Cajun hospitality

Gabriel and Joy Daigle's one-of-a-kind approach helped established them as Craig restauranteurs

Gabriel and Joy Daigle moved to Northwest Colorado from Louisiana with plans to begin their retirement. The retirement lasted all of three years when they decided it was time to start working again.

"We missed being in business," said Gabriel, whose southern accent pronounces business, "binness".

"We also thought that Craig could use some good, flavorable barbecue," he said.

The couple came out of retirement and opened up Wild West Barbecue a year and a half ago.

The red, white and blue building on Victory Way quickly became known for its customer service and original taste.

"Our customers love our one-on-one hospitality," said Joy, who greets all customers with a "good afternoon young man/lady" if she doesn't already know their name.

"We like to call it Cajun hospitality," Gabriel said.

The menu includes smoked chicken and beef, as well as Cajun dishes.

"Anyone can barbecue," Gabriel said. "It's a long process to smoke meats and even longer to learn how to do the smokin'."

Gabriel tries to keep his Cajun food as authentic as possible for a restaurant in Colorado.

"I still get my seafood from Louisiana," he said. "Either I make a trip down or we have family come up and we put it on ice until it's time to serve."

When the Daigles moved north, they brought more than their expertise in Cajun food. Their son, Will, and daughter, Julie, moved as well.

"Our family is here, and we all love it," Gabriel said. "The huntin' and fishin' and hikin' are great."

Wild West is undertaking a hike itself. The Daigles sold their current location and are moving into the building that formerly housed Ledgerwood Glass on east Victory Way.

"Our catering was growing so much we needed to expand," Gabriel said. "The new place will have a much larger kitchen."

The new location will be the couple's 15th "binness" venture.

"We've always been successful in what we do and we give full credit in that to our Lord," Daigle said. "We're thankful for everything he has done for us and I believe he has blessed every move we've made."

The new restaurant will have more seafood on the menu and it won't be short of the family kitchen atmosphere.

"I always think of our customers as family," Joy said. "People come back because of that."

One unique aspect of Wild West is the old fashioned idea of the IOU.

The restaurant only accepts cash and checks, and sometimes customers have neither. The response a plastic-only customer receives from the owners is "pay us when you can."

The Daigles have received checks from Grand Junction and Denver in the mail after some patrons didn't initially pay.

"I don't think we've ever had anybody not pay later," Joy said. "They always come back."

The attitude of trust appears to be good for regular customers.

"We have high school boys come in and they know they can pay next time if they don't have the money," Gabriel said. "We've fed families who were struggling for free before. I just tell them, 'When you get back on your feet, come and see us.'"

The couple's approach to customer service and quality rarely draws criticism.

"We have honestly never had a complaint here in Craig," Gabriel said. "In the food industry, you usually get a lot of complaints. But here -- and I'm not just saying this to make us look good -- we've never had the first bad word."

On Saturday, the Wild West restaurant uncharacteristically smelled like cleaning supplies and was unusually quiet.

That's because the couple was busy cleaning their former business for the next owners and making plans for their next venture.

"This place will be spotless for the next business," Gabriel said. "We would have it no other way."

And sometime around the beginning of 2005, Craig will once again have a chance for some good ol' Cajun hospitality.

The restaurant's regulars probably would have it no other way, as well.

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