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Vautrot’s serves up homemade Cajun resilience

November 23, 2018

With zydeco music playing, mouthwatering smells lingering in the air, and warm greetings, pulling up to Vautrot’s feels like going to your Cajun grandparents’ house - if they had a food truck.

Born in Beaumont but raised in Louisiana, Martha Vautrot steps out into the cold, chilly weather exuding warmth, giving you the same full feeling you get after you eat a bowl of her gumbo.

“Cooking is my life,” she said. “I love it. Coming from Cajun, that’s one thing we like to do. I have always cooked since I was four years old. My grandmother taught me all of her recipes. A lot of people come by and ask me, ‘How do you do that? I want to do that.’ I say, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll do it for you, but I don’t give out my recipes.’”

After working as a deputy for eight years in Louisiana, Martha decided it was time to come back home, moving to Beaumont, where she spotted culinary possibilities.

“When I came here, I saw the potential of the little restaurant, so I asked Gilbert Quibodeaux, who owned this property with the acres in the back, ‘Why don’t you build a restaurant and I’ll run it for you,’” she said. “At first he said no, and then he went home and called me first thing in the morning to come on down. He said, ‘I have the plans for the restaurant,’ so he built it for me.”

Vautrot’s opened in 1993 and then the first calamity struck, the flood of ’94. That set a precedent for four future disasters.

“We had the flood of ’94, then we had Rita that took the whole roof off and almost destroyed it, then I had Ike come in and destroy my kitchen and one of the dining rooms, and then we had a fire in ’08, then we had the Harvey flood,” Martha said. “We’ve been through five disasters, and we’ve always come back. They call me a Cajun phoenix. I come back down from the ashes. I rise up higher than ever.”

“With a 4-foot-higher minimum this time,” her son Nicholas, who is also the general manager of Vautrot’s, interjected with a laugh.

After the fifth disaster to strike the eatery, Martha wasn’t sure she would reopen, but motivated by her love of people and the support of her family, she decided to start again.

“When Harvey came, I told them I didn’t think I was going to come back after the fifth time,” she said. “I lost 40 trailers in the back of the trailer park besides my restaurant and my house - my house was sitting right here. But I’ve had people from every state almost in the country that has called or come by. They kept saying you have to come back.”

With no place to serve food, Martha and her family repurposed a camper to fit their needs.

“It was our 25th anniversary in August; we started up in a food truck because we would go to festivals, and we ended up in a food truck this time,” she said. “My son got in there and did everything, stripped it, and did everything that had to be done for a food truck.”

On the way to where Vautrot’s currently resides off Texas 105 near Bevil Oaks, you pass the skeleton of its old beloved location and the foundation of its new location, a reminder of what was and what will continue to be - a story of resilience and good home-cooking.

“I’ve had such good times in that restaurant,” Martha said. “It’s been such a joy for me. It’s a name that’s been around. I’m thankful for that. The good Lord did provide me with a place I can show how much love I can give to these people and help them out and feed them - that’s my main thing. I want to feed you.”

For Nicholas, Vautrot’s is home.

“I grew up in that restaurant, and for her and me as well, these people are almost like extended family,” he said. “I’ve spent more time in there than I did my own house. I think that’s why, for other people too, it becomes that feeling of home. It’s the same people. They come to see Mama or us. I grew up in there with people. I’ve watched people grow up.

“Especially when disasters hit - we’ve been through a few here - you grow closer and you bond more. We’ve always been service-oriented. We try to take care of people and Mom, of course, being a mother wants to feed everybody anyway.”

Vautrot’s has become a staple in the community, Martha said.

“You come in a stranger, you leave family,” she said. “That’s how we are. You’ll get a hug. I’ve seen kids graduate, get married, graduate college, and have babies. They bring their babies to me. They all come home and meet me. They’ve got to come to Vautrot’s and get their fix.

“When I go out to places, I go shopping and people say ‘Mrs. Vautrot, come see,’ and they grab me and hug me, and that hug means so much to me because that hug comes from the heart. When you can hug somebody and feel their heart, you know that you’ve done something right.”

Martha said the eatery is known for their fried shrimp and gumbo.

“I’m famous for my fried shrimps,” she said. “I’ll put them up against anybody else in Southeast Texas. We can’t keep gumbo right now either. It’s cold out today, and people are going crazy.”

Desserts include homemade banana pudding and blackberry cobbler, with the restaurant rotating different desserts throughout the week.

The menu is limited while at the food truck location with dishes listed on Vautrot’s Facebook page weekly. However, the full menu will return in January when Vautrot’s opens its new space, a stone’s throw from where it currently stands.

Although the eatery will be housed in a new building and raised four and a half feet higher than its previous location, the feel will be the same, Nicholas said, with there being similar design touches.

Be on the lookout for an opening date by visiting Vautrot’s Facebook.

Kara Timberlake is a freelance writer.

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