Cathy Cace, co-owner and co-operator of Johnny Cace's Seafood and Steak House
in Longview highlights the history and hospitality of one of the oldest steak houses in East Texas in this month's
What makes your New Orleans-style Creole cuisine unique?
Our Creole recipes are our family recipes passed on from generation to generation. Johnny's parents were Croatian. They came over to Louisiana in the early 1900s and settled in Plaquemine's Parish. They fished for oysters. Most of the recipes are from his parents. Johnny married Valerie Savony, who was of French and Belgium descent, and together they created wonderful Creole and European recipes. Our gumbo is made with a thick roux. We do not use okra, but we use filet. We make our gumbo, our crabmeat dressing, and all of our sauces and Creole specialties from scratch here at the restaurant.
Although we continue to use these long-time family recipes, my husband, Gerard and I are always on the lookout for and experimenting with new ideas in Creole cooking. Recently, I even branched out and made Italian Caponata and my mother's Chicken Tetrazinni for a special catering request. Another way I believe that we are unique is that we continue to hand-bread all of our fried items in our kitchen. We have several special breading recipes that we use on our shrimp, oysters, fish, etc.
Describe the dining experience at Johnny Cace's. How do the Longview community and historic Hwy. 80 contribute to that atmosphere?
Our Cace family tradition includes top quality food and friendly, courteous Southern hospitality for all ages. With our six different dining rooms, we have a lot of versatility. Each dining room has its own New Orleans atmosphere. Our Oyster Bar is our most casual dining room, with wood-top tables and booths and fresh certified oysters being shucked all day. In the other dining rooms - the Creole, the Showboat, the New Orleans, the Colonial and the Garden - we use white tablecloths in the evening (vinyl ones during the day). Black linen napkins are used day and night in all dining rooms. Whether you are looking for an intimate romantic dinner, an enjoyable lunch or dinner with family and friends, a room for a meeting or party, or a catered special occasion for up to 1,000, we can provide it. Our varied menu includes our famous Creole Seafood Gumbo, signature appetizers, salads and entrees, including our famous Shrimp in Shorts and our newest popular item - Charbroiled Oysters. Since Johnny Cace's opened 61 years ago, we have had, and still have, a treasure chest for the children. Each child dining at the restaurant may choose one toy from the treasure chest. And, we have complimentary birthday and anniversary cakes that we make in our kitchen. Johnny Cace's is noted for the warm, friendly hospitality of the Old South where you can relax and enjoy attentive service, pleasant dining and delicious cuisine.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
First, for the record, I am not a certified chef, but I grew up in a home with my parents, Katy and Paul Painter, who loved to entertain by preparing and serving food. My mother much preferred to cook for a large group rather than for three or four people, and she was an excellent cook and party hostess. My father was also a great host, making sure everyone was taken care of. I learned so much from them, and I truly enjoy cooking and entertaining. I still use many of my mother's recipes whenever the occasion calls for it, and I learned many helpful tips from her, too. I became involved with cooking in a restaurant when I married Gerard, whose father, Johnny Cace, opened our restaurant in 1949 when he brought a "taste of New Orleans Creole cooking" to Longview (East Texas). Johnny Cace came from Shreveport, Louisiana in 1949 to see if this would be a good place for him to branch out on his own and open his own restaurant (his parents had been in the oyster fishing business and restaurant business in Louisiana for many years). Johnny came to mass on Sunday (we only had one Catholic church in Longview at that time) and asked some folks if they thought Longview would be a good spot for a New Orleans Creole-style restaurant. As fate would have it, the first person Johnny talked to that day was my father, Paul Painter. Johnny did open the restaurant in 1949, and he and my father became very good friends. My father was an attorney, and he did all of Johnny's corporate legal work, and he and Johnny were backbones of St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Well, little did they (or any of us) know, that approximately 30 years after they met, their children would marry each other! So, that is how I became involved in a career in the restaurant business and cooking in a restaurant. I was born and raised in Longview, and I grew up eating at Johnny Cace's at least once a week with my parents until I went off to college. Anytime I was back home in Longview to visit my parents, we always had at least one meal at Johnny Cace's. It was the first place we went to when I got home. I graduated from Texas Christian University in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in Communications. Several years later I married Gerard and moved back to Longview.
What are some ways that Johnny Cace's goes Texan? What on your menu is Texan-grown or produced?
We joined the GO TEXAN program in 2009 and participated in the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up in the fall, and we look forward to participating again this year. We try to use as much Texas produce as possible, but some of the items are seasonal. During the spring, summer and fall we use Texas-grown fresh fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, melons, berries, squash, beans, peas, new potatoes, yams and more. It involves a little traveling around our area, but we purchase some of these products from local growers when we can. Much of our beef and poultry products are also Texas-grown such as our Angus beef steaks and buffalo chopped steaks; much of our shrimp comes from the Gulf in the Port Arthur area, and we sell Blue Bell Ice Cream. We offer several Texas wines on our menu. Currently, we offer Texas wines from Enoch Stomp
, Los Pinos
, Messina Hof
and Cap Rock
wineries. And, we always serve our Texas wines in the great GO TEXAN
How has Johnny Cace's changed since opening in 1949?
Oh my goodness, there have been quite a few changes over the last 61 years, but much has also remained the same, like our values and recipe traditions. Johnny opened Johnny Cace's Seafood & Steak House on March 10, 1949, in a rented location in downtown Longview with seating for 37 guests. Several years later that location was expanded to accommodate 200 guests. In 1964, Johnny moved the restaurant to our current Hwy. 80 location with seating for 300 which grew to today's capacity of 450. By 1980, Johnny had turned over daily restaurant operations and management to my husband, Gerard. Gerard and I have worked as a team with my involvement increasing to co-owner/co-operator as our two daughters got older. Johnny passed away in November of 2000.
Our long-time family recipes have remained the same, but we have added new items such as Traditional New Orleans Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce and White Chocolate Bread Pudding just to mention a couple. About 15 years ago we added a Gift Shop Corner, custom-made gift baskets and began shipping our specialty items all over the country. Also, because of customer request, we added a Sunday brunch and breakfast menu to our regular menu on Sunday, and Gerard and I cook the brunch and breakfast items on Sunday, while our regular kitchen line prepares the other menu items. A couple of years ago we started a Happy Hour in the afternoon on Monday through Thursday.
The different rooms have been redecorated numerous times. We just completed redoing our Colonial Room and our ladies' room, and currently have plans for redesigning our Casual Oyster Bar area (and including a big-screen TV and more Jimmy Buffet memorabilia). In the 1970s and early 1980s we only sold liquor in our bar where private membership was required. This has been a huge change over the years. In the 1980s we expanded our private club all over the house. Then, about three years ago, Gerard and I spearheaded the local option election to change the law in Longview so Private Club Membership was not required, and now we can sell alcohol without having to first get a membership for the guest. This has been great!
We recently launched a new Web site
, which includes a calendar of events we update to keep folks informed on what is happening here at Johnny Cace's. We also have a Facebook page. We added a vegetable option to the menu in the place of a baked potato with entrees, and we added vegetarian options. We just launched a new kid's menu with more options for healthier eating, as well as the standard kid's fare. We also have several Tuesday evening fundraisers for different organizations. These different organizations help bring business to our restaurant, and we donate a portion of the proceeds from their Tuesday evening event back to them. This has been a great way to partner with others in our community. We continue to be family-owned and operated (by choice) with one of our daughters recently joining us as our third generation.