Louisiana-native Reginald Robinson, owner of Altha’s Louisiana Cajun Seasoning & Spices shop and deli, said his business during the pandemic has been up by about 50 percent from previous years.
On Saturdays, he said the store and deli on 201 E. Meeker St. will often serve up to 400 people a day. On Fridays, when they serve gumbo, they prepare 65 gallons of the famous cajun stew and sell out of it all before the end of the day.
He said thousands of pounds of fried catfish fillets make their way into the hands of hungry customers on a monthly basis.
The secret, Robinson said, is their authenticity and consistency — and Southern hospitality.
When he opened the location in 2016, he wanted to bring Louisiana cajun food and products to the Pacific Northwest the right way. To this day, he imports every product sold in his store or cooked in his kitchen from Louisiana.
“We bring everything in here,” Robinson said. “Our whole thing is to be Louisiana.”
From frog legs to alligator, andouille sausage to boudin, pickled okra to Camellia red beans — if Altha’s has it, it’s authentically cajun.
Robinson said sourcing every spice, ingredient and product directly from Louisiana suppliers is one of the most important things he did to set himself apart from other cajun food businesses in the state. Otherwise, it “can’t be cajun food.”
He even set himself up with his Louisiana suppliers to be the exclusive seller of these products in Washington state.
He said that often cajun food in the Pacific Northwest misses the mark for authenticity because people use non-traditional ingredients.
“If I shopped at Cash and Carry, I would be like everyone else,” he said.
Specifically, he spoke about crawfish imported from Vietnam instead of the bayou and po’ boy sandwiches that are made without flaky New Orleans french bread.
“Without it, it’s just a sub sandwich not sold at Subway,” he said.
Robinson said he not only wants Altha’s to taste like New Orleans, he wants it to “feel” like New Orleans.
He said he plans to utilize space in his deli as a music venue for blues, jazz and zydeco music. He has an idea to hire a three-piece band to lead marches around the block as they play New Orleans-style music.
Robinson wants Altha’s to be a pillar of the community and to be able to give back. During the onset of the pandemic, he worked to feed hundreds of hungry people over the course of weeks without charging them a dime.
He outlined his plan for a monthly seminar that will invite youth in the community to come to the store to be fed and to meet with entrepreneurs and experts to receive financial advice and career mentoring.
“Southern folks are about Southern hospitality,” he said.
Robinson said he will open an additional Altha’s location in Puyallup that will be even larger than the one he owns now. The opening date is to be determined as he waits for his permits to be approved.