Cheryl Kvale’s philosophy regarding Cajun Oaks Café: “If I can’t go back to Louisiana, I guess I’ll take it with me.”
The Louisiana native opened Cajun Oaks in Huntington in 2013 with the help of her husband and daughter, and the restaurant moved to a new location off Highway 69 south in Lufkin on Jan. 2.
Dishes at Cajun Oaks include T-bone steak, ribeyes, shrimp, catfish, crab, étouffée and gumbo.
“We try to make everything homemade if at all possible,” including the house seasoning, Kvale said. “We’re all about the freshness. I go to Port Arthur and get my shrimp once a week — it’s just going that extra mile. Restaurants have gotten way friendly serving portion-controlled, frozen products, and we’re not all about that.”
Passion for food is a tradition in Kvale’s family.
“My parents had restaurants, and I’ve always been in the food industry. I retired about five years ago, and I missed it. So I’m doing it all over again,” Kvale said. “If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. You can’t get away from it.”
Her daughter, Jayme Kimmons, who does anything from cooking at the restaurant to waiting tables, said she grew up helping her mom in the kitchen.
“I’m obsessed — I’ve always collected cookbooks passed down in my family,” Kimmons said.
That sense of family is one of the qualities that makes Cajun Oaks stand out, Kimmons said.
“I think people like that it’s me and Mom, and we care about people,” she said. “We just want everybody to be happy and love the food and enjoy themselves. We come out here and we try to sit and talk with everybody; we want to get to know everybody. ”
Rita and Dalton Boyd, a Huntington couple in their 90s, are among the customers Kvale and Kimmons have cultivated a relationship with.
“We were in the process of opening the restaurant, and I had cooked a big catfish platter, and we were eating,” Kvale said. “And this older gentleman walked in, and I said, ‘Can I help you?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I’m a little hungry.’ I said, ‘We’re not open yet, but you’re more than welcome to come and join the family and stay and have dinner with us.’ His wife was in the hospital, and he said, ‘I’ve been at the hospital all day.’ … I said, ‘Let me fix you something to eat and you can take it home, how about that?’ That’s how we met Mr. Dalton.
“Right when we opened, they came in — he brought his wife, and they became very good friends of ours.”
“I went out to their house and visited them,” Kimmons said. “(Rita Boyd) calls me to this day on my cellphone.”
Loyal customers have only increased at Cajun Oaks, as Kvale said business has grown exponentially — “If it hasn’t tripled, it’s quadrupled” — since moving locations.
“At the old location, we were off the beaten path,” she said. “We had to crawl just to get our name out there. I had to crawl for about a year and a half, but now I finally feel like I’m walking straight.”
She added that none of this would’ve been possible without her daughter and husband.
“They’ve supported me and my crazy ideas.” She chuckled and added, “But they’re normally pretty good ideas.”