When Shane Broussard would return to Colorado from visiting his home state of Louisiana, he would drag back as many ice chests as he could, all of which were filled with ingredients from the state known for its Cajun cuisine.
“To have real shrimp. To have real, real, real food. And then my friends here – I’ve cooked for a hundred people in this town over the years – that are like, ‘You need to open a store.’ I’m like, ‘A store? What are you talking about?’ And they were like, ‘You need to get all these products. We don’t have them here.’”
Broussard, a Baton Rouge native, now runs his Cajun-specialty market out of the Main Mall. On every shelf and table of C’est Bon are dozens of food products straight from Louisiana so you can satiate your Southern cooking cravings – Cajun, Creole, and a combination of both.
There’s really nothing like C’est Bon on this side of the Four Corners, and Broussard will be the first to tell you that. Do a quick Google search of “Cajun food” and “Colorado” and most of your results will take you to Colorado Springs and Denver, with the exception of Highway 3 Roadhouse and Oyster Bar in Durango.
“This is a lot of work because there’s nothing here. Nothing in this town, nothing nowhere in a hundred miles like this, so this was really a lot of work,” said Broussard, who carries nearly 300 products in his shop. “I keep bringing in new products all the time, every two months I have new products. One of the hardest things is trying to figure out how people here are going to accept or adapt to these products, which ones they’re going to like and not like.”
Claim to FameDurango is a city that boasts a claim to fame of having the most restaurants per capita, on top of being located in an area that draws in thousands of visitors from across the country – nay, world. There are about 18,465 residents in Durango and 55,589 in La Plata County, according to the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau, and there are 187 restaurants in the Durango area, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.
People like Broussard, who bring their taste in food from one end of the country to Durango, are what gives Durango’s food scene an edge.
“In my years in Durango, I have gotten to know a lot of people that have lived in Durango their whole lives, but I have also gotten to know a lot more folks that have moved here from other parts of the country and the world,” said David Woodruff, president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and general manager of El Moro Spirits and Tavern. “They bring their palate with them, along with their culture of food and community. By having a dynamic food scene in Durango, it allows us, as consumers, to get a glimpse into someone else’s idea of food and hospitality.”
Still, even with this high restaurant-to-resident ratio, there are challenges with hunting down diverse ingredients and restaurants in the region, and also supplying the area with world foods. If you’re looking to delve into your cookbook at home and you’re in the mood for some ethnic flavors, you’re going to have a tough time finding everything you need amongst the big chain grocery stores like Walmart and City Market. You’ll have to get creative with where you dig up particular ingredients.
The biggest challenge Broussard faces in keeping his bona fide authentic Louisiana products like Papa Tom’s Stone Ground Yellow Grits, Zapp’s Potato Chips, and Mam Papaul’s Okra Gumbo in stock is shipping the products to Durango. It’s a major hurdle for him as a business owner.
“I’m not a City Market. I’m not a (big) grocery. I’m a grocery – but this is small, considering. So I don’t buy more than twelve a case is usually what I have to buy from suppliers. There’s no Cisco. There’s no Shamrock. They don’t have anything. Nothing, nothing in this store. ... This is all straight from Louisiana – ninety percent of the products in here are Louisiana, and all of them are shipped from there,” Broussard said.
He is able to purchase smaller amounts from a few companies and receives them in three days; however, with other companies, he has to buy six cases of product, and it’s two to three days before they execute the order. Then, by the time he gets the products, it’s been two weeks.
“So it’s not like calling Shamrock and placing an order and then they bring it next week – everything for the whole store. That don’t happen. ... This is contacting approximately 50 vendors,” Broussard said.
Durango’s isolated location can pose a challenge for business owners trying to order their supplies, Woodruff said.
“I think where we are and how somewhat isolated we are can be a limiting factor in our food scene. We are fortunate to have some amazing agricultural producers here in La Plata County, from beef and cheese to beets and micro-greens. While they provide a lot, they can’t provide us everything. In other larger municipalities with better distribution channels, they can get almost whatever they want within twenty-four hours. They have opportunities to get fresh, esoteric ingredients that we may not have access to. Consumers are becoming more educated into what they are putting into their bodies and want to know where their food is coming from,” Woodruff said.
Broussard’s desire to bring a touch of real Southern food to the Four Corners doesn’t go unnoticed by those who wander into his business looking for a taste of something familiar or flavors that seem worlds away.
One such customer found her way into the shop as we spoke to Broussard, and was delighted that she found Community Coffee – aka the only coffee you drink in Louisiana, according to Broussard. She referred to C’est Bon as a piece of heaven.
“Louisiana people that are traveling and visiting here in Durango or anywhere around here and happen to find me and see me and pop in, they’re just being nosy. They want to know if it’s real. Is it real? That’s the problem. All over this country there’s ‘Cajun’ or the word ‘Cajun’ and it ain’t real,” Broussard said.
Adding that extra spiceWhen Mark Grubis would make yellow curry at home, he used to skip steps because, well, there just weren’t some ingredients available for him to check off his recipe. Today, he and his wife, Kara, own Durango Artisan Foods – a food store that offers spices and ingredients for world foods consumption that you can’t necessarily find elsewhere in Durango – in hopes of helping other world food fanatics feed their appetites.
“When we started the business, we wanted to make it the way it was meant to be made, the way we designed it so we had to actually start going out and finding the stuff. When we lived in a big city it was no big deal, but here I couldn’t find it anywhere; it’s just a matter of going and scouring the big wholesale suppliers. ... Instead of someone having to go out and buy fifteen or twenty rare spices to make their own curry recipe, we buy all that stuff in large quantities, mix it all up, and develop the recipe,” Mark said.
For Mark, with the resource available via the Internet, the process of getting a hold of those ingredients hasn’t been as big of a challenge for his business. It’s more so a challenge for the average individual looking to order supplies in bulk when they only need a small amount of an ingredient.
“The average person isn’t probably going to scour the Internet for one little thing,” Mark said.
Mark and Kara are moving their business to 3101 Main Avenue #2 and are doubling their space in size, and they hope to add even more flavors from across the world to fill in the gaps Durango is missing out on. They currently have spices and ingredients from all over the world, including ones with Thai, Caribbean, and Central European influences.
“There’s some things in the Chinese realm we want to do, definitely in the African (realm). I think people are just starting to appreciate some of the cuisines of this area, like Ethiopia and Morocco. There’s some wonderful cuisines even in West Africa. There’s also some other areas in Europe that we want to explore. Right now, that’s what we’re looking at, but I’m sure there’s more. There’ll always be more,” Mark said.
Like Grubis, Woodruff believes that Durango has made plenty of strides in providing diverse food options, but there are still some limitations he’d like to see expanded on, some of which are in Durango’s backyard.
“The largest gap, in my mind, even though regionally close, is Native American cuisine. We have some amazing regions and cultures of food represented in Durango, but I think we are lacking in our own regional and historical fare when it comes to Native American food. We are missing an iconic, regional cuisine in our community,” Woodruff said.
If one is looking to get out of town a bit more in search of new flavors and restaurants, Woodruff recommends stretching your horizons and traveling a bit down the road.
“While I wouldn’t call the region a desert, Durango is an oasis boasting some amazing food options. I think you can travel the region and find some great restaurants all across the Four Corners. But if you wanted to find a food scene as dynamic and fun as ours, I think you have to travel a little bit. Santa Fe has some amazing food options and has some equally eclectic operators. If you wanted to stay in the state, I would say that you would have to travel to the I-70 corridor and go to some other similar ski towns like Vail, Aspen, and Edwards to find the likes of Durango. I don’t want to sound snobby about our food scene, but I am proud of what we are and who we have as operators in this small Colorado town. We have some amazing local, independent restaurant owners that care about their community and what they are providing to them,” Woodruff said.