News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 12, 2012

J. Gumbo’s ready to take Cajun to city’s south side

TERRE HAUTE — The rich, zesty aroma of Cajun and Creole cooking is headed to Terre Haute’s south side.

J. Gumbo’s Cajun Joint is expanding to a second location, just 14 months after opening downtown at Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue.

Jeff Habermel, who runs the J. Gumbo’s franchise in the city with his wife, Shannon, plans to start serving up Bumble Bee Stew, Drunken Chicken, Jambalaya and other J. Gumbo’s favorites at 2501 S. Third St. as soon as Wednesday, just one month after renting the location, formerly a Quiznos.

“We’re hitting the ground running,” Habermel said late last week while working to ready the new location for customers.

Since opening the first J. Gumbo’s at Fifth and Wabash in January 2011, Habermel, a native of New Albany who came to Terre Haute with the Air National Guard, has had to lengthen the restaurant’s hours to meet growing demand. Originally closed on Sundays, the business now operates on Sundays and remains open as late as 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

“Business has grown,” he said. “It’s been slow, steady, moderate growth.”

Despite the expanded hours, Habermel felt there was still a demand to be met, which is why he and Shannon decided to open the second location on the south side of town. If all goes well, he eventually would like to expand to the city’s north and east sides, as well, he said.

“The momentum felt right” for opening the second location, Habermel said. “We didn’t feel we were hitting our full potential with just the downtown restaurant.”

The most popular items on the J. Gumbo’s menu, Habermel said, are Drunken Chicken, Bourbon Street Chicken and Bumble Bee Stew.

J. Gumbo’s is still a small franchise restaurant in the scheme of things. Established in 2005 and based in Louisville, Ky., J. Gumbo’s grew from five locations in 2005 to 17 in 2011, according to allbusiness.com.

A simple business model of large servings, quick service and low prices is what keeps J. Gumbo’s humming along. A typical entree and a drink comes to $8.

The “J” in J. Gumbo’s stands for “jockey,” since the company founder, Billy Fox Jr., is a retired thoroughbred jockey.

J. Gumbo’s downtown employs about 10 people and seats 46 inside. The new location will also have about 10 employees and capacity for about 50 customers, Habermel said.

Newcomers to the restaurant business when they opened J. Gumbo’s last year, Habermel said he and Shannon did not expect to be expanding so soon. But business has been good and customers enjoy the unique food offered, he said. “We’ve been very well received in Terre Haute.”

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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