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Restaurant provides old-school feel, new-school conveniences

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

When most people think of catfish restaurants, clean, spacious, and Wi-Fi access are not the first thoughts that come to mind.

Louisiana Catfish Kitchen, located at 7210 Hwy. 85 in Riverdale, is changing the perception. Its owner hopes the eatery will become a national trend.

Terry Owens, founder, president and CEO of Louisiana Catfish Kitchen, opened for business in May. The restaurant had its official ribbon cutting ceremony on June 20.

For Owens, a Fort Gillem-based soldier, with 24 years of Army experience under his belt, entrepreneurship has always been a dream. He said the idea to open a restaurant came to him in a vision he had while mowing his lawn last June. He opened it with his best friend since the third grade, Byron Ratliff

"This was something that I prayed about," said Owens. Raised in the city of Bogalusa, La., Owens wanted to create a restaurant that mirrored the same feelings there.

"It's a town where people are walking down the street and everybody waves at you," said Owens. "We wanted to make sure that we brought something new and interesting to Riverdale. I want people to be comfortable."

While following a calming tan color scheme, the walls of the restaurant are illustrated with such Louisiana-based themes as a Dixieland jazz band, a map of the state of Louisiana, and football helmets from Grambling State University and Southern University -- symbolic of a long-running, friendly rivalry between Owens and Ratliff.

The restaurant offers a wide selection of authentic Louisiana cuisine, such as fried catfish, dirty rice, po' boy sandwiches, and spicy coleslaw. In addition, Louisiana Catfish Kitchen is a Wi-Fi hot spot, where people with laptops and wireless Internet cards can eat and conduct business.

"We are just trying to align ourselves with what the mayor is trying to do here," by offering more upscale dining options, said Owens.

Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon has hosted several meetings at Louisiana Catfish Kitchen and used it as an example to other businesses thinking of moving to the city.

"I love it because it is so family-oriented," said Wynn-Dixon. "Louisiana Catfish is old school, and by old school, I mean that they remember your face if you have been there. That's how people did it in the old days to make you feel welcome.

"It's moving upward," Wynn-Dixon added. "The reason I like it is because others will follow."

Minnie Ratliff, wife of Byron Ratliff, and vice president of operations and development, said the Riverdale community has been very receptive to the restaurant. "They're like, it's about time that we got something like this over here," she said. The customers are "warm and receptive" and "are starting to become part of the family," she added.

While Owens hopes to grow the restaurant into a national chain, he wants to maintain the idea of having a conversation with every customer who comes into the restaurant.

"It's a privilege just to be able to be in the community," said Owens. "We want to know who we're feeding."