A native of Bangladesh who moved to Lafayette in 1983 to study engineering at USL, Ema Haq fell in love with the people and region and never considered leaving. Well-known for both his culinary skills and philanthropic endeavors, this interview provides a heartwarming opportunity to hear the personal story of this beloved man who is grateful to be an American.
Ema’s first job was as a “pot washer” at USL, and he moved up the ranks by waiting tables, bartending and finally learning how to cook by working in restaurant kitchens. He jokingly recounted how in the early days he didn’t even know how to cook rice which was unthinkable being from Bangladesh where they ate rice at least twice a day.
Although Ema graduated in mechanical engineering from USL, his career focus turned to food and he opened Bailey’s Seafood & Grill on October 2, 1993. In the years since, he has been recognized as one of Louisiana’s top chefs and honored with over 30 culinary awards including the Louisiana Restaurant Association “Restaurateur of the Year” award and a “Best in Show” award from the Louisiana Gold Culinary Classic.
Bailey’s Seafood and Grill is known for its authentic French Acadian fare that focuses on fresh ingredients. A quick look at the menu is enough to send you running there to sample their plethora of seafood and steak dishes, soups, colorful vegetables, and tempting desserts. The companion restaurant, Ema’s Cafe, offers breakfast and lunch and is known for its crawfish, crab cakes, and bread pudding, among other crowd favorites.
In 1999, Ema started Bailey Support Services – Offshore & Remote Site Catering, which offers catering and housekeeping services to the oil and gas industry worldwide including Brazil, Malaysia, West Africa, and locally in the Gulf of Mexico. Emaco Food Services, started in 2010, distributes food and cleaning supplies to restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, prisons, convenience stores and drilling rigs.
On the philanthropic front, Ema Haq is acclaimed for Bailey’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon which just celebrated its 26th year. Thanksgiving was an unknown holiday to Ema when he moved here in 1983. His friend from an engineering class, Jeff Jardell, invited him over to his home in Carencro to celebrate with the family. Jeff’s mom, Barbara Jardell, became a second mom to Ema. When Ema opened Bailey’s in 1993, Mrs. Jardell, had been cooking at home every Thanksgiving and included Ema; that year, he convinced her to join him and help with that first community-wide Thanksgiving feast, which fed around 160 people. The feast centers on offering a sit-down meal for those who may be homeless or elderly and wouldn’t otherwise have access to such a treat. For Thanksgiving 2019, the restaurant served just over 1,100 meals to grateful recipients, with the help of invaluable volunteers. And, Mrs. Jardell still plays an integral part in Ema’s life and is a grandmother to his children.
Ema has taken a hands-on interest in educational outcomes locally, and realized that he wanted to encourage good kids who work hard. He brings them to Bailey’s to teach manners, treat them to a delicious dinner, and show them that they matter. He believes it is an obligation and duty to invest in our youngest and most vulnerable. Children hold the key to our future, and he has adopted seven schools in this endeavor.
Ema’s Cafe serves Breakfast and Lunch from 7 AM until 2 PM seven days a week, while Bailey’s Seafood & Grill is open Thursday through Saturday from 5 PM to 9 PM, and offers Sunday Brunch from 10:30 AM to 2 PM! The restaurants are located at 5520-A Johnston St. in Lafayette LA. For more information, please visit http://baileyslafayette.com and https://www.facebook.com/emascafe.
Tips from Chef Ema, who still enjoys taking a shift in the kitchen:
1. “Keep it simple. It doesn’t take too much to create something. You don’t need a lot of ingredients.”
2. “You’ve got to have your own passion. I tell my kids no matter what you do, if you’re not driven, if you don’t have the passion, you’re not going to be successful.”
3. “At any time, don’t give anyone a meal you wouldn’t give to your mom. Make meals the best you can, like it’s the last meal you’re going to have.”