Eleven years after Hurricane Katrina brought Lisa Carnley Benoit to Houston, she just celebrated the ribbon-cutting on her second location of The Cajun Stop in Spring. She sat down with the Houston Press to chat about "keeping all of her balls in the air."
This little Vietnamese-American woman has become a beloved fixture in the Houston culinary scene. Born in Jasper, Alabama, and raised all over the Gulf Coast from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Houma, Louisiana, Benoit has overcome many personal and professional challenges to build a life for her and her son, Dylan. Reared mostly by her grandparents and her stepfather, Benoit recounts the moments that have built her character and empowered her with the motivation to turn dreams into realized goals. After fleeing to Orlando in the midst of the giant storm that washed away all her belongings and destroyed her home, Benoit headed west to Houston. “There were times when I had to sleep in my car because I just didn’t have a home to go to,” she shared solemnly.
Her first restaurant venture, at 2130 Jefferson in east Houston, was a successful one; however, the personal cost of doing business with family was great. After a period of internal disagreements, she parted ways with her partners. Any mention of the former name of the restaurant still conjures up emotions that she would rather not talk about. More legal battles ensued and the “name game” continued to play out on social media. Katharine Shilcutt, then of the Houston Press, talked to Benoit about her grand reopening back in December of 2012, when her last name was Carnley and the restaurant was still looking for its new identity (Lisa Carnley married Steven Benoit in December 2015). The Cajun Stop officially opened its doors under its current name on December 12, 2012.
Over the past few years, The Cajun Stop continued to strengthen its fan base, not only because the food is authentic and good, but because the woman behind the food puts heart into everything that comes out of her kitchen. From organizing ball, toy and blanket drives for handicapped and CPS children to delivering hot meals to victims of this past April’s historical flooding, or dropping off thank-you notes, flowers and goodies for first responder firefighters all around the city, Benoit practices the gift of giving back as an example for her son, her staff and her customers. Benoit’s "got a way of making people want to help," says food blogger Hank Lewis in his Hank on Food blog. He adds, “Lisa knows what it's like to lose it all and have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help out, and so as she has succeeded here in Houston; she has given back many times over.”
Loyal customers still drive hundreds of miles, from as far away as New Orleans, to have the Surf N’ Turf Po-boy on that perfectly crispy, soft French bread with mounds of gravy-soaked roast beef and golden-fried shrimp. “Lisa has that New Orleans-type of charm where everyone is a darlin' or sweetie and everyone wants to be her friend,” say Grant and Amber Darnell, who are longtime customers who have become two of her dearest friends.
When Benoit had the opportunity to add a second store in her neck of the woods, she worked feverishly to get it off the ground. This past June, she took over the Tamale Pot, on 24230 Kuykendahl, Suite 250, in Spring. In the transition between the Tamale Pot and The Cajun Stop, Benoit tried her hand at making tamales, quesadillas and tacos, even incorporating her Cajun flair into some of the restaurant’s recipes. Customers love her Mexican-Cajun fusion crawfish tamales and tacos.
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Benoit likes to refer to this location as “CS2,” (Cajun Stop 2). She says that CS2 "has been going through growing pains of its own." The official opening had been pushed back over and over again thanks to "permitting and inspection delays." The new sign finally went up on September 12. Now it’s back to business as usual. Benoit compares her daily life to "juggling pineapples, oranges, apples and bananas.” She's a full-time mom and wife, business owner and part-time commercial Realtor and at any given moment, she’s supporting a new cause, cooking up a new recipe or dreaming up a new goal to achieve.
The Cajun Stop - Spring, 24230 Kuykendahl, Suite 250
Closed on Monday, Open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday
The Cajun Stop - East Downtown, 2130 Jefferson
Open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.