Jerome gets one scrambled egg, one bacon and one biscuit.
“Mr.Paul gets one poached egg, grits and biscuits. Doc gets one over easy, grits, patties and biscuits. Sandoz gets cornflakes and banana,”
Sisters Vonetta and Tramika Davis can keep on going. They know every order by heart for every regular at the long table here at Victor’s Cafeteria.
“None of ’em order any more — they just walk in and we start making their breakfasts,” says Vonetta.
The Breakfast Club is a group of men that have been gathering every day for breakfast since 1975. Most of the original members worked somewhere along New Iberia’s Main Street — a pleasant stretch of small city blocks lined with art deco movie theaters and restaurants with French-style, iron-wrought balconies. Today, the city has spread out a bit more, but the Breakfast Club keeps everyone coming back to Main Street in the morning.
About ten small square tables have been pushed together to form one long rectangle, scattered with dishes, glasses and newspapers. Even though most of the men eating here are older, the breakfast table dynamics are not unlike those of a middle school cafeteria.
Paul Schwing explains the system, “You got the folks who talk sports down at that end of the table, then you got the bankers in the middle, and at this end we’re all retired — we’re just the peons.”
But Paul is not really a peon. He’s the “Mayor of Main Street,” a business owner and one of the leaders in the group who spearheads the club’s fund-raising efforts for local causes. But even with this added purpose, the Breakfast Club remains fairly casual. There’s 45 unofficial members, of which about twenty show up on any given day.
Victor’s Cafeteria opened in 1969 and does not seem to have changed a lick since then. The striped, wallpapered walls are hung with framed photographs showing good times past, a mounted sailfish leaps towards the ceiling and the glass shopfront sports a Mardi Gras flag. Like everyone in Louisiana, the staff and clientele are incredibly friendly — and straightforward.
“You’re not from around here,” says one of the waitresses, Sue. “I remember faces and I ain’t ever seen yours.” She serves me my breakfast — two plate-sized sweet potato pancakes drowning in rich maple syrup. Big Southern breakfasts are just part of the Victor’s repertoire. The kitchen boils up gumbo two or three times a week and daily in winter. Local-caught shrimp and crayfish get cooked into spicy étouffées and their coconut pie has been featured in several food magazines.
The daily ritual of good food and conversation is part of Cajun culture. On Thursdays, one table is set aside as French-only, where members of the Breakfast Club can spend the hour speaking only in Cajun French.
Preston Guillot is a full-blooded Cajun and a longtime member of the Breakfast Club. He speaks to me in French and :
“You work for National Geographic? Man, I get so sick of that show Ice Road Truckers. It’s always the same thing.”
“I think that’s the History Channel,” I tell him, and suddenly the Breakfast Club conversation veers off to the topic of reality television. They all want to know what I think of Swamp People, a reality show that’s filmed just down the road from New Iberia. I’ve never seen it, so they explain the show’s alligator-hunting premise , while rejecting it all as hogwash.
“Alligator hunting isn’t that dangerous,” explains Mr. Guillot, who knows firsthand. “They just make it look dangerous on purpose.”