Hot Tails and Sac-A-Lait | New Roads, LA & New Orleans, LA
Married to Your Work
Running a restaurant for anyone can take up all of your time, but running two in two different cities, as a married couple with a small child? That takes dedication, a lot of patience and even more heart. That's exactly what Cody and Samantha Carroll, who own the two very popular — and very different — restaurants Hot Tails and Sac-a-Lait, go through on a daily basis.
"We have so many friends who are chefs and they don't get to see their significant other," Samantha Carroll said. "For us, it's all business from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. and we get to do life together, which is cool."
Carroll admits being together all day, every day has its highs and lows, and seeing each other at their best and worst moments can take a toll. But through constant communication and mutual motivation, they make it work.
"We have someone to keep us both accountable," she admits. "We're working hard to make both businesses successful."
And successful they are.
The pair met at the Louisiana Culinary Institute and after graduating in 2009, while dating, decided to open Hot Tails in a converted convenience store in New Roads, La., a hunting-and-fishing vacation town of sorts. Cody Carroll grew up in Batchelor, La., about an hour north of Baton Rouge close to the Mississippi border. There, he set up crawfish ponds and built a successful business and wanted to expand that into a restaurant. Hot Tails opened in 2010, just three months after the pair graduated, with six tables and served only crawfish and a few hot po' boys. As word spread, they had to accommodate the restaurant's new popularity and, after expanding the space, Hot Tails now seats about 100 and is often full. Looking back, the Carrolls appreciate their modest start instead of taking on too much in the beginning.
"Start humbly and don't come out of the gate with all the bells and whistles, ready to seat 200 people," Samantha Carroll said. "If your product is there, people will tell more people and business will grow. If you start huge and there aren't that many people in there, it's scary."
In a bigger space, which Samantha said now feels like you're eating in someone's home, with various taxidermied animals that Cody hunted when he was younger, family photos, trophies and other personal touches that add to the décor, the Carrolls expanded the menu. Now, they serve a variety of Cajun-Creole-influenced "hardcore South Louisiana cuisine," including Cajun crawfish burgers, fried pork chops, a variety of fried seafood and fried rabbit with slow-cooked red beans — and everything is served with sauces, dressings and seasonings made or blended in-house. "We want it to be our recipes that people can enjoy — the things we work hard on," Samantha added. "We can take credit for everything and we take the time to make sure everything is done right."
The success and popularity led to a number of accolades and awards, which eventually allowed them to open their second restaurant, not nearby, not even in Baton Rouge, but two hours away in New Orleans' warehouse district near other hot restaurants like Donald Link's Cochon. So in 2015, the couple opened Sac a Lait, a more upscale restaurant that built upon their food at Hot Tails. At the new restaurant, which is named for a somewhat-obscure game fish native to Southern Louisiana that's also called a Crappie, the motto is, "Everything you can farm, hunt and fish in Louisiana," and pays homage to the farmers and fishermen who provide them with all those ingredients.
The 5,000 square-foot industrial space sits in an old cotton mill dating back to 1882, seats about 140 and the whole place is a family labor of love. Cody Carroll's brothers provided the woodwork and ironwork and his mom upholstered the seat cushions. The food here is more elevated than Hot Tails, with the Carrolls, who share all duties of the restaurant, getting more creative with dishes like alligator and mirliton with honey powder and white remoulade; bell pepper risotto-stuffed wild boar's heart; drum throats with sassafras chimichurri; and chicken scratch, those "odd" parts like the feet, gizzards and liver that Cody grew up eating and loving.
That creativity got the restaurant noticed quickly and earned them the 2015 restaurant of the year award from New Orleans Magazine and best farm-to-table restaurant in Louisiana by Travel + Leisure. One might think this would let the Carrolls rest on their laurels, but it only pushed them harder.
"We were so honored," Samantha said. "It fueled the fire. For us, it motivated us to better ourselves and grow from this. It's been an amazing experience."
Sounds like it's only the beginning.