Nourishing the Neighborhood_lowres

General manager Fred Little in the renovated produce section at Dorignac's Food Center in Metairie.

You'll not see complaining customers and harried, grumbling checkout attendants or dirty floors and impassable aisles at Dorignac's Food Center (710 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 834-8216). Instead, visitors are struck by a peaceful, expansive store where customers and store workers chat like old friends and the checkout lines move faster than some of the shoppers.

Dorignac's, which first opened as a meat market on Jackson Avenue in 1946 and moved to its Metairie location in 1963, recently completed a renovation that included installing new display shelves that make the aisles seem wider, a shiny new floor, new aisle markers, revamping its deli section, expanding the liquor department, combining the floral and card departments, and enlarging produce.

"One of our key areas was we really wanted to retain the culture of Dorignac's," says Scott Miller, operations manager at the 33,000-square-foot store that draws customers from as far away as St. Tammany and St. Charles parishes. "We gave it a facelift from a structural sense, and a sprucing up.

"The major move was that the deli was in the back. We merged it with food service (in the front), kept some seating and brought in self-service for ribs and other things and some steam tables. Š We also expanded the gourmet butcher shop and seafood areas in the back and expanded wine by 30 to 40 percent. We really tried to create a gourmet food shop all the way to the back."

Amid the expansions, Dorignac's beverage manager Butch Steadman was honored with an appointment to the 2004 Market Watch Leaders' class as retail leader of the year for taking the store's alcoholic beverages section to the $8.6 million mark. "Butch is probably one of the most knowledgeable men in Louisiana on wine and liquor," says general manager Fred Little. Dorignac's is known locally for stocking an immense selection of alcoholic beverages and keeping prices low.

The renovations all over the store make products easier to see and more attractive in their displays, Little says. If customers can't find a favorite product, Dorignac's will make sure it is there the next time they come. "When customers request something we try to react to it," he says. "It doesn't matter to us if we sell a half-case a week or two cases a week." Stocking low-demand items sometimes is a challenge, because food distributors focus on items that sell well in all the stores they service. "It's been a battle," Little says. "We have to shop around for suppliers. We have about 40,000 SKUs in the store."

Equally important to shoppers, some families of which have frequented the store for three generations, is the pleasant atmosphere and the service. "It's a nice place to work," Little says. "The average length of employment is 18 years. We've always prided ourselves on having very fast checkout lines Š and we have baggers at every register."

A Cut Above Helping people to discover their inner selves in an externally visual way is what Kathy Rougelot, owner of Cut Loose Hair Studio (5537 Canal Blvd., 482-9938), most likes to do.

"I enjoy doing makeovers, bringing out the best that people can be," says Rougelot, who has operated Cut Loose for 12 years -- almost half of her professional hair-styling career. When it comes to makeovers, Rougelot starts by updating their hairstyle and making it something the customers can handle on their own. She then sends them to her daughter, Monica Brooks, the studio's makeup artist, salon coordinator and a wardrobe stylist.

"A lot of people think they have to put on all this makeup to look good, and we show them how to use more of their natural beauty and use the makeup to their enhance that," Rougelot says. "We turn our ordinary clients into extraordinary-looking people."

That's where experience and a certain eye for beauty comes in. Rougelot, who has cut and styled hair for 25 years, says she has stayed current with trends and cutting methods through her work with an international company for which she conducted classes and styled for shows. Over the years, her studio also has won about 25 Alpha Awards, given to outstanding artists in the local fashion industry.

"We don't just do a style," she says. "We put a lot of heart and soul into it. I don't just do hair, I want to bring the professionalism into the business and do something fun and glamorous with it." She works not only with women, but also men to whom the studio offers mainly hair services, facials, waxing and eye brow shaping.

To make visits more fun, Cut Loose has two different waiting areas where customers can sip on wine or cappuccino while they are waiting for services. About a year ago, Cut Loose became an Aveda concept salon that uses and sells only Aveda products. The change came about, Rougelot says, to make it easier and less confusing for customers to select quality merchandise and because Aveda is a trusted name and makes its products from all-natural ingredients. Early next year, she plans to add a clothing and fashion accessories boutique to the front of the shop called Cut Loose Threads.