Wildcat Brothers Hope to Create Cultural Destination
The following article appeared on March 2, 2020, via The Acadiana Advocate (theadvocate.com/acadiana/). It was reprinted with permission from Megan Wyatt, the author of the article. This article features Eta Omicron/Northwestern State’s David Meaux (1999) and International President Dr. Tait J. Martin (1997).
Those behind distillery, cooking school at Gator Cove hope to create cultural destination
Imagine if PBS was a person and had a few cocktails.
That's the vision a team known as the Wildcat Brothers has for Gator Cove in the coming months as they transform the iconic restaurant property into a cultural destination complete with a rum distillery and Cajun cooking school.
"This is going to be about having a good time," said Tait Martin, CEO of Wildcat Brothers. "It's also going to be about learning things, talking about our heritage."
Martin, who owns a marketing agency, is teaming up with local distiller David Meaux and chef Paul Ayo to make it happen.
Meaux has been creating rum with local sugar cane for nearly 10 years through Rank Wildcat Distillery. Lafayette's official cocktail, the rouler, uses his sweet crude rum.
This will be the first time Meaux's operation, now known as Wildcat Brothers Distillery, will be open to the public for tours and tastings.
"When I saw the place, I just knew this was it," Meaux said. "I just saw the potential and knew it would be just fantastic."
The distillery's new name is a nod to Meaux and Martin's relationship as fraternity brothers at Northwestern State University. Ayo also attended the college but was not a member of the fraternity.
Ayo has been involved in the Lafayette culinary scene for years. He owned a cooking store called E's Kitchen where he offered cooking classes and organized monthly food truck roundups. He later began smoking his own bacon and opened a breakfast and lunch restaurant called Avec Bacon.
His passion and personality will be on display in this new venture, which is called the Louisiana Cooking School.
"We're going to be using a lot of local, traditional ingredients and recipes for the cooking classes," Ayo said. "We'll teach people about our history of using what you got, but the thing is, now we've got more. We have access to ingredients that my mom or grandma couldn't even dream about, so we'll use that, too. We'll look at things like Acadian bacon. It's like Canadian bacon but better."
The trio has the blessing of the third-generation Gator Cove owners, Jay and Peggy Voorhies, who still own property behind the restaurant buildings.
They made the decision to retire from the restaurant business last year and sold the property Dec. 27. They received many offers after listing the property for sale last summer but wanted to find like-minded people who would pay respect to their family business that dates back to 1978.
At one point, three different restaurants operated on the property, including a Cajun restaurant called Gator Cove, a barbecue restaurant called A.B. Henderson and a short-lived pizza restaurant.
The previous owners said they're looking forward to seeing what Martin, Meaux and Ayo do with the property.
“The opportunity is here,” Peggy Voorhies said. “There’s an opportunity to grow and do so many things with this space.”
Said Jay Voorhies: “I think it’s going to be really big. We see this as a place where locals and tourists want to come and enjoy themselves and experience new things.”
Both the former and new owners envision Gator Cove becoming a destination for locals and tourists.
The location at 2601 SE Evangeline Thruway isn't far from popular tourist destinations such as Vermilionville, a living history museum, and Avery Island, home to Tabasco sauce.
"We envision tour group operators planning a trip to Vermilionville in the morning and to our space in the afternoon," Martin said. "We see a tour guide really focusing on how Acadiana was then and kind of the new Acadiana so people can see where our heritage has taken us and where we ended up."
The Louisiana Cooking School at Gator Cove is expected to open this summer in the building that once housed A.B. Henderson.
Wildcat Brothers Distillery at Gator Cove is expected to open by October in the building that most recently served as the iconic restaurant.
There are more plans in the works for the property over the next year.
The team plans to create a space where people can distill their own cocktails and an outdoor venue for live music and food truck roundups. They're also hoping to use carbon dioxide created during the fermentation process to create a climate-controlled greenhouse to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables.
The Voorhieses plan to open a campground for recreational vehicles on the property, which is still home to three alligator ponds.
Although the property will be renovated, a few iconic pieces of Gator Cove will remain on display, including a large alligator.
The team is also hoping to use some of Gator Cove's existing features in creative ways. The two floors of the former restaurant could provide a speakeasy vibe as customers travel down a staircase to enter the distillery. A narrow balcony not so unlike the one featured on "The Muppet Show" could be a place for hosts during trivia nights.
"Our space will be inspired by bricks and books," Meaux said. "But there's going to be this fun, speakeasy kind of aspect we can create by just taking advantage of the typography we have here."
Those who aren't quite ready to say goodbye to Gator Cove can still pick up the restaurant's original boiled crawfish as the team continues to work on the property. Boiled crawfish is available to-go from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.