When he showed up at Cafe Vermilionville 36 years ago, Boubekeur Aliouche — better known simply as "Bru" — didn't expect to be there long.

The Algerian student just needed something to help him pay the bills while studying mathematics at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

"I wanted to come to the United States since I was a kid, but I never thought I would stay this long," Aliouche said. "I thought I'd just come here for four years and that's it. I always planned to go back to Algeria."

But Aliouche, who had spent time in Pennsylvania and Texas before moving to Louisiana, quickly fell in love with the people and culture in Lafayette. He got married and had three sons, who he eventually would raise in Lafayette as a single father.

Aliouche initially applied to be a waiter for Cafe Vermilionville, but he accepted the only position available as a dishwasher instead.

After about a year, the executive chef was in a pinch and asked if Aliouche could make a pecan pie.

"He needed it that night," Aliouche said. "He had to go to a meeting or whatever and said, 'Here. Make it,'" Alliouche said. "And I did. When he came back, he said 'You made that?' And I said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'That's beautiful.' And I said, 'I just followed the recipe.'"

Aliouche didn't wash another dish for the restaurant after that.

He started in his new role of pastry chef by simply following existing recipes for desserts such as bread pudding. Eventually, he'd come up with his own variations on the restaurant's recipes and created his own desserts, drawing on his childhood experiences in the kitchen with his parents.

Aliouche learned the basics of cooking and baking from his mother as a young child when his mother taught his sister.

"I just watched her," Aliouche said. "She didn't teach me. In Algeria, the mothers teach the daughters how to cook and bake, otherwise they'll never get married. So I'd just get a chair to stand on and watch as she cooked."

After his parents separated, Aliouche spent summers as a teenager working at his father's restaurant in Paris, Le Grand Bourget. The restaurant served mostly Algerian food, which is similar to Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisines with staples such as roasted lamb, couscous pasta, tagine stew and baklava pastry.

Aliouche initially planned to earn a college degree and move home to Algeria to teach high school math.

Instead, his coworkers at Cafe Vermilionville became his family.

"It's definitely a family thing," Aliouche said. "I didn't want to leave. People come here while they're in school, they graduate and they leave, but they always come back and visit. People who worked here while in school are lawyers and judges now, and the first thing they ask when they come back is 'Where is Bru?'"

They remember him for his kindness, said Cafe Vermilionville co-owner Andrea Veron, who also considers Aliouche to be part of her family.

"Bru is just so kind," Veron said. "He's sort of like our dad. For Valentine's Day, he always brings all the girls flowers and chocolate hearts."

Andrea Veron's favorite dessert at the restaurant is Aliouche's carrot cake, although she's also partial to some of the special treats he makes just for the staff.

"It's good to be good," Aliouche said. "I always tell everybody that they're my children. Every girl who works here is my princess, and the guys are my sons. I tell them they could make a difference in the world."

After visiting Algeria last year for the first time in 40 years, Aliouche is considering a move back to his home country when he retires. 

But for now, Aliouche continues to find joy in creating desserts for Cafe Vermilionville's employees and customers.

"I just like to see people happy," Aliouche said. "I like seeing them enjoying what I make. Dessert is the last thing a customer remembers after a nice dinner."

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Follow Megan Wyatt on Twitter, @MeganWyattACA.