For a guy who’s into slow cooking, it seems like Chef Scott moves pretty fast.
He sets up as a food vendor at local festivals, serving barbecue and his trademark “ghetto burger,” a highly-seasoned belly buster smothered with spicy sauce. He delivers crates of ooey gooey cakes to corner stores and markets, while bottles of his NOLA Foods barbecue sauce line the aisles of local Whole Food Markets. Head down North Broad Street you may see Chef Scott himself at his new eatery, Whoo Doo BBQ, a former chicken wing and yakamein joint that he’s slowly converting into a home base.
He opened Whoo Doo BBQ over the fall, serving plate lunches of spicy jerk chicken, thick-cut ribs and steaks. It still looks barebones, with minimal signage and fewer amenities, feeling a bit like a tailgate moved indoors. But to Chef Scott it’s just the beginning, and he’s working on plans to build a patio in the large side yard with outdoor seating, live music and a bar.
“I’ve got a lot going on,” he allows. “But it’s all going in the same direction. My hand is on it all, that’s the cohesion. It all goes into building my brand.”
Plenty of people are building brands in the burgeoning field of food and drink these days. But Demietriek Scott, who goes by Chef Scott, is following a different route.
His starts with New Orleans street food, that subculture of ad hoc vendors and bootstrap food entrepreneurs hawking homegrown flavors at second line parades and outside nightclubs. It’s taken him through many well-known New Orleans restaurant kitchens, and brought him to the helm of his own restaurants a few times.
The hurdles have been daunting, and some setbacks potentially crushing, though across his career Chef Scott has been able to draw on the renewable energy of his own optimism to keep on track.
“I know there’s more opportunity for me, and I always believe you have to take that leap of faith to find out what’s on the other side,” he said. “Sometimes it’s meant more money, or better opportunity, and sometimes it was a mistake. But I’m on a mission a
- d I’m not stopping.”
A different path
Chef Scott, now 40 and the father of two, is a New Orleans native who grew up in the St. Bernard housing project. Food was often scarce. The burgers he remembers from his youth were those his mother cooked after the month’s food stamps arrived, when the fridge was stocked again and hand-made burger patties were a family indulgence.
“It was that grease dripping down your arm, that’s how you know you got something,” he said.
He learned to make a buck on his own. As a kid, he’d buy Snickers bars at three for a dollar, and resell them to his friends for 50 cents each. He and his brother made pralines and wrapped them in ribbons to sell on the street. As a teenager, however, he was selling drugs, which landed him in prison at age 19.
When he got out, he fixed his sights on a food career, reasoning that if he made his living on what people needed everyday he would always have work. He studied culinary arts at Delgado Community College and got jobs in kitchens as varied as the Ernst N. Morial Convention Center, the Hotel Monteleone and Palace Café, among other stops. He moved to Georgia for a few years, where he eventually opened his first restaurant, called Da Cajun Kitchen, in Roswell, outside Atlanta.
After that restaurant closed he came back home, and street food provided a different entry point into the business. On Sundays he followed the second line parades, joining the smoky throng of vendors selling burgers and barbecue from their trucks.
“I needed an angle to stand out,” he said. “The key was making sauces and really ramping it up.”
Over time, and after much modification, these would evolve into his current NOLA Foods sauces – the original, called Whoo Doo, a thick, spicy, tomato-based number; Fiya Water, a lighter, more tropical flavor with pineapple and mango; and Beer Bee-Q, made with local NOLA Brewing beer.
Along the way, he saw a niche for ooey gooey cakes, pies and pralines, the popular handheld desserts of the parade route, and started packaging them to sell at corner stores.
A setback, and a big break
In 2011, he opened a Treme restaurant called NOLA Foods, which would double as his catering and retail production kitchen. It was tucked away on Dumaine Street, but this small backstreet café was starting to draw a crowd when Hurricane Isaac soaked the city in 2012. Roof leaks damaged the kitchen, and he said he and his landlord could not come to terms on how to fix it.
“I lost my kitchen,” he said. “I was in a tailspin after that.”
But he righted the ship. Friends offered up their kitchens to keep his dessert line going, and he hit the streets again with a barbecue trailer, slinging his ghetto burgers and barbecue for late night revelers near the bars. He also kept working on his barbecue sauce brand. He got help from the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator in Baton Rouge to refine the product, and worked with New Orleans design firm Line 58 on a look and label.
A big break came when Whole Foods Market picked up the product line, and when the grocer opened its Broad Street store last year, Chef Scott was on hand dishing out samples to the curious crowd. The NOLA Foods brand is on the shelves at his own storefront too. His plans for Whoo Doo BBQ are still taking shape, and he’s evaluating the right mix of hours and menu items that will catch on here. But for a food entrepreneur working a few different angles, the new eatery represents a hub where he can thread them all together.
“The way I look at it, one thing feeds into another,” he said. “This is our food, and we’re giving people some different ways to get it.”
2660 St. Philip St., 504-821-0978
Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Find Chef Scott at these upcoming events:
Armstrong Park, 701 N. Rampart St.,
Nov. 14-15, 11 a.m.-7:15 p.m.
Oak Street at S. Carrollton Ave.
Nov. 22, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.