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VOL. 129 | NO. 58 | Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tasting Success

Restaurateur Jeff Johnson busy with new ventures including food truck

By Andy Meek

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Jeff Johnson has cooked up for himself a busy schedule, considering his expansive and still-growing number of restaurant interests.

Jeff Johnson, owner of Local, stands next to a vintage Airstream trailer that will be repurposed as a New Orleans-themed food truck he’s named Parish Grocery. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The latest venture from the owner of the two Local restaurants – one Downtown and the other in Overton Square – is the food truck he’s launching called Parish Grocery, which he says will have a Southern Louisiana and Cajun/Creole focus. His plan is to launch the food truck, which may include a brick-and-mortar location down the line to complement it, next month at the Overton Square Crawfish Festival.

That food truck is in addition to the new eateries Johnson still is in the process of launching Downtown – Oshi, an Asian-themed hamburger joint, and the Mexican-focused Agave Maria.

Johnson also has recently launched a catering business called Local Catering.

“The food truck allows us to expand our catering business,” Johnson said, referring to the truck that will run out of an Airstream trailer with four beer taps on board. “It also helps us expand our brand. And really, a food truck is just fun.”

The menu for Parish Grocery right now is divided into sections headed “standards, sandwiches, snacks and sides and beverages.” The standards include things like gumbo, red beans and rice, shrimp etouffee and crawfish pot pie. For sandwiches, there are things like muffaletta, roast beef and barbecue shrimp po boys.

Warm bread pudding, potato salad and pimento mac and cheese are examples of the snacks and sides, all of which could be washed down with beverages including selections from the beer taps on the side of the trailer.

Meanwhile, Johnson is forecasting at this point to have Oshi – which will occupy the Downtown space that formerly housed Dream Berry Frozen Yogurt & Treats – open around late May. The burger eatery will feature diners ordering through a waiter, and the design and menu will feature what he described as “an homage to Japanese culture.”

The restaurant also will focus on local sourcing. Johnson said Oshi will have local farmers providing produce when possible, and things like pork, lamb and buns will likewise be made and sourced locally.

One thing worth mentioning about the name – which Johnson said he gravitated to because “it sounded interesting” and fit the theme – is that the word also is a sumo wrestling move. It involves a wrestler pushing an opponent away, perhaps a subtle message to the competition or to stuffed patrons pushing away their hunger by the time they’ve left.

The other new concept Johnson is working on, Agave Maria, will be located on Union Avenue Downtown next to the Parking Can Be Fun facility. It would open at least a month after Oshi.

Johnson said it will “be a Mexican bistro with fresh, local ingredients” and that the drinks “will be heavy on the tequila side of things.”

“It’s a concept I’ve been working on for a long time,” Johnson said of Agave Maria. Then, referring to the main types of food at those two new eateries, he added with a laugh, “What can I say – burgers, pizza and tacos never seem to go out of style.”

Johnson opened Local’s Overton Square location in late 2012, after Local had enjoyed a Downtown presence for a few years before that. He told The Daily News at the time of the Overton Square announcement that, by opening in the former Yosemite Sam’s at 2126 Madison Ave., he was excited to be part of “the vision for Overton Square” and that the Square was on its way to becoming a destination again.

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