Fulfilling the American Dream – 2 Immigrants and Their Children
Fifty years ago, Klara and Drago Cvitanovich left their home country of Croatia with two children on a trek to America. In 1969, with a little help from Drago’s cousins of Mary Mahoney’s Restaurant in Biloxi, Drago and his wife Klara opened Drago’s in 1969.
Like many restaurateurs, they had their ups and downs over the years. At one point, the family had come to a critical crossroads whether or not to stay in the restaurant business. It’s often said out of adversity creativity thrives. Their son Tommy, aware of the craze of grilling redfish on the half shell, had an epiphany. What if Drago’s grilled an oyster in the shell?
That one simple thought changed the way we all eat oysters. Today the charbroiled oyster Tommy perfected is considered the “The Single Best Bite of Food in New Orleans”**That’s quite the compliment when you consider there are over 1,400 restaurants in the culinary capitol of the United States – New Orleans.
75,000 Free Meals
There is no doubt the charbroiled oyster helped to save and build one of the most successful family owned restaurants in the country. But more important to the Drago’s family than the oyster are the people they employ and serve. Their many acts of generosity are too numerous to name; however, one stands out for certain and will be remembered for decades. Following Hurricane Katrina, the family led the effort and gathered the forces to provide over 75,000 free meals to our people when they needed it most.
Drago’s sets an example that chefs and restaurateurs in New Orleans get…big time. Time and time again after each crisis that has befallen the region, they have helped rebuild and serve. In my prior role with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, chefs and restaurateurs served as spokespeople, coming to the rescue of our fishermen. While they compete with each other fiercely in the market, they know hospitality and generosity like no other. That spirit of professionalism attracts chefs from across the globe to make a stop in New Orleans along their career path to intern with our hospitality leaders.
“Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award.”
Amongst a crowded field of the best of the best restaurateurs in the world, Klara and Drago were on hand at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience’s event at the National World War II Museum on November 14, 2014, to receive NOWFE’s most prestigious honor, the “Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award.” For the past 50 years, the Drago’s family has not only served our people, but they also have employed thousands, changing the lives and providing futures for anyone willing to work hard – like they did and still do fulfilling the American dream.
It was an honor to be there in person to see them receive this award.
** 2012 CityEats.com
December 1, 2014 – New article on this event posted by Chef Magazine. Click: Drago’s Seafood Founders Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award
The Louisiana Seafood Chefs were the genesis for Mission Chefs