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The Hawk's Nest roast beef po-boy

For around 50 years, the Hawk's Nest found success by focusing on being a simple, good, neighborhood-style restaurant. Although, having a raved about shrimp rémoulade dish didn't hurt, either.

But on Saturday, Aug. 17, the restaurant at 3015 Westfork Drive will close after a final dinner service, owners announced Monday.

The Hawk's Nest was owned and operated by James Ray "Bighead" Smith since its beginnings in a small shopping center on Lobdell Avenue near Government Street. The restaurant moved to its current location, off of South Sherwood Forest Boulevard, in 1984.

When Smith died in January 2018, his wife, Trudy, and their children Kyle Smith and Jaime Sims continued the business. But the family recently decided it was time to close the doors, Sims said.

"Business was great, everything was going great," Sims said. "We got to a point where we decided to spend more time with family."

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Hawk's Nest Restaurant owners Ray and Trudy Smith inside the restaurant's dining room area near the bar. Ray Smith passed away in January 2018. The restaurant will close on Saturday, Aug. 17.

The Hawk's Nest, which has a loyal clientele, Sims said, had long been associated with Ray Smith himself.

"The business was really his," Sims said. "Everybody came to see him, everybody loved him. He would cook for them. He would sit out at their table and tell stories — most people came for his stories."

A Baton Rouge native and Lee High School graduate, Smith became involved in the restaurant business when he and his brother had an interest in the original Hawk's Nest when it opened in 1969, according to a 2008 Advocate profile of Smith. Smith became the sole owner of the Hawk's Nest in 1972. 

The original Hawk's Nest was more of a bar, but when Ray and Trudy Smith moved the business into its current location, they expanded their food menu.

"I don't use the term 'French cooking' for our food, that sounds like more formal dishes," Smith said in the 2008 article. "Our dishes are what you would get at all those great neighborhood restaurants around New Orleans."

Those New Orleans classics the Hawk's Nest became well-known for included shrimp rémoulade, roast beef po-boys using Leidenheimer bread, seafood gumbo (made using a recipe created by Smith's mother) and big muffulettas. At one point, the restaurant was selling between 500 and 700 orders of shrimp rémoulade per week.

Over the year, Sims said, the Hawk's Nest had developed an atmosphere like "Cheers," welcoming longtime regulars and newcomers a like.

"Some of the same people who have come in forever will just sit at the bar and talk," Sim said, "and some people come in because they eat dinner every Friday night at the Hawk's Nest."

The Hawk's Nest will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day through Saturday, or " 'til we run out of food and drink," Sims said.

Email Jake Clapp at jclapp@theadvocate.com.