With a new owner in place, the franchise is taking aim at hundreds of stores. But its culture and personality isn’t going anywhere.
Thirty minutes before his wedding rehearsal in Hammond, Louisiana, Raymond Griffin was handed a stack of legal papers. While that might alarm somebody hours before their vows, it was the gift Griffin asked for. “I could have given him a fondue pot, but I think this made a lot more sense for he and Tammy,” says Robert Stidham, founder and CEO of Summa Franchising Consulting.
Roughly two weeks earlier, Stidham told his attorney, and Griffin’s, to get a deal done before the 27th—Griffin’s wedding day. Investment firm Executive Decisions Group, which oversees the company, had an agreement in place to acquire The Lost Cajun, its franchise system, lone corporate store, and spice arm, for an undisclosed amount.
“And they kind of chuckled,” Griffin says of the timeline.
In the end, however, it’s exactly how events proceeded. For Griffin, who created The Lost Cajun in 2010 and grew it to north of 20 stores, he says things raced by thanks to aligned goals and simply where’s he’s at in life these days. Griffin is hardly a hushed or low-key person—he used to wake up and yell, “I feel good!” before getting out of bed each morning. But COVID-19 was one maze he grew wary of turning corners in. “I’ve never tried to be anything other than I am,” Griffin says. “I’m a Cajun boy from South Louisiana that figured out how to cook gumbo and replicate it and other Cajun dishes, multi-state wide. But my educational background is not what Robert’s and his team’s is. So I was getting tired. That’s just the truth.”
Griffin, who is 67-years-old, felt he had brought The Lost Cajun as far as he could. “And the COVID [pandemic] just took the steam out of my sails,” he says.
A LOOK BACK:
A dream turns into a reality, and a new restaurant chain
The early days of growth get started for The Lost Cajun
Griffin’s well-worn story lives in the name itself. He was working a six-figure job in Lafitte, Louisiana, a town around 25 miles south of New Orleans, as a national training director for a conversion van business. Yet as Griffin likes to say, the only thing that held his attention was fishing. So he quit, opened a lodge, and operated the business with his late wife, Belinda, for 15 years. It was during that stretch he evolved into a Cajun chef.
In the mind-2000s, Griffin was put through the wringer. Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Gustav battered the state, followed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Griffin morphed his lodge into a facility for BP workers, running boats filled with meals to mop-up sites.
Eventually, the Griffins needed a vacation. They hopped into an RV and headed to Durango, Colorado—a trip sidetracked in Frisco when Belinda’s back gave out. It turned out to be a one-way journey.
Griffin opened a 15-seat, 850-square-foot restaurant in a town 9,000 feet above sea level that averages nearly 200 inches of snow a year. He was, Griffin notes, a “Lost Cajun.” Those early days proved a crash course in operations, where a $35,000 dream turned into a $100,000 bill. But the one constant was feedback. Lines snaked outside from the hour Griffin flipped the lights on. Consumer appreciation turned into organic franchise interest, and soon, Griffin was looking at ways to grow.
However, beyond the food itself, one of Griffin’s imprints on the business was his personality. The Lost Cajun is as pretentious as a backyard barbecue. Stores are designed without partitions to separate booths. Kids often take chalk and draw on the floors.
Famously, servers greet guests with a paddle of samples before they get a menu. “People come in there hoping to be happy but expecting to be disappointed,” Griffin’s early line went.
COVID and these traits, though, didn’t mix. Although the brand improved off-premises packaging, systems, and marketing, the reality was The Lost Cajun wasn’t the Lost Cajun outside the four walls.
In April 2021, the brand filed for bankruptcy, listing roughly $338,000 in assets and $1.4 million in liabilities. The Lost Cajun Enterprises, LLC, the company’s 2012-formed franchise division, filed for a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of Title 11, Subchapter V, Small Business Debtor Reorganization.
When COVID hit, The Lost Cajun was forced into a number of cost-saving measures, including salary reductions for employees, reductions or the elimination of franchise fees for distressed operators facing temporary closures or capacity restrictions, and the “cessation of payments under the Buy” -Sell Agreement,” according to filings. The moves burned through cash and the pipeline dried up. Without new checks coming in, Griffin filed for relief.
The Lost Cajun emerged from bankruptcy on December 7, with Griffin providing personal capital to get through. And growth began to pick up again.