METAIRIE, La. — Drago's Seafood Restaurant has been a staple in Fat City and the Metairie community for 50 years. But the flames started a decade before that.
Drago Ctanovich was living in Canada at the time, but he had relatives in New Orleans. His future wife Klara also had family in New Orleans but was living in New York.
"My mom and dad met during Mardi Gras. Three weeks later, they got married and spent 60 years together before my dad died two years ago," Tommy Ctanovich said.
Drago and Klara lived the American dream. When he finally got his application approved to come to the United States, he worked for his sister and brother-in-law at their restaurant in Lakeview. Years later, the couple opened their own restaurant in Fat City.
A half-century later, Drago's expanded to other locations including downtown at the Hilton, a restaurant in Lafayette, one in Jackson, Miss. They are also planning on opening a fifth restaurant in Baton Rouge this fall.
"Charbroiled oysters! Best bite of food in all of town, and I love to say we are the original!," Tommy said.
About 25 years ago, Tommy, who now runs the business with his mom, had an idea that turned into the restaurant's signature dish. At the time there was a redfish dish on the menu that was served on the half shell with butter, garlic, cheese and spices. One day, Tommy threw an oyster on the grill and added the same ingredients.
The rest is history! Now Drago's serves more than 3 million charbroiled oysters a year.
"Same sauce that we started 30 years ago: butter, garlic, black pepper and Italian seasoning. Only thing better than that is more of it," Tommy said. "Then we take a mixture of parmesan and Romano cheese, with a little bit of parsley and put it on there. Then, we get the magic of fire, butter, garlic and wonderful Louisiana oysters gives us charbroiled oysters."
Tommy's idea was copied and is now served around the country.
"It's one of the most flattering things," Tommy said. "Whether they call it charbroiled, sizzlin', barbequed, chargrilled - that concept, I got to pinch myself at times."
Drago's is also expanding at its Fat City location. The expansion includes a facelift to the exterior to the restaurant and added office space.
"We took a small empty lot and made this dining room. You get to watch the oysters cooking," Tommy said.
The expansion includes a facelift to the exterior to the restaurant and added office space.
The restaurant joins other businesses in the area getting makeovers. Fat City, which had fallen into neglect for decades plagued by crime, has been revitalized by a comprehensive zoning overhaul. Tommy says the area is moving in the right direction.
"It started with Cynthia Sheng, Jennifer Van Vrancken, the current administration," Tommy said. "I can tell you as a youngster I used to live on the other side of Esplanade. I'd walk, ride my bike back and forth all the time. As a dad, I live a couple blocks from where I grew up, couple blocks away. As a dad, there's not a chance my kids were walking from my house to the restaurant because you'd have to walk thru Fat City and it wasn't pretty."
Tommy says that's not an issue anymore. For now his family continues to do their part to keep people coming to Fat City.
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