A Baton Rouge native, Stan Harris began his restaurant industry career in the 1980s with TJM Restaurant Management, which is a large Ruth's Chris Steak House franchisee and operator of Baton Rouge restaurants including TJ Ribs, Ninfa's Mexican Restaurant and Ruffino's. He ran restaurants in other states, later became CEO of a large golf accessory supplier and then managing partner in a consulting business in Tennessee. Harris was tapped to lead the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) in 2011.
What do you think sets the local restaurant industry apart?
Harris: There is a community and a lifestyle here committed to dining and that's just amazing. You want to see the difference? Where we go on vacation in Florida, the bulk of restaurants do not care if their food is great. They know these guests won't be back for another 51 weeks, so as long as the food is acceptable that's good enough. Well, in New Orleans word of an acceptable meal gets around pretty fast and it's not a good thing.
What do you think accounts for that difference?
H: Look at the talent base you have here in the kitchens, and look at our purveyors. You have quality here you don't see everywhere else. I took a friend from Tennessee to Parkway (Bakery and Tavern) for po-boys and he was amazed. He said, "A place like this would do great in Tennessee." No it wouldn't. The frying would be too greasy, they wouldn't get the gravy right and they don't have the bread. We take it for granted sometimes, but you can't just make up what we have here.
What's a top issue for the LRA in 2013?
H: We've got to find funding to get more events here. The hotels, the restaurants, the convention and visitors bureaus around the state, we all have the message. But I'm not sure the governor embraces the idea that tourism doesn't just happen. These events don't just come here because they like us, they come because we made the best case for them, we made the best deal. That's the key to all of it: How do we keep feeding that engine of tourism? — IAN MCNULTY