Meat Pie Pioneer's Legacy Lives On In Natchitoches

NATCHITOCHES, LA (AP) — When James Lasyone died June 25 at the age of 84, he left his family and the town of Natchitoches with a legacy of great food — especially his famous meat pies — and a restaurant that bears his name.

         He opened Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen in 1967 in a small retail space near a meat market. Now located on Second Street, it has grown into a southern food landmark and is owned and operated by his daughters, Angela Lasyone and Tina Smith.

         "I know he made his stamp on Natchitoches," Angela said. "He had a dream. People kinda make fun of that — people with a big dream. But he had a dream, and he stuck with it."

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         His dream has played a part in the history and economy of the northwest Louisiana town.

         "I don't know if he ever realized the impact he had on tourism and the city of Natchitoches," said Jerry Pierce, vice president of external affairs at Northwestern State University. "The reputation of the city, a lot of it started with his meat pies. … I don't know who invented the meat pie, but he sure popularized it."

         That popularity affected the town, its people and the food scene, Pierce said. But he remembers more about Lasyone than his food.

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         "The man himself, he was really just an unassuming — really a nice guy," Pierce said. "He couldn't have been more generous."

         Lasyone's daughters grew up to run the restaurant, but their work at Lasyone's started long ago. Angela said she was in first grade when the business opened, and she recalls summers working in the kitchen and bagging to-go orders with her best friend before softball practice.

         It always was a family business.

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         "Daddy would run the kitchen and Momma ran the dining room," Angela said.

         Before opening his own restaurant, James Lasyone ground and sold meat to ladies who made meat pies at home, which was the only way they were sold in the 1960s. At that time he ran a small butcher shop at Live Oak Grocery. He began trying his own recipes for the pies and started selling them over the butcher counter.

         When opened Lasyone's, he started small. At first he sold only meat pies, burgers and bottled red pepper, mostly as takeout, Angela said.

         "When he went into business he didn't have any money," she said. "He had a $50 butane burner and a pot."

         He also had old school desk chairs for seating. As his business grew and he was able to get a loan, he purchased tables and chairs. The same tables remain in the restaurant today, Angela said.

         Tina worked at the family business first, and Angela returned to work with her dad after finishing college and working several years away from home. They worked together about 10 years before he retired.

         About a year later health issues sent him to live a nursing home in Natchitoches. He had been a resident of The Courtyard of Natchitoches for more than 10 years.

         He not only leaves behind his stellar recipe but also a strong work ethic in his daughters and compassion for his employees, some of whom have been at Lasyone's for decades.

         "He had just a real big heart," Angela said. "… He's going to be well missed. He was funny. He had so many stories he could tell you."

         That has been evident in the outpouring of love she has received since his death last week, she said. Funeral services were held Sunday in Natchitoches.

         Lasyone is survived by his two daughters and son-in-law Dwight Smith. He has one surviving brother, Buddy Lasyone, who resides in Beaumont, Texas. He is preceded in death by wife JoAnn and parents Mattie Lou Worsham and J.D. Lasyone.

         In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the NSU Foundation for Lasyone's to benefit a culinary arts student's education at Northwestern State University. Angela expects to set up another scholarship for students at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, whose culinary arts high school students work with Lasyone's when at festivals in the area.

         She and her sister want to extend their dad's love for cooking to others with the same passion.

         "I would like to see more culinary education," Angela said. "There are so many avenues you can take on that — catering, nutritionist, the science side, chef — but you've got to want to work hard."

         – by AP/ Reporter Leigh Guidry with The Town Talk

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