CROWLEY - When Edward and Evelyn Falcon began their rice milling business in Crowley in 1955, they had plenty of competition. At the industry’s zenith in the 1960s, 14 rice mills were located in the self-proclaimed “rice capital of the world.”
Today, Crowley is home to only two, including Falcon Rice Mill, which on July 1 was handed down to the third generation.
Two of the Falcons’ seven grandchildren, siblings Robert “Robbie” Trahan and Christine Fulton, along with their spouses, Jennifer Trahan and Dwayne Fulton, purchased the mill from their parents, Charles and Mona Falcon Trahan, and their uncle and his wife, Randy and Connie Falcon.
Each of the four new owners has a 25 percent share. Robbie Trahan handles sales; Christine Fulton, who like her brother is a certified public accountant, takes care of the financial side of the business. Her husband, Dwayne Fulton, tends to operations and packaging and Jennifer Trahan deals with social media; the company’s website, http://www.cajuncountryrice.com; and public relations outreach.
“We’re trying to position ourselves as the only Louisiana-owned company with statewide distribution and which uses only rice grown in Louisiana” for its Cajun Country Rice brand, explained Charles Trahan, who with his wife had been operating the rice mill.
Cajun Country Rice is a state “Certified Cajun Product,” which means all of its rice is grown, milled and packaged in Louisiana. The brand is available as long grain, medium grain, brown, and in Jasmine and popcorn aromatic varieties.
Falcon Rice Mill also produces TORO, Laredo, Home Country and Jackpot brands. They, too, use only Louisiana rice.
“We buy all our rice (for the Cajun Country brand) from within 50 miles of Crowley,” Robbie Trahan said. “The market price fluctuates. Right now it’s $21 a barrel” for top quality rough rice, which is rice still in its hull. “Last year it was $15.”
The federal government uses a 100-pound weight as the standard weight unit for rice, he explained. “However, when talking to a rice farmer in southwest Louisiana, he will speak to you in barrels, which is 162 pounds. In north Louisiana and Arkansas, they talk in bushels, which is 45-1/2 pounds, and in Texas, they use hundredweight.”
Charles Trahan added, “Market price is strictly supply and demand. Farmers are dependent on world events. Farmers have subsidies; rice mills don’t. But, if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have our business.”
Robbie Trahan describes the mill at 600 South Avenue D as “a small mill concentrating on domestic (sales) and domestic packaging for food service. We’ve created a little niche.”
The mill’s capacity is roughly 100 tons a day of milled rice, plus tons of byproducts.
It operates year-round, 24 hours a day, five days a week. There are 50 employees, including the owners.
Ed and Evelyn Falcon bought the city block on which Falcon Rice Mill sits in 1938 for $19.19 in a tax sale. Four years later the couple began a small rice seed business. They purchased rough rice from area farmers in the fall, cleaned and treated it, packaged it in 100- and 150-pound sacks, and resold it for seed in spring planting.
They began milling rice in 1955 and began selling rice under the names “Ed’s,” “Randy’s” and “Falcon.” Other brands, including Cajun Country, came later.
In September 1970, Ed Falcon died in a single-car accident. His family continued to operate the mill for a short time, then leased it in two 10-year leases.
Mona Trahan, the Falcons’ daughter, and her husband, Charles Trahan, a pharmacist, owned the building and land. “We were leasing them and the trademark on the second lease,” Charles Trahan said. “Mona and I had a minority interest in that operation for 10 years.”
On June 1, 1991, Mona Trahan and her brother, Randy Falcon, formed a corporation. Randy was a stockholder while Charles Trahan, as vice president, and Mona Trahan, as president, operated the mill.
At that time Charles Trahan also was operating a drug store in Jennings. He sold the store, which he had had for 26 years, in November 1995 because “it got to be too much to do both.”
He recalled when he first learned that his son Robbie was thinking of getting into rice milling. “Three and a half years ago Robbie was living in San Antonio (Texas) working in public accounting when he calls, saying he wants to move back.”
Robbie Trahan then contacted his sister Christine and her husband, Dwayne Fulton, who were living in Austin, Texas, about joining him in the business.
Robbie and Jennifer Trahan moved their family to Crowley in January 2008. His sister and her family followed one year later.
“We never tried to encourage it” but Charles Trahan said he and his wife “have always hoped that Falcon Rice Mill would continue to thrive as a family-owned and operated business” and are pleased two of their five children have decided to take over.
Randy Falcon, a schoolteacher, said neither he nor his two children were interested in operating the mill. “My wife and I are happy it is still in the family. Their biggest asset is their new ideas and great attitude.”
Cajun Country Rice is found locally in Rouse’s, Wal-Mart, Albertson’s, Associated Grocers and Winn-Dixie in Lafayette. It also is handled by Church Point Wholesalers and is in some HEB stores in Texas.
The company has nationwide distribution with a core market from the Mississippi Gulf Coat to South Texas.
“The message we’re trying to get out is our mill is still family owned,” Robbie Trahan said. “We just want people to know that when they pick up a bag of Cajun Country Rice at the supermarket, they are eating 100 percent Louisiana rice. They are supporting farmers in Louisiana.”