If you want to experience a taste of the Big Easy, but a trip to New Orleans isn’t in your plans for Fat Tuesday, come to Fondren where Que Sera Sera gives you a year-round helping of Creole flavor.
At one time occupied by Long John Silvers, the spot at 2801 North State Street was known by another name when Boo Noble heard about it. “A man came in looking for a drink — and help to save his restaurant, J. J. McCall’s,” he remembers. “I had Cafe Creole and Cafe Le Chef at the time and told him I’d look at it.” Noble says he became a silent partner with a $20,000 investment as majority stock holder. When he saw that things weren’t being run in the way he would have liked, he parted ways with his partner and closed the place down.
During the construction phase of his new business in Fondren, people would come in and remind him that the place had been many things before. “I just said ‘Que Sera Sera — meaning what will be will be,’ he explains. “And so that’s what we called it. (That was) twenty four years ago and (it’s been) successful since.”
Noble is a restauranteur by accident. After high school, he attended LSU with hopes of becoming a physician. His night job was spinning records and, eventually, tending bar, claiming no knowledge of making even the simplest drink. “I couldn’t mix Scotch and water,” he chuckles. Nineteen restaurants later, he’s mixing flavors that are Creole and Cajun influenced.
Que Sera Sera’s recipes are the product of Noble’s Louisiana experiences. Never formally trained, he says he learned to cook in New Orleans. “I’ve been to different places and eaten a lot of food, but I still haven’t found anyone that has the cuisine like New Orleans,” he says.
Red beans and rice here comes from a recipe written on a paper sack by an old black lady. The gumbo recipe is from one of Noble’s friends. Both dishes have been to competitions and awarded numerous people’s choice, restaurant and grand champion prizes. Noble’s crawfish, shrimp and crab pasta took a runner up prize in the U.S. Culinary Olympics, bested only by a native New Orleanian chef. Que Sera Sera estimates over 2,000 a week enjoy these dishes along with crab cakes, pizzas, burgers, redfish, poboys and a full bar.
Over the years, Noble says he has honed flavors by training his palette. “No one sits down at a piano and just starts playing,” he explains. “I’ve learned to taste every element of everything I put in my mouth.” It’s like the peppers he uses: red, black and white each have distinct tastes, but when used in moderation, flavor foods in unique ways. “It’s Cajun but that doesn’t mean hot.” The style of food is also Acadian French or Creole inspired. “They were simple country people on the Bayous and ate whatever they could get their hands on.”
Que Sera Sera’s longevity, Noble says, can be attributed to his people. “My staff is my success,” he tells us. “I think that’s the success of any restaurant.” He rattles off a list of names a dozen deep with a combined total of decades and decades of experience. “We treat people like adults here and they know what we expect.”
That experience doesn’t come by accident. Noble says he wishes there was a book on running a successful restaurant that he could give his 21 year old son, Perrin, who took ownership in July of 2012. “A lot of stuff just comes up,” he says. “Every day is different and I’m here with him to teach him the rough spots and give him the benefit of my experience.”
Perrin says he’s up for the challenge. Working in his dad’s businesses since the age of ten, he claims it gets easier and easier everyday. “You get more familiar and it’s less stressful,” he tells us. Perrin has lots of ideas, but looks to his dad’s wisdom before trying new things. “With so much experience, I run it by my dad. He’s usually seen (that idea before), so we find a good compromise.”
For this New Orleans inspired joint in the midst of what Noble calls Jackson’s French Quarter, he says things have come a long way. “This place was a dump when I bought it,” he says. “But when I was in Louisiana, we’d drive 20 – 30 miles out of the way to eat at places like that. They’d have their original cobwebs and dust and no one cared. So I fixed this place up, but I went on that premise: if the food is good enough, people will come eat with us. And they’ll keep coming. And they did. It’s been amazing.”