Houma’s Quizine Quarters opened in October of 2020 amid business closures and layoffs, uncertainties over food supplies, strict safety guidelines and other challenges delivered by the novel coronavirus. Yet, owners Jared Smith, Christopher Short and Kenneth “KJ” Townsend believed their new establishment would weather the storm.
“When you know, you know,” Short said. “Sometimes you have that fear factor, but you just put that out your mind and go forward.”
The three business partners made the right choice. From starting with just to-go orders to becoming a full-service restaurant, Quizine Quarters has proven to be a hit with patrons from all around the Bayou Region. It’s known for its fun atmosphere, engaging customer service and, of course, its creative, flavorful dishes.
“People love the food. Some of them are shocked at the flavor that actually comes from the food. I call it a flavor that you chase: once you get a taste of it, you just chase it until you get it again,” said Townsend, who is also the establishment’s head chef.
Townsend starts his day at the restaurant around 7 a.m. by checking inventory and equipment and preparing the food. When he’s not whipping up a dish on the stove or dropping something in the fryer, he squeezes in time to check on customers.
“There aren’t too many places where you get to sit down and eat and meet the owner and head chef. People like that,” Smith said. “And he’s genuine, too.”
Townsend loves what he does. “We have a good time. We joke, create a good atmosphere and cook fun food,” he smiled.
From showing his passion in the kitchen to greeting customers from table to table, the 38-year-old Houma native carries a confident and uplifting demeanor. Unless he revealed his right prosthetic leg, the establishment’s guests would never realize the adversity he persevered through to get to where he is today.
After learning to cook from his grandmother as a child, Townsend got the opportunity to move to Atlanta following high school to sharpen his skills, working under his uncle Louis Castle and chef Steven Dudley. He later returned home and cooked for several local restaurants.
But after some time, with just a simple accident in 2015, his life’s trajectory changed. A shopping cart struck the back of his heel while he was at the supermarket. “It hit it pretty hard,” he remembered. “I thought it was like a sprain, but it actually had fractured my heel bone. And me being on my feet cooking, of course, I would get off, and my foot would be swollen.”
His wife Alice gave him compression stockings to keep the swelling down, but the pain wouldn’t go away, Townsend said. After going in to get it looked at, a doctor told him he had a hairline fracture in his heel and put him in a cast. “It looked like everything was going to get right, but that bone actually got infected,” Townsend recalled. “And once the bone got infected, they diagnosed me with osteomyelitis.”
The husband and father of one went through multiple opinions and six surgeries to save his leg — but to no avail. On December 27, 2018, thinking he caught the flu, he revisited the hospital, and doctors discovered his white blood cells and kidney were at alarming levels.
“The doctor was like, ‘You don’t look right.’ So, she ran blood work on me, and after that, she said, ‘You gotta hurry up and get to the emergency room. We have to fix it, or you won’t be here.’ That’s how blunt it was,” said Townsend, who also has diabetes.
Just two days after New Year’s, Townsend found himself lying in a hospital bed with the lower half of his leg removed. He was nervous about his procedure, but his strong family and church support and knowing it had to be done are what got him through it. “If that’s what I gotta do to still be here with my family, that’s what I gotta do,” he said, recalling his thoughts.
Following his amputation at a New Orleans hospital, Townsend asked to be transferred to a facility near his home for rehabilitation, so he continued his road to recovery at Terrebonne General. There, thanks to the facility’s staff, other patients and his determination, he was back to moving sooner than expected. “I watched a video with a doctor who said 10 percent of people actually get up and physically start walking after amputation. I made it up in my mind that I was going to be a part of that 10 percent,” he shared. “My son, who’s 16 now, was looking at me. I always told him, ‘no excuses.’ If you could physically get up and do something about it, you get up and do it. By the grace of God, I left rehab on January 23rd.”
Townsend said he was anxious about what life would look like after his amputation. But, in a way, the whole ordeal turned out to also be a blessing — as it made him “stronger” and come up with new ways to provide for his family.
The injury forced the young cook to leave the restaurant kitchen. His love for his craft didn’t fade, however, so he began selling meals out of his home on the east side of Houma. Soon, 40 orders turned into 150 orders whenever he opened up his kitchen as the word spread. Townsend eventually linked up with Short and Smith. With Townsend’s culinary skills and Short’s and Smith’s business acumen, they realized they could do something unique and started drawing up the plans for Quizine Quarters.
And before they opened their establishment’s doors, they gave back to the community when it was well needed. In March of 2020, Townsend cooked up some meals for 175 local kids out of school because of the pandemic and Terrebonne General’s staff. “As an amputee, I had my fair share of dealing with the medical team. I knew that those guys put their lives on the line for us in the pandemic,” he said. “I just thought it was fair to share my craft with them.”
Located at 6670 W. Main St., Quizine Quarters gives all amputee patrons a 15 percent discount on their food. That’s not the only way Townsend aims to help others going through similar afflictions as his own.
During his treatment at Terrebonne General, his positivity and resolve lifted folks around him — so much so that the center’s staff asked him to come back in from time to time to speak with patients still adjusting to their new life. “It seemed like I would always have the right words to say,” he remembered.
Today, Townsend, who often checks on other amputees he’s met along the way, is putting together a support group called One Step Closer. “You go through a lot of legs. Every time you get a new leg, you have to learn how to walk with that leg. Sometimes it could be frustrating because they can leave a different bruise or nick. It’s a frustrating journey, but you just have to know how to push through,” he said. “I just feel that we need that support amongst each other to kind of push each other to make it through.”
He went on to say that folks interested in joining can reach out through Facebook or by coming to see him at the restaurant.
“I would think a lot of people look at it like, ‘Oh man, I lost my leg, and now I’m considered a handicap,’” Townsend said. “I look at it as handicapable because you’re able to do whatever you want to do as long as you make it up in your mind that you want to do it.”