Serving food in the face of disaster
Most Baton Rougeans who know the name Wayne Stabiler think of his many successful restaurants—the tasty Le Creole and the successful locations of Italian restaurants The Little Village. But many who know of him have never even heard of his main business—what he refers to half-jokingly as “disaster relief catering.”
Last month, mere hours after devastating storms left dozens of communities in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland without power, Stabiler and his crew at Catering Cajun were already on their way to several sites in the hardest-hit areas. With them, they brought food, sleeping trailers, laundry trailers and more—everything you'd need, essentially, to set up a self-contained city for power company workers brought in from surrounding states to fix the problem.
Within 24 hours, Catering Cajun was serving up three gourmet meals a day to the exhausted workers, giving them something to look forward to as they worked a grueling 16-20 hours in the rising heat to restore power to each town.
And this was far from the first time—Stabiler has been in the business of catering for disaster relief workers for more than a decade, starting with a harsh ice storm in the early '90s in Amite, and continuing to present day, handling everything from tornadoes to hurricanes. Stabiler began by simply providing food, but when he realized the workers' needs for clean clothes, showers and a safe place to sleep, he began providing more. “Some of these guys come from hundreds of miles away. When a big disaster strikes, the power companies bring in people from everywhere. When Gustav hit, we had set up 19 sites all over the southern U.S.,” Stabiler says.
Catering Cajun always serves up food with a Cajun flair, trying to make the meals as high-end and pleasant as possible. Steaks, fried shrimp, lasagna, grilled chicken—nearly everything is drawn from one of Stabiler's restaurant menus, and the people manning the trucks are often his executive chefs. The food has gained enough of a reputation that some workers request specifically to be put at a Catering Cajun site, or will drive over secretly from another site. “We never turn them in,” Stabiler laughs. “They'll drive any distance for a good meal, even if they're exhausted.”
Of course, the workers aren't the only ones in need in these communities, and Stabiler assists the Red Cross in almost every area, often donating food through his connections with Sysco food services, or opening up his mini-city's amenities to the whole community.
With hurricane season drawing toward its most tumultuous months, Baton Rougeans can rest easy knowing Stabiler has his trucks ready and waiting to do their part in restoring Baton Rouge's power.
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