Percy ‘Frenchy’ Creuzot: A Creole Hit
HOUSTON (AP) _ Percy ″Frenchy″ Creuzot set out to become the king of Creole food in Houston, but the New Orleans native instead has become a rich man known as ″the black Colonel Sanders.″
Chicken, cooked with a secret recipe he got from a family friend in Louisiana, now constitutes three-fourths of the business at Frenchy’s Creole- Fried Chicken and the success has been a surprise even to Creuzot.
″I never in my wildest dreams expected to do what I’ve done in the food business,″ Creuzot, 60, says of his career.
Frenchy’s restaurants, now with more than $12 million in sales, are not named for Creuzot. He is named after his restaurants.
″Just about everybody calls me Frenchy, even those who called me Percy before I started this business. People just assume that because there’s a name on your business, that’s your name,″ Creuzot said. ″If I’d known that, I might have named it something else.″
He wanted to name his first restaurant Etienne, a shorter version of his daughter’s middle name. But a friend scoffed at the idea.
Recalls Creuzot: ″He said, ’Don’t be a fool. People won’t know how to pronounce it, they won’t know how to spell it and they won’t be able to find it in the phone book. Name it something like Frenchy’s Po-Boys.‴
He went with Frenchy’s and it has become famous in Houston.
Creuzot, a bespectacled man with thinning, wiry, silver hair and an easy laugh, said he left his native New Orleans nearly 23 years ago after going broke trying to sell insurance.
He came to Houston with dreams of making and selling hot Louisiana-style sausage. But regulations governing state and federal inspections were stiffened, making such a venture more expensive than he expected.
Instead, Creuzot got a job as a salesman for an Indiana-based manufacturer of high school graduation supplies. He was assigned the black high schools in Houston as his territory.
Desegregation cost him the job. When racial barriers fell, the company let Creuzot go instead of reassigning him.
He took a job as an interviewer for the Texas Employment Commission, but the pay was too low to ″buy the grits and grease,″ he said. ″I wanted to live a little better.″
Creuzot decided to take a chance.
He borrowed $2,000, leased a store in a predominantly black neighborhood on the city’s south side near the campuses of Texas Southern University and the University of Houston and started organizing a restaurant to sell the spicy foods of his native Louisiana - oyster loaf, red beans and rice, hot sausage.
It was Jesse Hearns, an auto dealer on the adjacent lot, who suggested the addition of fried chicken to the menu.
Creuzot says he resisted at first, but Hearns persisted.
″He said, ’Don’t be a fool. You gotta pay the rent while you’re teaching everyone to eat oyster loaf,‴ Creuzot said. ″Jesse even came and cooked the chicken for me. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t.″
A family friend in New Orleans provided the ingredients for spicy Creole- fried chicken. Creuzot adapted the recipe to include ″some of this and some of that and a lot of the other,″ and Frenchy’s Creole-Fried Chicken was born.
The first Frenchy’s restaurant opened July 3, 1969, and took in $14 that day, Creuzot said. Business gradually picked up during the summer, but he had to keep receipts in a shoebox under the counter until he could afford to buy a cash register.
After a summer of struggle, business took off when the college students returned to school that fall. ″That was the beginning of the real success of Frenchy’s,″ he said.
Creuzot was content with his single restaurant for almost 10 years. Then a competitor moved into the neighborhood and he decided it was time to expand.
″I stayed too long. I should have expanded three or four years earlier. But I was satisfied. I was making a lot of money and I was the only one on the block,″ said Creuzot. ″When the other guy started going up, I felt like something sacred - my territorial right - had been violated. So I decided to do the same to them.″
Within six months, he had opened four restaurants, Creuzot said.
Now there are 12 Frenchy’s restaurants in the Houston area, including a store just down the street from River Oaks, Houston’s most exclusive neighborhood, and one in southwest Houston that is geared to the younger, trendier crowd.
Sales in 1984 topped $12 million, Creuzot says, but he is not through.
He purchased property in Galveston and hopes to open a franchise on the island resort community someday.
And six years ago, he finally opened a sausage company, now run by his oldest son, Percy Jr.