It's been six years since employees of Antoni's Italian Cafe took over the Oil Center restaurant from the husband-wife team who started it in 1996.

And while the new ownership has brought about a few changes, the cozy cafe remains a go-to spot for business lunches and dinner dates.

"The Carts wanted someone who would preserve the restaurant, who knew the clientele," said Holly Cure. "They always say the thing they miss the most is the regular customers. We appreciate that those regulars continue to dine with us."

When Lynda Cart and her husband, Bruce, were ready to retire, they had to make the "painful decision" of either closing the restaurant or selling it to someone who could keep their vision alive.

They worried a new owner might ruin restaurant they'd worked so hard to create.

"So often, when you hand it off, they destroy the name and the reputation," Lynda Cart said. "The last thing that's there is what people remember. We had reservations about our business not carrying on how we started."

The Carts found just what they were looking for in a younger version of themselves: Holly and Eli Cure.

Holly Cure had worked them for several years, first as a waitress and later as a bar manager and supervisor. Her husband, Eli, had worked for them for a short time as a manager. Both had several years of experience in Lafayette's restaurant industry at places such as Cafe Vermilionville and Blue Dog Cafe.

"When we took this place over, it wasn't a sure thing," Holly Cure said. "We didn't know what we were doing, but we were willing to serve. Our motto is 'If we can, we will.' We ultimately want to get it right and make it a good experience for the guest."

Holly Cure focused on the front-of-house, interacting with customers and managing bartenders and waitstaff.

Eli Cure took on the back-of-house, overseeing the kitchen staff and adding to the existing menu.

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"It's just been the perfect fit," Lynda Cart said. "Our regular customers tell me all the time that they're doing such a great job with my restaurant. And I still feel like it's my restaurant. It's my child."

Many things — the pizzas, calzones, cream cheese ice cream — haven't changed one bit through the years.

The Cures have added their own touches — white linen tablecloths to the dining room and chicken Parmesan, risotto and polenta to the menu — since purchasing the restaurant in August 2013. They recently opened a private event space next door.

"It was time for new energy, fresh life," Lynda Cart said. "We still go and check on them, and we think they're doing a great job."

The Carts visit the restaurant a few times a month as customers. The Cures consider them to be their "second parents."

That's good news for Antoni's, which celebrated 23 years of business in June.

"It's here to stay," Cart said. "It's part of Lafayette, and I'm very proud of that fact."

Antoni's Italian Cafe, located at 1118 Coolidge Blvd. Suite A, is participating in the local dining campaign, Eat Lafayette.

Anyone who mentions Eat Lafayette now through Sept. 15 can receive a three-course dinner for $25. The special includes choice of tomato soup or salad; choice of chicken entree with mushrooms, meatball pasta or pepperoni and mushroom calzone; and a scoop of cream cheese ice cream with bread pudding and frangelico sauce.

Learn more at eatlafayette.com and antonisitaliancafe.com.

Acadiana Business Today: Antoni's sees 'new energy, fresh life' after employees buy Oil Center restaurant; Waitr announces partnership with New York-based Olo


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.