The spirit of sugar bottled at Lula

 

Celeste and Mike Daigle with Jess Bourgeois

Mike Daigle (center), former CEO of Lula-Westfield Sugar Factory, talks about the history of sugar in Louisiana and it's connection to Lula, the only restaurant-distillery in Louisiana. Lula is owned by Jess Bourgeois at right. Daigle's wife, Celeste, looks on.  Photo by Tobie Blanchard 

On a busy Friday night couples, families and two separate bachelorette parties gathered in the wood-beamed, Mardi Gras flag-draped space that is Lula — the only restaurant-distillery in Louisiana.

The main dining room overlooks St. Charles Avenue on one end and the vodka, rum and gin distillery on the other end.

It is in the distillery room during an LSU College of Agriculture alumni event that owner Jess Bourgeois told LSU College of Agriculture students and alumni how Lula was born.

Bourgeois, an alumnus of the College of Agriculture’s nutrition and food sciences program, got his start working in the kitchen of Commander’s Palace. Following Hurricane Katrina, Bourgeois relocated to Birmingham where he worked as an executive chef and general manager with Superior Grill Restaurant Group. 

He moved back to Louisiana in 2013 and partnered with Bear Caffery, who has a passion for distilling, to establish his own place that combined both a restaurant with a distillery. Lula opened in February of 2017.

“There is a romanticized vision of what happens at a restaurant or distillery, but it’s a lot of sweat,” Bourgeois said.

But it’s not a far leap to see some sentimentality in Lula. Just start with the name. Lula is named for the Lula Sugar Factory which dates back to the late 1800s. The Lula Sugar Factory combined with Westfield Sugar Factory in 1997 and today the factory supplies Bourgeois with all his sugar needs for the Lula lines of vodka, rum and gin.Lula sugar mill

Mike Daigle, the former CEO of Lula-Westfield, attended the College of Agriculture event, and told the alumni and students a little about the evolution of sugarcane in Louisiana starting in the mid-1750s.

“The Jesuits grew sugarcane in what is now downtown New Orleans not far from here,” Daigle said.

Sugarcane is a $1 billion industry in Louisiana, and Daigle said some of Lula-Westfield’s employees and farmers they receive cane from are fifth generation sugarcane families. 

Lori Richard, a College of Agriculture alumnae, was also in attendance. She and her husband, Jason, farm sugarcane in Lafourche Parish.

“We have the whole process represented here. We grow the sugarcane, Mike’s group processes it and Jess distills it,” she said. 

Bourgeois and his staff are gearing up for what they call Lula Gras as more than two dozen parades pass along St. Charles Avenue during the Mardi Gras season.