Renewing a cravin’ for Cajun

From left, front-of-house manager Bree Thomas, owner John Beilfuss and kitchen manager John Lamoreaux pose Wednesday for a photo behind the bar at Lula’s Louisiana Cookhouse/Lily Pearl’s Lounge in downtown Owosso. The award-winning eatery is reopening Friday after being closed for 16 months due to COVID-19.

OWOSSO — After closing for 16 months due to the pandemic, the award-winning restaurant Lula’s Louisiana Cookhouse and its sister lounge Lily Pearl’s will start serving customers again on Friday.

John Beilfuss, co-owner with wife Morgan, and the restaurant’s executive chef, said he’s thrilled to be back in business. Patrons, too, are thrilled: Reservations have been pouring in — 300 in the first 45 minutes — since phone lines opened Monday. Large parties are booked as far ahead as October.

“I am so incredibly blessed by the support we’ve had from our community of patrons,” Beilfuss said today at the restaurant, where employees were busy getting ready for the reopening. “It’s very exciting to start out with this great staff.”

Leading the kitchen will be Lula’s longtime chef de cuisine John Lamoreaux, and front-of-house manager and head mixologist Bree Thomas. Just about all of Lula’s former servers are back, along with some new faces in the kitchen and bar.

“I’m a small amount of nervous but it’s overcome by the excitement of being back,” Lamoreaux said.

A lot has changed since March 14, 2020, the last day Lula’s served meals. Many updates have been made, including a rebuilt and reconfigured kitchen aimed at speeding up serving times, a dozen additional beer taps and other improvements.

The menu has been temporarily streamlined — the result of continuing limited food supplies caused by the pandemic. However, still available are such patron favorites as Lula’s famous fried chicken dinner, voted Michigan’s Best by Mlive and Best in America by media franchise Eat This, Not That!

Beef alone is twice the price it used to be, Beilfuss said, prompting him to leave steak off the menu for now, not wanting to charge his customers $50 for a slab of beef. However, menu prices have gone up.

“We had to do it because there are huge shortages and our costs have gone up,” he said.

Another missing-for-now item is Lily Pearl’s most popular cocktail, the Aviation. The reason? The brand of creme de violette the bar uses is not currently available, and no substitute is good enough for Beilfuss, whose exacting quality standards include making everything from scratch.

Finally, “we won’t be doing any carryout initially,” he said. “We want to make sure our in-house customers are served perfectly.”

Beilfuss, who with his wife works in real estate, said he never once considered closing Lula’s permanently, even during the darkest periods of the pandemic.

“We just battened down the hatches and paid our bills to keep the lights on,” Beilfuss said. “I was most concerned about the employees, until the unemployment programs kept everyone going.”

He said he visited the building every day during the pandemic. Updates, restocking, rewriting the menu, training new staff — all of the prep for the reopening began in April.

Work was held up only after Beilfuss was hit in the head by a 30-pound scale. He was seriously injured, undergoing two brain surgeries, but said he has fully recovered from the freak accident.

“But I looked at it like this: We were reopening in nine weeks what it took me nine years to build. I feel great. I feel wonderful,” he said, adding with a laugh: “I am a little (miffed) I can’t get an Aviation.”

New hours for Lula’s are 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Lily Pearl’s is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Lunch hours could be coming soon, he said.

“I strongly recommend making reservations at least a week in advance,” Beilfuss said.

Lily Pearl’s, however, remains a walk-in lounge. Live music is back Friday night with pop and jazz singer Beth Stalker, a former American Idol contestant, and her backup band.

“We’ll have world-class acts here at least twice a month,” Beilfuss said, “and international nights like Taste of Spain and Evening on a Greek Isle once a month.”

Lula’s has won a huge heap of awards since first opening in 2013 (Lily Pearl’s followed four years later), aided by the hundreds of recipes Beilfuss learned from his family and from travels all over the world, which he has perfected since starting cooking seriously at age 18.

Honors include winning No. 1 Hot Spot, No. 1 Vibrant Bar Scene, No. 1 Overall Restaurant and No. 1 Cuisine in eastern Michigan and Detroit by opentable.org in 2018.

The same year, Lula’s won the prestigious Chairman’s Award from the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce and was named the voters’ choice for Best BBQ in Lansing and the greater Lansing area.

“World food has been my passion my entire life,” Beilfuss said. “I’ll be forever grateful to the wonderful community of patrons that has supported us since we opened.”

Lula’s is located at 113 S. Washington St. To make a reservation, call (989) 720-5852.

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