A Taste of Resilience – Point of Vue September 2023

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Charley’s Kitchen POV 2023 (Photo by Misty Leigh McElroy) [date}

Life’s uncertainty is something that can cause setbacks in everyone’s lives, but for local chef and restaurant owner Dennis Ferreira, it was what lit the fire under his lifelong passion for cooking. After a series of personal tragedies, the former tugboat captain of 20 years decided to leave his original line of work and pursue his culinary interests, opening Charley’s Kitchen in the Spring of 2023 in the memory of his late mother. 

Dennis is a south Louisiana native who worked the past two decades in the maritime industry, while also serving as a devoted husband of 11 years to his wife Renee, and a loving father to his two young children, Olivia and Eli. It wasn’t until 2022 that Dennis’s life, and his family’s, were turned upside down. 

“I lost both my parents within three months of each other,” explained Dennis. “My mother, Charlene, passed away in March of 2022, and my father Danny passed away suddenly on Fathers Day in 2022. It was two devastating losses for me and my family.” Dennis resumed his work as a tugboat captain following the loss of his parents, until the next tragedy arrived in September of 2022. “My mother-in-law had a bad stroke,” continued Dennis. “I decided to get off the boat for about three weeks to help the family. Then in October, right when I was about to go back to work, I began having serious chest pains that felt like a heart attack. I went to the hospital for all kinds of tests, thinking it was a heart issue, before finding out that I had a cancerous tumor on my left kidney. After that, I never went back on the boat.”

Following his cancer diagnosis, Dennis continued to go through months of emotionally turbulent health struggles personally and within his family. “For three months I remained out of work and endured many, many doctor visits and tests,” Dennis explained. “In December, my-mother-in law was hospitalized and in turn continued to decline into the beginning of this year. While she endured a lengthy ICU hospital stay at one hospital, I had half of my kidney and the entire tumor removed from my body.” Thankfully, Dennis is now cancer-free and on the mend. 

While recovering for six long weeks from his surgery, Dennis decided he could not just sit around and do nothing– on a whim, he started to cook for fun, something he always loved to do. “My mother-in-law had always told me that I should cook and sell my food,” chuckled Dennis. “Cooking is something I am very passionate about, and I wanted to figure out a way to stay off the tugboats and spend time with my family. I spent so much time at sea, missing important time with my parents, and I didn’t want that to happen with my two children. I wanted to be here with them.” With that decision, Dennis began cooking and plating lunches for friends, family members, and neighbors to make a little extra money, and before long, word of his delicious food had caught the attention of the Houma community. 

“A company I used to work for, Lowland Construction, had put a post on Facebook that they were looking for someplace new to eat,” said Dennis. “That’s when I had the idea–on a whim, I messaged them and said that I could cook a crawfish stew and deliver it if they bought ten lunches or more, and they said yes. I wound up cooking more than 60 lunches that Friday, just off of a connection on Facebook. So I thought, “Let’s do this again next week!” Dennis began cooking and plating lunches three days a week out of his house, slowly growing from 15-30 to 40-90 lunches a day, which he and his wife were delivering all across Houma and Thibodaux. “I realized we needed to expand, because this was turning out to be an actual thing,” said Dennis. 

Dennis and his wife Renee began looking for locations where he could cook and sell these popular plate lunches, and ended up coming across a perfect little place at 1025 Talbot Avenue in Thibodaux. “We were very excited to find a place to operate out of,” said Dennis. “So Charley’s Kitchen was officially born. We decided on the name because my mother’s name was Charlene, but everyone called her Charley. She loved to cook too, and taught me everything I know. As a deckhand starting out on boats, it was my responsibility to cook for the crew and that’s just what I did, but not until I called my mom asking a million questions. No one will ever come close to her cooking, but I know there’s not one meal I prepare without thinking of my mom.”

Despite just opening just this past spring, Charley’s Kitchen has quickly earned the reputation of selling loaded down, highly affordable, delicious lunch platters for everyone to enjoy. The local restaurant offers a wide variety of food, with each menu being announced via Facebook weekly– serving classic Cajun cuisine and original favorites like chicken, red beans and rice, home fries, bread rolls, corn, peas, burgers, crawfish stew, salad, mac and cheese, smoked sausage, fried shrimp, crab, and so much more. Charley’s Kitchen is open from Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Dennis explained that despite the technical challenges of owning and operating a restaurant, the most rewarding part of his work was the flexibility, excitement, and the newfound time with his family. “Cooking and plating these lunches never feels like work,” said Dennis. “I’ve met so many people through this business and I have never felt this much love from people in the community. We have customers who come every day, asking about our family, and genuinely caring about the food we serve them. Everyday I get to talk about my mom, and everything is just so much better working here.” 

Despite the tremendous personal tragedies suffered by Dennis and his family, his resilience, strength, and refusal to give up makes him a true embodiment of the Cajun spirit. As his family heals and moves forward from a series of difficult months, Dennis is sharing his passion with the community through his delicious, family-inspired lunch plates. “The best part about Charley’s Kitchen is that I’m now home everyday and night with my family,” said Dennis. “Losing my parents, watching my mother-in-law go through her medical crisis, and getting my cancer diagnosis was enough to make me reevaluate my career choice to begin with. Living my life 21 days a month on a boat just wasn’t cutting it anymore, and I hope that with your support of our small family business we can continue this journey.”