Tommy Cvitanovich, the owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, has been in the restaurant business almost as long as he’s been alive.
“I’m 60 years old and I have a 50-year career in the restaurant business,” said Cvitanovich. “I’m basically a restaurant brat.”
His first job was when he was 10 years old at the Metairie location. He remembers it well, peeling shrimp while standing on top of a case of #10 cans with an apron that went down to his ankles.
“Before that, I grew up working with my dad at Drago’s on Harrison Avenue which was owned by my aunt and uncle.”
And he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
He’s getting ready to open his fifth restaurant at its newest location in Baton Rouge off of Interstate 10 and College Drive. The $7 million, 13,600 square feet facility is set to open in early February.
It will have 180 employees and accommodate nearly 500 customers. The bar area alone will seat about 90 people. Cvitanovich said the bar area will feature live music almost nightly which is something new to his restaurants.
“There’s literally 1,000 hotel rooms within a five-minute walk of the restaurant so people who stay in hotels generally look for good restaurants, but they also look for entertainment as well,” Cvitanovich said.
The restaurant is named after his dad, Drago. His parents, Drago and Klara Cvitanovich, opened their first restaurant in Metairie in 1969. Since that time, the business has expanded to locations in New Orleans; Jackson, Mississippi; and Lafayette. The business generates about $30 million in sales and employs about 450 people (not counting the newest location.)
He says his mom who is 80 years old still works every day at the Metairie location and signs his paycheck.
“The key to our longevity is good quality food at a reasonable price served in a friendly atmosphere,” he said. ‘The motto of this restaurant is that everything is about and for the customer and I don’t let anything get in the way of that.”
The married father of four said he’s been looking for an opportunity to expand in Baton Rouge for a few years, but it never seemed to work out. He’s excited about coming to the Bayou City.
“This isn’t a version of Dragos,” he said. “This is a Dragos restaurant. We’re very much looking forward to serving our charbroiled oysters to the good people of Baton Rouge.”
The restaurant bills itself as the home of the original charbroiled oysters. The owner said they serve more than three million oysters a year. Customers can expect oysters as well as the full Drago’s seafood menu.
The restaurant will be owned by him and his brother. It will feature three private dining rooms that can accommodate 40, 60 and 100 people or 200 people at a time. The private dining areas include a Governor’s room that will be decorated with pictures of all of Louisiana’s governors and have a separate private entrance for dignitaries and Mike’s Den named after LSU’s mascot Mike the Tiger.
The former president of the New Orleans Restaurant Association isn’t moving to town as he still resides in Metairie, but you can expect to see him here often. In fact, he oversees the management of all of the restaurants so he travels quite frequently.
“My car is less than a year old and I already have 33,000 miles on it,” he said. “I’m very hands-on.”
That’s because working in the restaurant is not just a family business. It’s his passion. He served as the chairman of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and spent 11 years on the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors. He also spent seven years on the Canadian Restaurant Association Board of Directors as an exchange director.
“I’m the type of person that I can’t wait to go to bed at night so I can hurry up and work and start over tomorrow. I love what I do.”
It’s a love story that’s lasted some 50 years and is still going strong.
Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
4580 Constitution Avenue
Opening date early February
By Michelle McCalope