It's a sad day for Houston's Afton Oaks residents.
After almost 40 years in operation, Mandola's Liquor Store is closing Saturday. But there is a sweetness to the bitter news — owner Luke Mandola, Sr. tells CultureMap that construction will begin Nov. 1 to expand the original Ragin Cajun, located next door at 4302 Richmond, into the newly freed-up space. (The Mandolas also own Ragin Cajun.)
A native Houstonian, Mandola opened Mandola's Warehouse Liquor almost immediately upon graduating from Southwestern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He had run a restaurant in college called French Quarter Poboys and was equally suited to run a liquor store — he was also one of the first bartenders at Lizzard's Pub, then called the 1800 Club and located at West Belfort at 610, where he had once famously tended bar in a tuxedo after attending a friend's wedding.
We sat down with Mandola (cousin to those other Mandolas) to chat about catering plans, Cajun cuisine and some of his more famous customers.
CultureMap: How long have you been in business?
Luke Mandola: Since 1973. The liquor store predates the Ragin Cajun.
CM: Any big plans to commemorate the closing?
LM: Not really. Just to continue moving forward with the next chapter with Luke, Jr. and Dominic, my two eldest sons. [Laughs] I’m going to lock the door and open up a bottle of champagne.
CM: What has customer response to news of your closing been like?
LM: I’m going to disappoint a lot of people. We've had a lot of regulars, but then again we've had a lot of everybody. There weren't that many liquor stores when we opened; at the time it was a big little city.
CM: Do you have any regulars that have been coming in since the beginning?
LM: I’ve had regular customers, I’ve had drunk customers, I’ve had limo people — every time a limo pulled up I used to say, “Let me go see if Frank Sinatra is in there,” even after he was gone.
CM: Anybody famous?
LM: Beyoncé eats next door at the Ragin Cajun, the Astros come by, Hakeem [Olajuwon] and the Rockets used to come by when they played at the Summit. Flavor Flav. The musicians’ people used to come here when they played concerts at the Summit to fill rider requests.
CM: Are you sad to be closing?
LM: We’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly, but way more good.
CM: Any crazy stories from over the years that are fit for print?
LM: We’ve had some stag parties where we’ve had to close the blinds and paper the windows.
CM: Tell us a little about your plans for expansion.
LM: We’re going to bust out the separating wall and have a big party room with a second bar and a bigger catering facility. We’ll have bands out there; people can reserve the space and bring their own bands.
Part of the purpose of the expansion is expanding our catering capacity.
CM: When will construction be complete?
LM: We’re shooting to be finished Feb. 1 to be ready for Mardi Gras and for crawfish season.