Serial Success Story

The chef and restaurateur behind successful concepts like Patois, Tru Burger and Central City BBQ is debuting a massive new offering late this summer.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

Chef Aaron Burgau is quietly building a diverse collection of local restaurants, fueled by a lifelong passion for the business. He credits his father, Gaylord Burgau, who spent 40 years as an international shrimp broker, for igniting his interest.

“We ate out a lot,” Burgau said. “I have great memories of Big Jim Marcello at Lenfant’s and other old school places. Every year, Dad took us to New York City to eat at all the great restaurants there.”

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By the age of 14, Burgau was working in the business. Bussing tables, prepping food — no matter the job, he was always ready to “get it done.”

After finishing at LSU, Burgau knew the restaurant business was meant to be his life. He graduated from Johnson & Wales Culinary School and was hired by Chef Susan Spicer at Bayona.

“Susan taught me to use my tastebuds and think like a chef,” Burgau recalled. Later, when he joined the team at Gerard’s Downtown, Gerard Maras became a mentor, sharing charcuterie and other French techniques with the young chef.

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In 2007, Burgau partnered with childhood friends Leon and Pierre Touzat to open Restaurant Patois on a quiet corner in Uptown New Orleans. In the ensuing years, Patois gained a reputation for fine French Creole food prepared with locally sourced ingredients, served in an intimate setting near Audubon Park. After more than a decade, Burgau bought out the Touzat brothers, becoming Patois’ chef and full-time restaurateur.

Real estate acquisition became an important element of Burgau’s strategy. He and his wife, Kim, purchased a commercial building with a commissary kitchen in the Carrollton area. Food entrepreneurs like Beth Biundo Sweets and Empanola used the facility before acquiring their own locations. After developing Tru Burger on Oak Street in 2011, Burgau sold the burger concept five years later but retained the real estate.

For decades, Burgau and Jesuit classmate Marc Bonifacic regularly talked restaurants and BBQ. Bonifacic’s grandfather operated a BBQ shop, where he learned the craft in childhood. When a 50,000-square-foot spot became available in Central City in 2016, the two knew the time was right. Today, Central City BBQ is a popular site for festivals, concerts, weddings and corporate events. “Our catering business there is huge,” Burgau reported.

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The pair’s next expansion aims for wide open spaces in Metairie. Expected to open in late summer 2023, Las Cruces is situated on an 8,000-square-foot triangular lot on Airline Drive near North Labarre Road. An authentic Tex-Mex menu will feature smoked meats and margaritas. Seating for 300 is promised with lots of outdoor family play space.

With a reputation as a hardworking, reliable partner, surprising opportunities have come his way. Following Matt Dwyer’s sudden death in July 2020, Dwyer’s family sought Burgau’s help to reopen Charlie’s Steakhouse. He and general manager Glenn Bove maintain the delicious traditions at the Uptown institution, originally founded in 1932 by Charlie Petrossi.

Earlier this year, when Drew Knoll and his wife, Alison Vega-Knoll, decided to sell Station 6, they happily struck a deal with Burgau and his partners.

“I spent the first few months there assuring everyone that I wasn’t changing a thing,” Burgau said, smiling. “I’ve been very fortunate to buy two successful restaurants that I continue to run with the same staff, the same way.”

Yet family always remains Burgau’s primary focus. He and Kim share two sons, Noah and Oliver.

“My dad was always there for me, so I don’t miss a thing,” said Burgau. “I make sure I’m available for all their games and sports events.” The two teenagers work with their father, too. “Oliver started food running and bussing tables at Patois when he was 12. He’s also showing an interest in cooking. Noah loves the tips,” he laughed.

Despite his fast-growing businesses, Burgau still thrives on getting the job done.

“I’m not afraid to get dirty and work the fry station or wash dishes, whatever it takes,” he said. “Most of all, I try to treat everyone with respect. Your actions follow you here in New Orleans. I just try to live the way I was raised.”


Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.


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