in there somewhere, and then that changed hands,” she said.

Francis said he owned parts of several oil and gas businesses, and he’s been in several businesses over the years.

“When Ronald Reagan deregulated natural gas, the bottom fell out, and my wife called me. She said, ‘You better get to the restaurant because you get more for one meatball than for 1,000 cubic feet of gas, which was true,” Francis said. “Since I came back to the restaurant and we started making improvements, it’s really been a great ride. We’ve been able to support our grandkids going to private school and we’ve never really had to borrow any kind of money to remodel. We’ve always done it out of the restaurant. It’s really been a labor of love,” he said.

It started, Francis said, when he was in pharmaceutical sales in Lafayette, and he didn’t particularly care for the job. It was a hot summer, and he had to wear a blue or black suit with mosquitoes all around. He told Cherry one time that he’d resign, and she said he couldn’t because it was such a great job.

Francis’s aunt ran Ladart’s Spaghetti Garden in the building during World War II and the 1950s. The couple originally are from Monroe, and they knew the property at 815 Park Ave. was vacant and needed to be cleaned up.

“And we did it,” he said. They raised about $500.

“And that’s how we opened it,” he said, “on just absolutely a nickel and a prayer.”

Cherry and Francis had two children when they opened the restaurant in 1967. Cherry had their third child in 1968, and her mother helped take care of the kids. Having family nearby was a blessing, she said.

The children - and now grandchildren - grew up there. They had an avocado freezer in the kitchen, and all three kids sat on the lid or lay in front of the fireplace in the main dining room. Over time, the lid of the freezer started dipping from their weight.

Ashley remembers watching the tiny black and white TV in the kitchen when she was small. She wrapped up in a blanket and watched “Sesame Street” and “Fraggle Rock” while her mother and great-grandmother made meatballs and sauces for the week. She said her favorite story about Genusa’s will always be memories of her family.

“The restaurant was just as much a part of our family as the children were. It was just an integral part of our very being,” Cherry said.

When the children were growing up, many times, she questioned why she let their kids work there - particularly when they were 13, going on 30.

Cherry said everyone goes into business with their dream and the best of intentions, but it’s not glamour and glitz. It’s like digging a ditch every day, covering it before you go home, then starting to dig again the next day. It’s hard work.

“Italian food is tricky. Everybody is used to eating Mama’s spaghetti sauce,” Cherry said.

A lot of planning time goes into it. Cherry said they wouldn’t have made it if they had to hire outside help from the outset.

“We did everything,” Francis said. “We washed dishes. We waited on the tables.”

“We cooked it,” Cherry said.

Francis’s sisters helped. Friends pitched in on the weekends.

“We didn’t even hire anybody to work in the kitchen, probably, until the early ‘70s, you know, to wash dishes and mop the floors and all that. We did everything, and it was very difficult. It took a lot of perseverance, and then everything just kind of evolved after that,” Cherry said.

So how long was it before they became popular?

“Forever,” Cherry said. “It was a struggle because we had no money to advertise, and we really didn’t know what we were doing because neither one of us had been in the restaurant business. He’d been around the restaurant business, but he hadn’t actually run a restaurant. We depended on his mother, and his aunt, and they truly weren’t into it much either,” Cherry said.

Francis said, “They did it their old way. You know, we had so many things on the menu that we just scratched.”

They honed their offerings through trial, error, research and trashing.

When they started, they only served in the front dining room. “And we thought that was huge then,” Cherry said, laughing.

Gradually, they opened up more dining rooms, Francis said, most of which are named after what the customers started calling them - the board room, the bar, the main dining room and the chocolate room.

When they started, they had one wine rack. Now there are wine racks in every room.

“When wine started becoming popular, ‘ the thing,’ that was back in the early ‘70s, I guess. Anyway, nobody would be caught dead in Monroe, Louisiana, drinking in public. It’s true,” Cherry said.

?Rachel is the wine guru, Cherry said. She developed the wine list and worked on the menu.

People get stuck on label and on drinking the same thing, so offering new things that people can’t find is a goal. She said they brought in a lot of new wines that people loved, then the label got popular and could be found everywhere, which is when she stops carrying them.

“I wanted to bring new wines and new grapes into the restaurant for people to experience because the list is - there’s millions of wines out there,” Rachel said. “There’s not just six well-known brands. … I like to deal with small, boutique, cult-status wines.”

Francis said the goal is to make the wine affordable, so they sell it as a considerable discount.

To anyone who hasn’t been to Genusa‘s, Ashley said, bring a date and prepare yourself to fall in love.

“This is a couples making, cementing restaurant. We have had countless engagements, and actually marriages, over the years. People want to get married because they met here, or they came here on their first date, which is a stretch to me, if you’re going here on a first date you’re setting the bar kind of high. It’s on the fancier end as far as dates go,” she said.

They’ve hosted every part of the process - from the first date to the wedding.

“It’s really nice to be a part of somebody’s story like that. Somebody can come in and say we had our first date here, we got engaged here, we’ve been here for every anniversary,” Ashley said.

Genusa’s is host to a few engagements a month, and people come back year after year for anniversaries. They’ve had a few weddings, which makes the staff part of the experience, part of the couple’s day.

“I just think that the atmosphere is very conducive to romance, and so people associate that, you know, that first time falling in love, that fuzzy-headed, too much wine, feeling. I won’t say it was the wine. … I feel like that’s what this place recreates for people,” she said.

“The energy here is different. We aren’t co-workers but more like family,” Ashley said.

She said it’s a job like any job, but some of the employees are like family. Alonzo, who cooks the steaks, started coming with his mom when he was 15. They both cut their teeth there.

Cherry and Francis said they have a wonderful staff. Many employees have been with them a long time, some for decades.

Cherry said some of the most fabulous young people have worked as waiters there over the years. Some worked through completing their doctorate degrees. Several went on to become medical doctors, lawyers and teachers. They stay in touch and have become members of the family, Cherry said.

Over the years, they’ve loaned money to many college students from University of Louisiana at Monroe or Louisiana Tech University.

“We put so many through, to go through school. They never, never owing a nickel,” Francis said. “Not one nickel.”

Francis calls Cherry the CEO. He joked he’s in charge of maintenance now - motors, air conditioners, drainage.

“Our three girls are primed to take over Genusa‘s. We’re obviously in our waning years, although we’re in here every day, and they like us here every day. It’s comfort for them. Kind of like backup,” Cherry said.

Rachel perfected the recipes in the kitchen when the family started having to hire help. She recorded every dish so they could train people to make the same food, and it stayed the same.

“I don’t know how people run restaurants without family. That’s got to be difficult, if you just put a bunch of people in there and trust them to cook your food. … We’re thankful for our family,” Cherry said.

Ann is a partner in The Coffee Bean. She manages Genusa’s a few nights a week, more often during the holidays because they’re so busy.

“She’s the one that has a really good business sense,” Cherry said. “They each have their gifts, their strong points. When she walks in the door, she knows whether it’s right or it’s wrong, and that I’m really thankful for,” Cherry said.

The couple said bringing Ashley on was one of the best things they’ve ever done. Ashley’s father, Francis Jr., died a few years ago. Cherry said he’d be proud of her.

Over the years, Ashley said, she tried other jobs, but she always came back home.

“This is my family. This is my legacy. This is what my grandparents have work really hard for the last 50 years to turn into a success, and I’m just hoping to continue the tradition,” Ashley said.

___

Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide