The Cvitanovich family of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant has received plenty of honors through the years for charitable giving and community leadership, though an award to be presented next week is extra special for them.
Drago and Klara Cvitanovich will receive the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award. Created in 2010 by the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience, the annual wine festival, its recipients have included luminaries of the local hospitality industry, starting with its namesake, the matriarch of the Commander’s Palace restaurant family, the chefs Paul Prudhomme and Leah Chase and the philanthropist and beverage magnate Bill Goldring.
“I would have never expected this because of the people who received it before us,” said Klara Cvitanovich, who, like her husband Drago, emigrated to the U.S. from their native Croatia (then part of Communist-controlled Yugoslavia).
“We came to New Orleans in 1961 with two suitcases, two babies and about $2,000 in our pockets,” she said. “To be able to achieve what we have just proves the American dream.”
But this isn’t a restaurant family showing any signs of resting on its laurels. Quite the contrary. In early December, the family plans to open its third Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, this time in Jackson, Mississippi. And within a few weeks, it expects to debut a new venture much closer to home: Drago’s Firehouse Grill, 3521 18th St., adjacent to its original Metairie restaurant.
It’s the evolution of Firehouse Burgers, a burger joint they opened early in 2014 a block away. It served no seafood, and Tommy Cvitanovich, who runs the company his parents founded, acknowledged that the plan didn’t work as expected. It closed recently.
This time, Drago’s Firehouse Grill will combine the previous concept’s garlic butter-basted burgers with a sampling of Drago’s dishes — including its trademark charbroiled oysters — and sidelines in grilled cheese sandwiches, loaded mac-and-cheese, po-boys and salads.
“You swing at the ball, but you don’t always hit a homerun, but now we’re in a new inning,” Tommy Cvitanovich said. “This will be like a more casual Drago’s and we think it will work.”
Klara and Drago Cvitanovich will receive their NOWFE award at a gala at the National World War II Museum on Nov. 13, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $150 and proceeds benefit NOWFE’s education charities. For details, see nowfe.com.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.