History People People & Places St Landry History

Remembering Mr. Tony – The “Ole Master”

CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Publisher and Contributing Writer

Featured Photograph: Tony Chachere, photo taken in the 1980s outside the Creole Foods business, located on North Lombard Street in Opelousas.

Anthony “Tony” Chachere (1905-1995), pharmacist, award-winning insurance salesman, business owner, and popular chef during his lifetime, opened Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods in 1972 on North Lombard Street in Opelousas, as a retirement hobby. The company produced Chef Tony’s famous Creole Seasoning. Also, that year Chachere, shown in this 1980s featured photograph, released his Cajun Country Cookbook, a bestseller. More cookbooks followed, with new products developed and produced by his company. Just one week prior to his death, Chachere was the first chef to be inducted into the Louisiana Chef’s Hall of Fame. He died on March 19, 1995, leaving behind a culinary legacy that today is one of the leading businesses in St. Landry Parish and Louisiana. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But there is so much more to Mr. Tony’s story.

Who was Anthony “Tony” Chachere?

Ever heard people say, “What a character.” That is what most folks thought about Mr. Tony. Born on June 14, 1905, in Opelousas, Louisiana, Anthony “Tony” Chachere, was one of the eight children of Tighman George Chachere (1867-1936) and Nina Celestine DeLaRue (1871-1964). The Chachere family of his birth is well rooted in St. Landry Parish going back to the 18th century. Tony’s father was an architect in Opelousas, responsible for some of the historic buildings that remain in the community today.

The Early Years

St. Landry High School in c.1915. Anthony “Tony” Chachere attended this school in Opelousas. While he was still in attendance, the school name changed from St. Landry High School to Opelousas High School.

Tony received his early education in Opelousas where he participated on most of the school’s sports teams. He went to St. Landry High School, that became Opelousas High School during the years he attended. He was popular during his high school years, excelling in basketball and baseball. A member of the first successful Opelousas High School basketball team, Tony was an outstanding player. Standing six feet, two inches tall, and weighing 145 pounds, he was perfect as the team’s center.

That basketball team, under the direction of Coach San Moncla, had a great year in 1922. In an interview he did in the 1970s, Coach Moncla talked about that team saying the boys were some colorful characters, especially Tony. He remembered Tony and the other team members filling up Elton Doucet’s Model-T to travel the dirt and gravel roads to other towns, as far away as New Orleans, to play games. And thanks to Tony, they usually won.

Likewise, Tony was a good baseball player on the OHS team, also coached by Sam Moncla. He was the star pitcher for the team and was popularly known as “Tony Gump.” He was also a member of the 1923 OHS football team.

Tony Chachere is pictured fourth from left on the second row in this picture of the 1923 OHS football team. Coach Sam Moncla is shown to the right.

Besides sports, Tony had a winning personality and worked well with others. People said he could talk most anyone into doing almost anything. While he was still in school, he launched his business and sales career when he and one of his brothers took over a New Orleans newspaper route in Opelousas. They soon built up the business and set sales records envied by the other paper boys, giving them something to strive for.

Early Profession

Following high school, Tony began working as a delivery boy and soda jerk for the New Drug Store on Court Street in Opelousas, established that year by A. J. “Doc” Boudreaux and Dr. Charles B. Genin. Later in life Tony often said that was when he became interested in medicine and pharmacy. After four years of working in the drug store, in September of 1927 he left for New Orleans to attend a special course at the Simon School of Pharmacy. He completed the course and returned to Opelousas in October, passed the Louisiana Pharmacy Board examination in November, and immediately began working as a pharmacist with “Doc” Boudreaux at the drug store. 

Tony Chachere is shown to the right on the back row of this photograph with the New Drug Store gang. This photograph was taken by Edna Lafleur Delery in the late 1920s to early 1930s, and is included in a photo album dated 1928.

On November 15, 1928, Tony married Patricia Kerr (1909-1983), the daughter of Judge Ennis Shaw Kerr (1868-1925) and Mary Alcima St. Cyr (1871-1943). After returning from their honeymoon, the new Mr. and Mrs. Chachere settled in their first home on North Street that was once owned by Dunbar Wilkins. The couple had six children: Donald, Patricia, Alex, Douglas, Anthony, Jr., and Jeannine.

Patricia Kerr Chachere – c.1920s

Tony was a real go getter, aggressive and ambitious in all his endeavors. If he entered a contest, he usually won. As an example, he won the prize in the national sales contest in the summer of 1928, sponsored by Norris, Inc., manufacturers of fine candies. The idea of the contest was to boost the candy sales during the summer months. And Tony did that with record sales. He won the $5.00 prize, and the New Drug Store won $10.00 because of his effort.

In April of 1932, Dr. Genin sold his interest in the New Drug store to Dr. Boudreaux. At that same time Dr. Genin purchased Dr. Boudreaux’s interest in the Wholesale Drug Company. Tony Chachere and Curtis J Dufour went to work with Dr. Genin and were responsible for selling wholesale drugs throughout Southwest Louisiana.

Owning His Own Business

After some time with the Wholesale Drug Company, Tony decided he was ready to be the boss. He wanted to start his own business. Since this was during the depression years, starting a business was not easy. He borrowed a hundred dollars, set up manufacturing facilities in his garage to make an insecticide he concocted, added a few other items and in short time he was in business for himself. He called his firm the Louisiana Drug Company.

In 1940 Tony purchased the Travelers Café location in Opelousas and converted it into a cash retail drug store he called Ladco (for Louisiana Drug Co.). The business, owned and operated by Tony, featured drugs, sundries, sodas, cigars and lunches. It operated a cosmetic bar that featured the popular brands of cosmetics and toiletries, and a sundries department retailing everything from shoestrings to peanuts. The drugs sold at the store were almost all manufactured in Opelousas at the Louisiana Drug Company’s own plant, by local labor and personally supervised by Tony, as a registered pharmacist. On November 16, 1940, Ladco Pharmacy opened for business on Landry Street. It offered free deliveries by fast motorbikes in and around Opelousas. The store was managed by Clifford Kerr, who was also one of the three pharmacists, the other two being Tony himself and John Brown, a Tulane PHG graduate.

Even as the company grew and was a successful business Tony wanted more. In 1946 he started Whitman Laboratories, Inc. with Louisiana Drug Company as the parent firm. In 1946 a new laboratory was constructed in a brick building with the best in bottling and packing equipment and testing apparatus. It included modern underground vats that could store 60,000 gallons of liquids. They manufactured hundreds of products under the firm’s own brand and other private label concerns across Louisiana and other states. It wasn’t long before it became the largest manufacturer and distributor of standard liquid and tablet medicines in the state.

Anthony “Tony” Chachere – 1950.

Tony’s manufacturing company also produced a bug killer he called Bon Soir Bug. After producing and selling the bug spray for several years, the product was improved and had what he described as “a killing power that is sensational.” In April of 1956, Tony joined with A. J. Dupuis and organized the Bon Soir Bug Co. The company operated until it was dissolved in November of 1957. In 1960 Southern States Drug Company, managed by George R. Dowden, opened on North Lombard Street, in the building Tony owned, and manufactured Bon Soir Bug for a few years.

Southern States Drug, Inc. produced Bon Soir Bug spray in this building owned by Tony Chachere on North Lombard Street in Opelousas. Built in 1946 to house Tony’s own manufacturing business, the Southern States Drug company operated there for a few years in the early 1960s. This building later was used for Creole Foods, Tony’s culinary business that opened in 1972.

A New Occupation

After being in the drugstore and drug/chemical manufacturing business for several years, Tony retired in 1955 and moved on to something else. He was selling insurance by October 1,1957, representing the Equitable Insurance Firm in the Opelousas area. As he always did, Tony worked hard and soon loved the insurance business and being out on his own. He excelled in that job, and after just one year as an agent, in 1958 he won the South-Central sales championship of the nation. That year he turned in a group volume of $1,034,000 in sales that represented 56 cases and 56 campaign points.

During his years with the Equitable Insurance Company, Tony won other awards and honors including the West Central Division Production Leader, the South-Central Department leader several times and won the Distinguished Salesman Award in 1960. For almost all the years he was in the insurance business, Tony qualified for the National Quarterly Award.  He wrote over $20 million in group life insurance, and after ten consecutive years of selling over a million dollars a year in ordinary life insurance, in August of 1969 he was entered into the Equitable Hall of Fame.

In 1968 Tony was involved with his sons in the Tony Chachere & Sons Insurance Company. Son Douglas was President of that company, with Tony serving as Vice-president for several years before he retired. Tony’s other son Alex served as Secretary/Treasurer of the insurance company.

Tony was also involved in other businesses in Opelousas. During the 1950s he was part of the Bellevue Water Line, Inc., chartered in July of 1955 with Anthony Chachere as president. The purpose of that company was to conduct and carry on a water supply and pipeline business, with an office located at 600 North Court Street. In the 1960s there were other business interests including the Creswell Realty Company of Opelousas, with a charter filed in May of 1968.

A Culinary Career – The “Ole Master”

After retiring from the insurance business in 1971, in 1972 Tony wrote and published Tony Chachere’s Cajun Country Cookbook, his first in a series of cookbooks. He was known for his cooking skills and for years he loved to cook. He had a flair for always being the best in everything he did and that was the case with preparing food. Around Opelousas he became known as the “Ole Master” of fine Cajun and Creole cuisine. His camp on Bayou Big Alabama in the swamp area near Opelousas was known as a gourmet haven. When he prepared a meal, he often shouted out, “Tonight, I’m gonna make ‘em cry!”

The difference between any other cook’s good food and Tony’s excellent food was the seasoning. During his years of cooking, Tony developed his famous Creole All Purpose Seasoning. He included the recipe for that seasoning in his first cookbook and said that recipe was worth the price of the book.

Tony traveled to many areas of the US promoting his cookbook. It was popular not just in Opelousas, but throughout Louisiana and other areas. He was interviewed on radio and television shows in Louisiana, Texas, Maryland and other states. Stories about him and his cookbook ran in newspapers across the country. In no time he was a famous chef and cookbook author.

Also, in 1972 Tony began producing and promoting his Tony Chachere’s Famous Creole Seasoning. It too was an instant success and became a staple in Louisiana’s kitchens. Because of that seasoning, in December of that year Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods of Opelousas was officially incorporated, today known as Tony Chachere’s Famous Creole Cuisine. Now after 50 years, that company is still operating and considered one of the leading businesses in St. Landry Parish and Louisiana. Besides the famous seasoning, Tony Chachere’s has a line of marinades, dinner mixes, salad dressings, sauces and other culinary products.

Opelousas Proud

Anthony “Tony” Chachere was a proud citizen of Opelousas. Although he was busy in all his business endeavors, he also made time to volunteer in the Opelousas community. He was a member of the Hope, Hook and Ladder Fire Company, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, the Draft Board, the St. Landry Federation of Future Farmers of America Committee, the Opelousas Gulf and Country Club, the St. Landry Parish Boy Scout District Finance Committee, the Lion’s Club, the Elks Club, and more. He served on the first Board of Directors for the Louisiana Yambilee, started in 1946. During the 1950s, he served on the Association of Commerce’s Hotel Committee formed to get support and financing to construct the Inn Hotel in Opelousas. A devout Catholic, he attended St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas. He did so much more for his city, parish and state, promoting his heritage and culture wherever he went.

In 1995, Tony Chachere was the first inductee into the Louisiana Chefs Hall of Fame. He died just a week later, on Sunday, March 19, 1995, three months before his 90th birthday. He was an amazing man who made a success of not just one business profession but was the best in three careers. His legacy lives on today through the family-owned Tony Chachere Creole Cuisine business he created a half century ago.  

Anthony “Tony” Chachere (1905-1995) with his famous seasoning mix shown in this photo taken not long before his death in 1995, just three month prior his 90 birthday. His legacy lives on today through the family owned Tony Chachere’s Creole Cuisine. The Opelousas based company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.