Beignets, coffee and Creole history: Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe opens in Wallace

Published 12:05 am Saturday, October 12, 2019

WALLACE — A new café in Wallace is serving beignets and coffee with a side of local history.

Jo and Joy Banner found a love for St. John the Baptist Parish culture through a series of Creole stories passed down by their grandmother, Grace Populus. One of those stories involved the legend of the Fifolet (pronounced Fee-Fo-Lay), a mysterious creature that has taken different forms in Creole and Acadian storytelling.

The Banner sisters recently celebrated the grand opening of the new Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe at 5593 Highway 18 in Wallace, half a mile from the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Sisters Jo Banner, left and Joy Banner, right, cut the ribbon on their new Cafe.

In addition to providing a much-needed refreshment stop on the West Bank of St. John, Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe celebrates a history that isn’t being shared anywhere else.

“We started the café because we wanted to serve the local community as well as the many tourists,” Jo Banner said. “We also wanted to present the real history of life on the river. In addition to the plantations, there is a hole in the history that is being told. The actual people who live here should be a part of it. We wanted not only to provide coffee and beignets, but also to fill in that hole with the unique stories that have been part of our family for generations.”

Joy Banner said rainy weather didn’t put a damper on last week’s grand opening, which was attended by approximately 75 to 100 people.

There have been 2,300 orders of beignets filled since Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe’s soft opening in August, according to Joy. Other customer favorites include teacakes, lattes, Southern pecan coffee, smoothies, frozen cappuccinos, muffins and pralines.

The cafe is located in a cozy Creole cottage that evokes feelings of warmth and tranquility.

Four generations of the sisters’ family can be seen here.

“We have vintage photos of our family because it’s all about sharing the warmth and the love that we grew up with from our great grandparents down,” Joy said.

“It’s been so wonderful having people from Vacherie, from Reserve, from Edgard, from Lucy coming in and eating beignets and drinking coffee. We’re also getting tourists from literally all around the world. We’ve had people from Australia, China and Uruguay.”

One customer told Jo and Joy that their great grandmother was the midwife that delivered her many years ago in Edgard.

“We took a picture together by her picture,” Joy said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”

It was a family recipe that inspired Jo to start selling teacakes more than 15 years ago in the same Creole cottage. She left for a while to work in the tourism industry and returned with a renewed passion.

Harper, one of the smallest visitors to the Cafe, enjoys beignets on an outing with her grandpartents.

“Since there are now more attractions like Whitney Plantation drawing people to the West Bank, there was a need to expand past the teacakes,” Jo said. “We have become basically a welcome center for the West Bank, one that was sorely needed.”

A folklore and local legends trail situated on the outdoor grounds of the café introduces guests to 12 different stories and interesting facts about the local history.

Among those is the story of the “Bridge to Nowhere” and the tale how Jean Lafitte buried gold along the river. Of course, there is the story of the Fifolet.

Some families describe the Filolet as a spirit that haunts the swamp. Jo and Joy’s grandmother described it as a gnome-like witch that would visit families who had a newborn baby. According to the story Grace Populus told 1,000 times, families had to perform rituals to keep the Fifolet from attacking their babies.

“We have a unique culture,” Jo said. “My grandparents did a wonderful job of showing us cross-sections of our history.”

Joy said their grandmother loved to talk about growing up on a farm, cutting sugarcane and socializing on the levee.

“We want to make sure her spirit, her love of storytelling and her love of family was captured,” Joy said.

The sisters are considering publishing a book of the local stories. According to Jo, there are also plans to start a nonprofit called the Louisiana Creole Culture Corridor, aimed to identify ethical ways of presenting plantations with community input and involvement.

Fee-Fo-Lay Café is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Tuesday.