Kerry Boutté

Trailblazer | Culinary

Trailblazer Kerryboute

If you’ve ever enjoyed a delicious plate of crawfish étouffée while listening to a Cajun band before two-stepping the night away, you can thank Kerry Boutté, a native of Arnaudville at the junction of two bayous. It may be coincidental that his hometown’s French name is “La Jonction,” but by bringing together three key elements of Cajun culture, Boutté created what was the epicenter of the Cajun craze of the ‘80s: a restaurant called Mulate’s.

Though synonymous with French Louisiana, the success behind Mulate’s ­— combining and popularizing our food, music and dance — has a surprising German connection. As a serviceman stationed in Germany in 1968 and ‘69, Boutté got an up-close look at the biergartens. He saw families gathered around tables, eating traditional foods, drinking beer and dancing to their local bands. It reminded him of home. Boutté returned stateside with that seminal idea tucked in the back of his head. His culinary trailblazing began in a Morgan City supermarket as an apprentice butcher, before moving on to work in restaurants in Texas and New Orleans. He learned the business through trial and error, never having had any professional training. “My formal education didn’t go too far; I could never pass algebra. I couldn’t find x,” jokes Boutté. “But what I do have is good intuition.” One day, he found himself with a wife and child, broke and out of work. With his intuition as his guide, he moved to Lafayette. “I think what I’m looking for is there,” he says.

The first day he opened his new restaurant in 1980, he had two customers. “That’s all right,” he thought. “If we take care of them, then they’ll tell two more people and so forth.” Algebra may have given him fits, but he understood exponential growth. His business grew steadily, but the restaurant erupted once a German film crew looking for Louisiana stories outside New Orleans during the 1984 World’s Fair happened upon Mulate’s. Soon after filing its report, the world, including the likes of Paul Simon and Lorne Michaels, beat a path to Breaux Bridge. The now-legendary restaurant with its myriad business cards stapled to the ceiling, the well-worn dance floor and the bronze shoes of its most fabled dancers is long closed, but Mulate’s lives on at the New Orleans location. Its lasting legacy is wherever the X factor of combining South Louisiana food, music and dance can be found.

Categories: 2023 Trailblazers