Frankie Randazzo and Jay Ecker are a dream team when it comes to creating dining/entertainment experiences that highlight the best parts of a community - from food to music. Jay, a longtime musician in the Lake Charles area, focuses on showcasing talent practically every night of the week, so it made sense that the tried-and-true formula with Rikenjaks would translate over to the Panorama Music House. Unfortunately, Panorama is still under construction from Hurricane Laura this past fall, but Rikenjaks is back! Frankie also runs Madison's in Beaumont, and so, that dynamic also played into this challenging year too with restaurants straddling the Texas/Louisiana state line! Fascinated by their resiliency, I wanted to know more about their experience.
I was able to catch up with Frankie for a little Q&A. Check out his story:
Q: What was it like coming back to Rikenjaks and Panorama Music House after the storms?
A: The first thing I saw was a live broadcast of the storm from a weatherman parked on Broad. I watched the debris flying by and felt in my heart that I was watching parts of Panorama. The first pic Jay sent me was the walls and roof of Panorama then the pics of Ryan St and Rikenjaks started coming in. I had expected a mess but couldn’t have planned for what I was actually seeing.
Q: What did you learn about your local supporters during this time - food fans and music lovers?
A: We had a tremendous amount of support from the community, and even from Southeast Texas, people donated supplies, food, even tour busses for the staff to stay on.
Q: What efforts did you coordinate for recovery as far as assisting the community or reaching out to employees?
A: We immediately made sure every employee was ok and had a place to stay. At one point, we had 5 people at my house in Beaumont, 5 at the house in Lake Charles, 5 at our warehouse in Beaumont, an RV and a tour bus full on site at Rikenjaks. We have always made it our mission to help after storms going all the way back to Hurricane Rita in 2005. We started cooking and distributing meals, at max doing nearly 1,000 a day through partnering with local churches, National Guard, etc. We were able to secure 20,000 lbs of ice and truckloads of diapers, gas cards, clothing, canned goods, 1,000 cases of water and more. Many Southeast Texas credit unions saw the effort we had taken on and donated $17,000 to us to help fund the recovery.
Q: What is it like owning restaurants in both Lake Charles and Beaumont during a time of crisis?
A: We have dealt with crisis before with Rita, Ike, etc. Harvey was a huge challenge for us but having to recover and rebuild multiple locations with such extensive damage while also dealing with Covid has been a tremendous challenge.
Q: Did you take the opportunity to make changes to Rikenjaks after the storm - either with the structure or menu items?
A: Covid has forced us to adapt to a new menu and supply chain nearly every week, so this was already in place. We did bring in two of our food trucks to assist when the kitchens weren’t usable. We also took the opportunity to remodel the inside dining room and main bar at Rikenjaks because the ceilings had caved in.
Q: What was the most challenging obstacle with rebuilding and reopening Rikenjaks?
A: Delayed insurance payments and material cost increases/shortages. We try to utilize local contractors as much as possible as well, and everyone is busy.
Q: With the pandemic and two hurricanes, the restaurant and nightlife businesses have been through so much. What have you learned over this trying time as a business owner and how have you grown as both an employer and on a personal level?
A: I always try to find the positive, and this whole year has forced us to reach inside and figure out how to keep the momentum. There is no backwards, only forward.
Q: Would you like to add anything about Panorama?
A: If we are able to execute what we have planned for Panorama all I can say is hold on :)