Photos by Lucie Monk Carter
Sometimes, attention to detail makes all the difference. At Pop’s Poboys in Lafayette, husband-and-wife team Collin and Jasmyne Cormier are working relentlessly to perfect one detail after another to craft an experience far beyond a quick stop at a downtown Lafayette poboy counter.
The bread: Check. A blend of tradition and surprise in sandwich ingredients: Check. A stacked menu that runs the gamut from vegetarian options to the all-too-carnivorous: Check.
Quality is a given at Pop’s Poboys, but the Cormiers have taken their obsessiveness past the obvious. They try to infuse a little Louisiana into everything they serve. Take the ranch dressing, for example: “We take a basic ranch recipe and then chop a whole bunch of green onions. Then, we let it sit overnight to give it a little something extra,” said Collin.
Or the french fries: “The french fries have been a personal mission of mine,” said Collin. At first we were using Idaho potatoes. I wanted to be traditional. Then we discovered Kennebec potatoes out of California. They’re a higher-density potato and are better suited for frying. In the past few months, we’ve honed our craft with our fries—and the sales are going up.”
Collin (pictured below) said while they used to go through a couple of cases of potatoes every week, now they’re going through a case every day. “Our French fries have been a labor of love,” he said.
“A labor of love” seems to be a good description of the spirit that makes Pop’s Poboys happen, with recipes sourced from family favorites and now shared with the community at large. Mimi’s Mac comes courtesy of Collin’s grandmother, who has been preparing the dish for the Cormier brood for decades. The Darlene, a Cajun roux-based meatball stew on bread, was inspired by Collin’s sister’s ex-mother-in-law. “Her name is Darlene and she made meatball stew—really thick. My sister and I loved it from the first time we had it. We’ve been making meatball stew like that for a long time.”
The extra effort put into the food at Pop’s pays off. “We tried to put a little twist on traditional,” said Collin, explaining that he and Jasmyne named the restaurant after his great-grandfather. After the Cormiers’ success with the Viva La Waffle food truck (and, not incidentally, the Swamp Pop brand soda co-owned by Collin with partner John Petersen), Collin knew he wanted to establish a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but when he walked into the site where they eventually built Pop’s Poboys (which now seats seventy patrons), he recognized that the restaurant needed to be something more old-school.
“The place just had an old soul,” he said. “We eventually settled on poboys, and we wanted them to be all that a Louisiana poboy needed to be … plus a little something that took it further.”
At Viva La Waffle, Collin said they offered a special every day. “That was a lot, but we learned that always having a rotating special pays off because it generates interest—especially on social media. We decided to do a weekly special here. We keep it fun and interesting and new. We’re always running one special and kicking around the next week’s special.”
The husband-and-wife duo spends about sixty or more hours a week at the restaurant, and their toddler son spends his share of time there too. Both Collin and Jasmyne have roots in the restaurant industry. “Jasmyne is the glue that holds everything together,” said Julie Cormier, Collin’s mother. “Jasmyne is the person behind the scenes. She does all the paperwork and ordering. She does the stuff Collin has no interest in and would not be good at it. She’s taken a front-of-the-house role at Pop’s. I’m proud of the way she’s handled things. She knows the restaurant business. She should get kudos.”
Julie said she was surprised when Collin opted for culinary school; he’d studied political science as an undergrad and had planned to go on to law school. But his father, Jack Cormier, said his son’s decision to make food the focal point of his professional life didn’t surprise him at all. “It was evident since he was very young that he enjoyed food,” said Jack. “Collin was always the taster for us. If we were cooking something and tasted it to see how it was coming along, we would ask him what to add. I remember him tasting something as a kid and saying, ‘Garlic powder.’”
A review of the menu proves Collin’s palate is still in top form. “I wanted to have a vegetarian sandwich, but I wanted it to be good because it’s good—not good because it’s vegetarian,” Collin said, of the stand-out red bean falafel poboy. “We try to put a Louisiana spin on everything. We replaced the chickpeas with red beans and created a Louisiana spin on traditional falafel. I’m the farthest thing from a vegetarian that you’ll ever meet, but that was a fun project.”
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Creating those real Louisiana tastes with a twist has come easy to Collin. The tougher part was learning when to give in to what he refers to as stubbornness. For reasons difficult to explain, Collin insisted on only selling whole poboy sandwiches at first. “I think it stemmed from a lot of places in New Orleans only sell whole sandwiches. I think I thought I was being a purist,” he said. “But the demand for half sandwiches was overwhelming. I fought it and lost, and my losing was the right thing to do.”
Since it opened in April 2015, both Collin and Jasmyne have spent most of their working hours in the cool-vibe old-school poboy shop; but this spring, Pop’s has gone from serving only lunch to being open from 10:30 am to 9 pm on Thursday through Saturday, with lunch-only continued on the other days of the week.
Open nearly a year now, is the brick-and-mortar restaurant what Collin hoped it would be? “I wanted to have a menu for someone who was culinarily adventurous and could come in and find something they wanted to try, but at the same time create a place you could bring your grandparents and they wouldn’t be weirded out,” said Collin. “But above all that, I wanted it to be great food.”
Indeed, Pop’s is just that.
Pop’s Poboys 740 Jefferson Street Lafayette, La. (337) 534-0621 popspoboys.com