Zippy’s manager Neal McRoberts — called “McNeal” to differentiate him from his boss and Zippy’s owner Neal Hendrick — knows exactly what is coming.
McNeal rolled his eyes and smiled when I mentioned we are only a couple weeks from the beginning of LSU football. He knows Tiger mania is returning and he is living in the calm before the proverbial storm. But Zippy’s is ready.
One glance at it lets you know that Zippy’s is not your typical college sports bar, and it’s certainly not your typical burrito joint.
Zippy’s sign has been lighting up Perkins with its enticing drink specials for more than ten years.
“It’s been an interesting 13 years,” McNeal said. “It’s a good mix of people. We have regulars that are here every day.”
Zippy’s showcases nine TVs inside and seven outside. McNeal boasted, “We have the SEC Season Pass. We’ll actually be open for the first time on Thanksgiving because of the LSU-Texas A&M game.”
But Zippy’s has weathered more than just football seasons – it is also resilient to real storms.
A small framed picture sits in the back corner of the dining room; it’s the Zippy’s road sign with the words “OF COURSE WE ARE OPEN” beneath it. It is dated the day Hurricane Katrina ravaged southern Louisiana.
“We opened for Gustav, we opened for Isaac. Zippy’s is gas operated. So we are always open. That’s the joke,” smirks the young manager.
When asked if the place closed during the ice storm, McNeal smiled. “We certainly did not,” he laughed. “We put out the word ‘don’t kill yourself [getting here],’ but operations continued.”
McNeal knows why people keep coming back.
“Our owner is deeply interested in the history of the place.”
Before it opened as a restaurant, it was a gas station and before that an auto garage and pictures of both are on display. McRoberts said he “loves the fact… we are kind of the big dog on the block right now.”
This restaurant has deep roots in the Garden District and the surrounding Baton Rouge community. McNeal let me know early on that he grew up in the Garden District and that other Zippy’s employees live there.
“Every manager has either been to LSU or is attending… so we’ll bring out some shots during some of the crucial parts of the games,” McNeal said. “We have a really strong LSU presence.
It’s funny when we have some random [employee that attended] Ole’ Miss that asks, ‘Can I wear an Ole’ Miss jersey?’ ‘If you want to…”
No restaurant would stay in business for more than a decade without great food, and Zippy’s is home to some. The menu has evolved over the years. Explains McNeal, “We have added green salsa, brown rice, changed the way we cooked the pork… we are always open to ideas that our customers bring us. We don’t have much of a media presence. That makes us care about a lot our feedback. You’re in our house right now. We want you to have a good time.”
Operations will ramp up soon. Food preparation steps up 50 to 100 percent during Tiger football season.
“It’s only a 20 minute walk [from Zippy’s] to the Parade Grounds,” explains McNeal. “Needless to say, with drink specials, Saturdays mean a packed house. Our employees do not move from the line after games.”
Zippy’s will make it through the next few crazy months – it has good roots.