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Ken Kopp brings a taste of the Carribean to Monroe Street
Lorraine’s Restaurant to replace New Orleans Take-Out
Somewhere in Miami, a woman named Lorraine is smiling, even though the weather is a little chilly for her blood.
“She complains to us about how cold it is,” Ken Kopp IV says. “Because it gets down to 65.”
Fifteen hundred miles to the north, on Monroe Street in Madison, people are smiling, even though Kopp just closed his popular New Orleans Take-Out restaurant after 16 years.
The smiles in the distant locales are related.
The woman in Miami, originally from Jamaica, is Lorraine Lewis, and she is the grandmother of Kopp’s wife, Sajia.
Kopp is borrowing her name and island culinary heritage for Lorraine’s, the Caribbean-influenced restaurant he plans to open in the New Orleans space at 1517 Monroe St. sometime in January.
“She’s really excited,” Kopp says of Lorraine, the grandmother.
Meanwhile, Kopp’s erstwhile customers were happy to learn he isn’t going anywhere, just shifting gears.
“That’s the highest compliment I received,” Kopp says of the many regulars who swarmed to the restaurant when word of the Dec. 21 closing first began to spread on social media on Dec. 19. “They were relieved to hear about Lorraine’s.”
Lorraine’s will feature island dishes like jerk chicken — Sajia has been perfecting her recipe — but will not completely forsake the restaurant’s New Orleans roots. The cuisines are complementary in any case.
“I’ll probably keep a fried chicken and fried shrimp sandwich on the menu,” Kopp said.
Still, he was ready for a change, had been for a while, but lacked the down time to think it through.
“We were always busy and time flies,” Kopp says.
Kopp’s history on Monroe Street runs deep. Longtime Madisonians will fondly remember Ken Kopp’s Fine Foods, opened in 1980 by Kopp’s grandfather, at a location just a few blocks south and across the street from the current restaurant. Kopp helped out in the store as a kid, picking up a few bucks for vacuuming and assorted chores.
In high school, Kopp got a job at the original New Orleans Take-Out on Fordem Avenue, run by a colorful Madison character named John Roussos. Kopp was in and out of the business over the next several years, but always stayed in touch with Roussos.
It was Kopp’s grandfather, who, in 2003, found the Monroe Street location for a second New Orleans Take-Out. The grocery store had closed in 2001. The elder Kopp was getting a haircut at Stadium Barbers when he spotted a for rent sign in the window of the tattoo parlor next door.
Kopp owned and operated Monroe Street New Orleans Take-Out, paying Roussos a royalty. The two remained friends, close enough that when Roussos retired — closing the Fordem Avenue restaurant in 2017 after 32 years — Kopp shuttered Monroe Street for a day so he could cook at the flagship’s finale, allowing Roussos to say goodbye to his regulars.
There was a bit of that more recently — although it’s not really goodbye —when word began to circulate about the closing of Monroe Street New Orleans.
“We didn’t tell anybody until the Facebook post,” Kopp says. Sajia posted word on the restaurant’s page the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 19.
“By late Friday morning there was a line out the door and around the building,” Kopp says. “We closed from 2 to 4 Friday just trying to recover. We’d sold out of everything at lunch.”
By Saturday, closing day — with Kopp’s assurance that Lorraine’s would be opening soon — some normalcy returned.
“It gave me a chance to talk to some of the old regulars,” Kopp says.
In the days since, he has been fine-tuning Lorraine’s menu, ordering a new sign for the outside, and working with a carpenter on remodeling the dining area.
Kopp thinks the change will recharge his batteries and thinks Lorraine’s — with a smaller menu — should prove a little easier to manage.
“I didn’t want to get out of the business entirely,” he says. “I really enjoy the work for the most part.”
The switch comes with the blessing of his old friend, New Orleans Take-Out founder John Roussos. “He’s happy for me,” Kopp says, “and wished me the best of luck.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.
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