BY SHANEDRA J SMITH | STAFF WRITER
DECEMBER 2, 2022
Whenever Lil Dizzy’s Cafe, a restaurant well-known in New Orleans is spoken of, owner Arkesha Baquet makes sure she brings the story all the way back to the restaurant’s original owner: Wayne Baquet Sr. After his many years of running successful restaurants, in 2005 Baquet Sr. decided to open another restaurant after being in retirement for only six months. Thus, Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe was conceived, named after his eldest grandson, Zachary Baquet. “We are a third generation black operation,” Arkesha told blkpreneurship, speaking proudly of her family’s legacy.
Once the pandemic hit in 2020, the restaurant was closed for a year, and Arkesha and Wayne became worried of the future of Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe. “We can’t just let anything happen to Lil’ Dizzy’s,” Arkesha remarked. Within a few months, after Baquet Sr. sold the restaurant to his son and daughter-in-law, the restaurant was up and running, continuing to serve the same famous foods that remained in the Baquet family cookbook, such as their famous gumbo and renowned fried chicken. “My father-in-law has totally blessed everything that has taken place with the restaurant,” Arkesha said, speaking of the small changes the couple made to the restaurant’s operation, such as being closed on Sundays and serving food on to-go-plates. “This wasn’t a takeover, there was no hostility. This was all generation, pass down type of situation. The blessing that we have is my mother-in-law and father-in-law were alive to see this, that’s the difference; a lot of generational businesses that are passed down are due to a hardship and they’re not always given in a good form.” Arkesha and her husband make sure they do everything in their power to help protect the legacy of Baquet Sr., who is passionate about the restaurant business and retired in November 2021.
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Restaurant franchises have been running in the Baquet family for 75 years. Wayne Jr. grew up watching, learning and studying his father as he ran and managed restaurants. He works at Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe on Saturdays with his two sons. Arkesha runs the restaurant day-to-day, an ability she contributes to having ran the restaurant’s second location in 2010, which was unfortunately closed down during a hurricane. Arkesha was also pregnant at the time, and with a scary birth, she chose her son over the restaurant. Arkesha and Wayne manage their many roles as parents, entrepreneurs, employers, etc. by making time and scheduling it appropriately. ” The reason we decided not to do breakfast on Mondays through Saturdays and to be closed on a Sunday is because we have kids and a family and alike,” Arkesha said. “That has played a part in why we made the changes we made. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on the things that our kids are doing. Those are the things that played a part in us making sure we close at 3pm everyday, so I can still be a mom and take care of my children, because my husband travels sometimes with his full-time job, and we go to church together on Sundays.” The Baquets realize that it’s important to them to continue their father’s legacy, but also make sure they are not causing a problem with their own legacy; being their children and the responsibilities they are still held to.
Arkesha and Wayne Jr. prioritize keeping the original recipes in the restaurant, but opt to serve their food in to-go plates, so that tables can be emptied quicker to let in more expectant customers. “I’m trying to get tables cleared as quickly as I can,” Arkesha said. “So that’s why people are going to get in the restaurant. And social media is available now, and my father-in-law couldn’t spin social media how I could spin it.” Social media has also propelled the restaurant to get calls from Kitchen Impossible Germany and other shows, because they make it an effort to use their platform to promote the beautiful history of their family.
Arkesha and Wayne Jr.’s entrepreneurial legacy will be given to their youngest son. “He works every Saturday,” Arkesha began. “He knows how to make gumbo, he knows how to make bread pudding. He knows how to make potato salad, he makes po-boys.” She sees her child blossom and grow into his purpose, and she wants to support it every way she can. Arkesha is blessed to be a part of this legacy because she was “married in”, which means she is not a “Baquet by blood”. For her, it’s a big deal because of her personal history with her parents, and because her in-laws respect and trust her enough to put their business into her hands, as her husband, their son, chose not to own the business. She feels thankful because she was given something tangible that she could hold onto that was given to her from family, and enjoys shining a light on the family.
Arkesha had to learn many things in order to maintain and propel the legacy into a bigger vision. Not only did she have to learn different concepts and strategies, but she also had to learn to develop a thick skin when old fans of the restaurants visited and did not see Wayne Sr. “My father in law has always pretty much been the face of the restaurant,” she shared. “And then you have me come in who’s an in-law and not of the children, and there was some resistance to that. Some people in the south in New Orleans don’t accept change very well. They don’t like things to change. So here I come taking over this restaurant that’s known in the community and that’s popular.” Arkesha has had many people walk out, ask questions about where her father-in-law was at, and what happened with all the changes to the restaurant. She had to figure out how to work around the complaints and criticisms of her customer base, and how not to get so on guard or offensive when the situations come up. “If you get the customers to stay, and you talk to them, and they make it to the register, then that’s my goal. If I talk to you and get you to stay and order something, then the food will take care of rest.”
Arkesha stays motivated by keeping this saying close to her heart: “You need to give somebody their flowers while they’re here, because when they’re dead and gone, they won’t know they’re there.” She tries to treat her family, customers and those around her the way she’d want to be treated, and she detests gossip, and believes you should go and get to know a person based on who they are, not what other people are saying about them. “For me, the key things I think everybody should do, not just in the restaurant business and the like, but when you meet new people, you need to allow them to be a black board, like when you’re in school and the teacher writes on the chalkboard. You allow people to tell you who they are, because you may never meet the person the others are trying to portray. They might be a totally different person.”
Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe can be found on their Instagram here.
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