New restaurant gives Ruston gumbo

December 20, 2007

by Lyndsey Lovelady

Tech faculty members have ambitions that reach beyond campus borders, opening their own businesses and following their own recipes for success.

Beth Free, pre-award coordinator of university research, recently realized her own dream by cutting the ribbon on one of Ruston’s, take-out-only restaurants, The Gumbo-Stop, located at 202 W. Louisiana Ave.

“I’ve always wanted to open up a little business of my own, but I was afraid it would take too much away from being a single parent – to run a business, raise a child, plus work a full-time job,” Free said. “I cooked gumbo for friends for years, and I needed a second income. So when this little building became available and the overhead is low so I thought, ‘well here’s my chance.'”

Free said The Gumbo-Stop’s ribbon-cutting was scheduled three months after its official opening date.

“Opening day was Sept. 1, but we waited to have our ribbon cutting until Dec. 1,” Free said. “I didn’t know how to run a business and we wanted to get a process in place and know what we’re doing before the ribbon cutting.”

Free’s carte du jour includes chili and authentic Cajun cuisine, such as her signature gumbo, inspired by an aunt from Placquemines Parish,├┐and po-boys served up with her own original marinade.

“We have three kinds of gumbo: chicken, sausage and shrimp; I call it my ‘Aunt Johnnie’s gumbo,'” Free said. “We have seafood gumbo with crab and shrimp and a vegetable gumbo, and we have a roast beef po-boy with a marinade sauce that I came up with a few years ago. We also have chili, and we’re going to add to our menu as we grow.”

Growing up, Free would watch her aunt as she made meals for the family.

“I would watch her as a child,” Free said. “I just remember all of the things that she cooked.”

Free said The Gumbo-Stop is more of a family business, receiving assistance from her daughter, Nikki Kelly and her aunt Sue Young.

“My daughter helps me and my aunt helps me,” Free said. “It’s pretty demanding working full-time at Tech and doing this too, but thankfully my daughter and my aunt have been so helpful.”

Although the doors of Free’s appetizing enterprise have only been open for a few months, Free said she already has a steady supply of gumbo gurus.

“I have weekly regulars. My supervisor at Tech loves Aunt Johnnie’s gumbo,” Free said. “She’s been really good about passing it on by word of mouth.”

Caroline Coulon, a senior nursing major, said she enjoys Free’s food because of its genuine taste.

“I love her gumbo. That’s what I always get when I go there,” Coulon said. “It’s really good, and I don’t think it’s too spicy. I’m from New Orleans so I like to go eat her food because it’s pretty authentic; it feels like I’m home.”