Inaugural King Cake Festival in Downtown Thibodaux Had Large Turnout

Thibodaux’s inaugural Bayou King Cake Festival had a large turnout as thousands went out to crown the best king cake, according to this article from HoumaToday.

The inaugural Bayou King Cake Festival was held in Downtown Thibodaux at the beginning of February, serving as a festive beginning to the Mardi Gras season. The event, which was hosted by the Lafourche Education Foundation,served as a way for locals to sample and rank a diverse array of locally baked King Cakes, enjoy the Krewe of King Cake Children’s Parade, and listen to live music from Nonc Nu & the Wild Matous.

In total, 28 bakeries competed in the King Cake contest portion of the festival, where visitors voted Slidell’s Sugar Love Bakery the best-in-show. For the past eight years, Sugar Love Bakery has had a ship along Englewood Drive in Slidell, but before that owner and baker Sierra Zerangue ran the business out of her mother’s kitchen for the initial six years.

Sugar Love Bakery was a popular shop at the festival, as they were offering visitors small portions of their “King Cake on a Stick,” which according to Zerangue is the company’s invention along with “King Cake Charcuterie.” This nontraditional charcuterie offering came in the form of a king cake with cups of all the available fillings for dunking.

After Sugar Love Bakery received 183 votes, they were awarded first prize; to which Zerangue said, “it’s amazing, it means a lot to a bakery or any small business.” Second place went to Cut Off’s Cajun Pecan House with 182 votes, and Spahr’s Restaurant finished in third place.

Deanna Lafont is the Executive Director of the Lafourche Education Foundation, and she estimated that since they sold over 2,000 tickets to festival goers in advance, ticket sales along with preorders and scholarships had generated about $50,000 in funds for the Foundation, which will be going towards teacher grants, some festival overhead, and future events.

She went on to comment, “when we were setting the event up, we sold about 700 tickets almost two days before, so we were hoping to get 1,000 people. I think it was just the right time, the right place, the right event, and the right weather. I’m still in shock about how successful the event was.”

The festival had a larger turnout than initially expected; this was due to the fact that festival organizers occupied a section of downtown Thibodaux that’s usually used by Big Boy’s Main Street Cook-Off. Since that festival usually attracts about 1,000 people, Lafont admitted that they’ll need to try and “emulate the Fraternal Order of Police Mudbug Boil-Off because it is a larger event.” This will mean that next year’s event will occupy a larger section of downtown Thibodaux, centered along LA. 1 and Bayou Lafourche, which initially seemed unnecessary for an inaugural event.

Reportedly hundreds of festival goers had stood in line at the two entrances, filling up over two blocks waiting for their king cake samples. Due to the higher-than-expected turnout, many booths and shops were out of king cakes early on. For instance, the Culinary Department of the Lafourche Career Magnet Center saw Kalena Dehart and her coworkers down to seven king cakes from the dozen they brought to the festival within the first hour.

The event was kicked off officially at 1:30 pm with a parade of 15 children-toting wagons and five marching bands marching from the old Capital One building on West 2nd Street to St. Phillip Street and back. Next year, Lafont hopes to organize more events for the children festival goers outside of the parade, saying: “we had the children’s parade, but we’re really talking about having a kids’ area. I would love to see a kids’ king cake baking contest.”

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Expansion of John Deere is Expected to Create Several Jobs in Thibodaux Area

It was recently announced that the John Deere factory that’s located in Thibodaux, Louisiana will be responding to rising demand through a $29.8 million expansion, according to this article from Houma Today. This expansion of the factory will create 70 new jobs and retain the 300+ employees who are currently working locally and across the state of Louisiana.

According to Louisiana Economic Development, the expansion of the John Deere Factory is intended to shift cotton harvester production from China to Lafourche Parish. This is intended to make cotton harvesting and production more affordable for the U.S. market.

In a sign that Deere & Company is committed to the state of Louisiana, the expansion of the Thibodaux plant will be creating 70 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $47,472. They will also be retaining 311 existing jobs in the parish with 284 of those jobs coming from the Lafourche Parish facility. According to economic projections by Louisiana Economic Development, the project will result in 110 indirect jobs, for a total of 180 new jobs.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards spoke about the $29.8 million investment by saying in a press release, “this investment by Deere & Company demonstrates not only the strength of Louisiana’s manufacturing sector but the resilience and recovery of the Bayou Region. Manufacturing has long played a vital role in Louisiana’s economy and never more so than today, supporting more than 178,000 Louisiana workers and their families through ongoing investments in every region of the state. Thanks to Deere & Company for its commitment to Lafourche Parish, and congratulations to the skilled workers whose dedication convinced this global manufacturer to expand its footprint in our state.”

The state of Louisiana offered John Deere a competitive incentive package that includes up to $1 million in performance-based retention and modernization grants. Louisiana’s competitive incentive package also included the services of LED FastStart, a nationally acclaimed workforce development program that offers recruitment and customized training. John Deere is also expected to participate in both the Industrial Tax Exemption and Enterprise Zone programs.

Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said of the expansion, “John Deere’s expansion is a huge win for Lafourche. The addition of new manufacturing lines to John Deere Thibodaux shows how productive and efficient this facility is, which is a testament to the local workforce and management. The Thibodaux facility’s successful competition for these new cotton harvesters shows just how competitive Lafourche Parish can be.”

This announcement comes during Louisiana’s observance of Manufacturing Week, a nationwide celebration of the manufacturing industry’s success and its opportunities for America’s future. This is the 11th year that Manufacturing Week has been celebrated nationwide.

The expansion of the John Deere Factory is expected to involve the development and installation of a new production line and upgraded equipment, both of which will allow the Thibodaux facility to begin producing medium-chassis cotton harvesting models that can replace the existing models that are currently built in China.

Mike Duplantis is the factory manager at John Deere Thibodaux, and he spoke about the new cotton harvesters by saying, “the new cotton harvesters present a huge opportunity for John Deere Thibodaux to deliver innovative and technologically advanced solutions to our customers, which will increase their productivity and profitability. This expansion is possible due to the tremendous amount of hard work and resiliency of the Thibodaux team.”

The Thibodaux facility is currently seen in the industry as a design center for sugar harvesting and earth-moving scraper equipment. They also have a production facility for agricultural and construction products, which is soon expected to start manufacturing the new cotton harvesters within the next two years. John Deere Thibodaux is expected to reach full capacity by 2025.

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Downtown Thibodaux Main Street is Revitalized

The historic downtown area of Thibodaux, Louisiana has been restored, rejuvenated, and  preserved, as reported by the LaFourcheGazette this summer.

The project that entailed masonry, industrial, commercial, and community design had been spear-headed by the non-profit Downtown Thibodaux Main Street Incorporation and its Executive Director, Danielle Stein. Known as the “Wonder Woman” of Main St, Stein became the  Executive Director of Thibodaux Main Street, Inc in January of 2018, where she had a clear vision of what the Downtown hub could become in the following years.

Although Thibodaux Main Street Inc. was established back in 2002, it wasn’t until 2009 that they were recognized state-wide as an official “Louisiana Main Street,” which is a highly-regarded state coordinated program.

Prior to becoming the Executive Director of the Main Street effort, Stein had become increasingly more involved in the Thibodaux community during her time at Thibodaux’s own Donner-Peltier Distillers. That passion to be an involved, familiar face of the local community projected her forward to becoming the Ambassador of the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce and a board member.

Stein then began advocating for the needs of the smaller businesses of Thibodaux and assisting in downtown initiatives. She mentions in her profile interview, conducted by the LaFourche Gazette, that she wants the local community to not only take great pride in where they live but also understand the grander significance of supporting local small business by regularly shopping downtown. Stein added, We have to reinvest our money in the community where we live, because we want to grow and thrive.”

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, when businesses in the Downtown Thibodaux area were closed due to Phase 1 restrictions, the local business leaders began to find alternative ways they could service their customer base. This resulted in the establishment of curbside pickup and delivery options, which garnered praise from the customers. While thankful for the recognition, Stein wants the community to be aware that to best support Main Street, these services will have to continue to be utilized throughout the calendar year.

Earlier this summer, as announced by Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and Louisiana Main Street, 23 Louisiana communities had been designated as 2020 Accredited Main Street American programs. This status of accreditation is Main Street America’s top-tier recognition demonstrating a commitment to a comprehensive revitalization of commercial districts as well as a proven track record of successfully implementing the Main Street Approach.

Regarding the 23 communities receiving accreditation and recognition, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser was quoted by the Miden-Press Herald as saying, ““Our small business owners are the heartbeat of our Main Street communities. They give the community its sense of place and character and provide the uniqueness that sets one community apart from another.”

This recent accreditation is far from being the only accolade Thibodaux or Lafourche Parish has receive in recent years, as both have been the recipients of a USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards nomination for “Best Small Town Food Scene” for 2020, where they took 3rd place.

Stein recognizes that from a national perspective, that acknowledgement says a lot about the Thibodaux community and the parish as a whole, adding a new motivation for the Main Street restoration project.

In the 2020 summer, a beautification campaign was implemented, resulting in restoration of the Downtown Thibodaux sidewalks, an application for a mural installation grant being filed, and promotional yard signs and window decals being placed all throughout the area, promoting the Downtown Thibodaux scene’s revitalization with a new slogan: “Downtown Thibodaux – We’re Open.”

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