Labor of Love: The Story of Jacquelyn’s Café

Jackie Caskey reflects on the relationships, rhythms and recipes at the heart of an iconic Shreveport restaurant

by Chris Jay
Caskey family photos courtesy of Jackie Caskey

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Jacquelyn (everyone calls her “Jackie”) and Jimmy Caskey opened Jacquelyn’s Café at 1324 Louisiana Ave. in October of 1983. As the name suggests, it was always meant to be Jackie’s place. Jimmy intended to keep working full-time as a CPA once the restaurant was up and running. Neither possessed any experience in the restaurant industry, and neither had any idea what they were in for.

“We never expected Jacquelyn’s to become Jacquelyn’s,” Jackie said. “That was not in the plans at all.” 

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT EDWARD HOPPER: Jacquelyn’s Cafe in Shreveport on a sunny afternoon.

The two met in 1973 as students at LSU Shreveport and were married in 1977. Both were avid fans of live music (Jimmy played guitar in several local bands) and modern art.

In 1980, Jackie was working for LSU Shreveport as an administrative assistant, and she was unhappy. Office life didn’t suit her. Over lunch at Dietmar’s Restaurant in Bossier City (the address is now home to L’Italiano Restaurant), she and Jimmy discussed some things that Jackie may enjoy doing for a living.

Maybe open a little restaurant? Nothing too ambitious, just an honest café serving soups and salads. Jimmy could handle the business side of things, and Jackie could do the cooking. How hard could it be?   

“Only someone really young or really stupid would ever do what we did,” Jackie said. “We didn’t know anything about the restaurant business. We had never worked in a restaurant a day in our lives. But we decided to open one, and so I started doing my homework.”

First and foremost among her homework assignments: learn to cook.

Jackie was a talented home cook, but she knew that cooking at home was nothing like the high-volume, quick-turnaround cooking that takes place in commercial kitchens. She decided to spend a year doing what culinary schools call “staging,” or working as an unpaid apprentice for respected chefs. She approached two of Shreveport’s most highly regarded, European-trained chefs—Chef Shorty Lenard and Chef Dietmar Molitor—in hopes of securing apprenticeships.  

Lenard was the first to take her up on the offer. He made Jackie responsible for the pies at his posh restaurant, Shorty Lenard’s. Jackie showed up before dawn each Sunday and worked through the end of the brunch shift. 

“Shorty taught me pies. Because I was able to do the pies, it freed him up to do other stuff.”

If you’ve eaten the apple pie or German chocolate pie at Jacquelyn’s Café, then you’ve tasted recipes passed along to Jackie by Lenard, who is best remembered for his legendary Black Forest cake. The classic pecan pie and the almond Jacq amaretto ice cream pie are Jackie’s own creations.

Jackie had also approached Molitor about an apprenticeship. Initially, the moustachioed German chef agreed, but then he blew her off when she attempted to follow up. 

One Sunday, Molitor dropped by Shorty’s and noticed Jackie working in the kitchen. Molitor asked Jackie to report to his restaurant the following day to help with a big catering order.

“I knew he was testing me,” Jackie said of her first day in the kitchen at Dietmar’s. “He gave me an impossible amount of vegetables to chop, and he wanted them chopped small and uniformly. I said ‘Well, if you want this done today, you’re gonna have to get me a Cuisinart.’ He thought that was funny, so he told me I could start my apprenticeship.”

The cream soups and the popular clam chowder at Jacquelyn’s Café are still prepared from Molitor’s recipes, as are the chicken salad and the outstanding gazpacho. Though Jackie learned to make gumbo from Molitor, she has adapted his recipe to the extent that she now considers it her own. The restaurant’s top seller, shrimp salad, is her own recipe.

“Chefs all borrow from one another,” Jackie said. “The two of them were always incredibly professional, sweet and generous with me.”

The exterior of Jacquelyn’s Café circa August of 1994.

Jackie and Jimmy selected the location of Jacquelyn’s Café based mostly on the cheap rent. Louisiana Avenue was going through a transitional period in the early 80s, and several vacant properties neighbored the restaurant.  

“When we first moved in, everyone said ‘Don’t do this,’” she said. “We took out a second mortgage on our house, and I just thought ‘I hope we make it.’ But we were at a point where it was like: ‘If this doesn’t work, we’ll be okay. We’ll be fine.’ All Jimmy and I really needed was Jimmy and I.”

Jacquelyn’s Café was an immediate hit with the business lunch crowd. Jackie remembers she and Jimmy being startled the first time that they saw customers standing in the restaurant’s famous line.

Jackie recalled a day, early on, when the line was snaking out the door. Jimmy turned to an employee named Dave Ray.  

“I would never stand in line for a sandwich,” he said.

Perhaps owing to his instincts as a musician, Jimmy understood that the rhythm of taking orders, running plates and cleaning tables all depended on one factor: everyone had to wait in the line. In musical terms, the line was “the one,” it was the first beat of the measure. For the system to work, no one could be allowed to hold a table or skip the line. City council member? Back of the line. Federal judge? Back of the line, your honor. The Pope of Rome? Back of the line, thanks be to God.

“When someone skipped the line, it just messed up the rhythm,” Jackie said. 

“It was really odd, it was something that I could never explain to you. There was this flow to it, and part of that was because if you came in, you had to wait in the line. You couldn’t come in and see the line and send someone to hold a table for you.”

Jimmy was made responsible for policing the line.

“When someone tried to skip the line, he’d go up to them and say: ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t save a table, you have to wait in the line,’” Jackie said. “And they’d say ‘I’m waiting for people,’ and he’d say ‘We have chairs against the wall that you are welcome to wait in.’”

Sometimes, patrons got testy upon being confronted.

“There were people who were really not very nice about it, and Jimmy would just tell them: ‘I don’t think you’re gonna be happy here,’” Jackie said, howling with laughter. “‘He’d say: ‘This doesn’t seem like your kind of restaurant to me!’”

Mitch Boudreaux, longtime employee and Jackie’s nephew, recalled another way that Jimmy would punish line-breakers.

“Some people would try to fool Jimmy and sit down without him noticing. He’d let them think that they got away with it,” Boudreaux said. “But in actuality they hadn’t gotten away with it. He would charge them what he called a ‘sit-down’ fee!”

Tina Tasby, who has worked as a server at Jacquelyn’s Café for 34 years, laughed when asked about the sit-down fee.

“I didn’t know about the sit-down fee for a long time,” she said. “Jimmy had his ways.”

As the years flew by, Jackie and Jimmy made tough decisions. They were approached by real estate developers to open a second location, but franchising didn’t feel right.

“We knew that would mean one of us would be in one place, and the other in another place. That wasn’t what made us happy. What made us happy was being together,” she said. 

Business was booming, but the pair at the heart of the restaurant were burning out.

“We’d get to the restaurant before five a.m. each morning, and if you’re not getting home until ten o’clock at night, you just can’t do it—or you shouldn’t,” Jackie said. “The nights went first. We went to six days per week, just serving lunch, and we did that for 17 years.”

Jimmy’s retirement for health reasons in 2017 was the beginning of Jackie’s decision to leave the restaurant business. The sunny, jazz-filled café that she and Jimmy ran on Louisiana Avenue didn’t feel the same without him by her side. 

A photo of a woman in a blue dress in her living room, surrounded by art
Jackie Caskey, photographed at her home in Broadmoor in 2021.

“I lasted maybe two years without him,” Jackie said. “It wasn’t fun without him.” 

In July of 2019, Jackie and Jimmy sold the restaurant to Shreveport entrepreneurs Grant Nuckolls and Andrew Crawford and officially retired from the restaurant business.

“We weren’t even looking to sell it, we were just going to close it,” Jackie said. “Because it was just too much of a part of us.”

A small group of long-time employees who’d spent decades at Jacquelyn’s Café worried about the fate of the restaurant.

“It wasn’t whether or not new owners were going to change the place, it was whether or not we’d stay open,” Tasby said. “That’s what concerned me. Because I’ve been here 34 years. It would be kind of weird not working here, after all of those years.”

Nuckolls and Crawford have made small changes, including the installation of a new point-of-sale system (no more of Jimmy’s notepads), a grab-and-go cooler stocked with shrimp salad and pimento cheese, and a table-numbering system, but they’ve kept the Jacquelyn’s Café experience remarkably intact.

Jackie occasionally stops by the restaurant that bears her name, especially on days when Boudreaux texts to let her know that he’s made fresh gazpacho or coconut pie.  

Sitting at her kitchen table in Broadmoor, I asked Jackie what advice she would give to her younger self. If she could take a time machine back to Dietmar’s Restaurant in 1980, on that lunch date when she asked Jimmy “What about a restaurant?,” what would she say to her younger self? 

“I would just say ‘Do it,’” she said.

Jimmy Caskey died on May 24, 2020. The jazz mix CDs that Jimmy burned are still played daily at Jacquelyn’s Café and the handwriting on the chalkboard menu (everything but the prices!) is still his draftsman-like longhand.

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2 thoughts on “Labor of Love: The Story of Jacquelyn’s Café

  1. John Parnell
    Melinda worked at Doctor’s Hospital in 83 before we got married. This was our place to eat!
    I worked in Shreveport two days a week. I got to be such a regular that Tina would let me in before they opened and when they were cleaning up after they closed. I could walk in now and she would bring Jacquelyn’s shrimp salad on a bed of spinach, tea, and apple pie heated. It is the Beat!
    Best Wishes to them all!!!

    1. That’s an awesome memory, thank you for sharing it! That shrimp salad is probably detectable in my DNA by now.


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