Gumbo to Geaux combines perfection and comfort
By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer
Etricia Robinson is the first to tell you she is a perfectionist. As the owner of the catering company and food truck Gumbo to Geaux, Robinson does her very best to make sure every customer’s experience is perfect.
“I want everything to go exactly right,” she said. “I want things to be perfect. If it’s not exactly perfect, I think it’s horrible. People will come up to me and say, ‘That event was so great!’ and I’ll be like, ‘Eh, could have been better.’”
Gumbo to Geaux has been serving classic, made-from-scratch Cajun dishes to the people of Birmingham and Shelby County since 2014. Robinson’s love for food, however, began many years before that.
Her life has been spread throughout the South, being born in Natchez, Mississippi and splitting her time growing up between there and Louisiana. Her father was from Baton Rouge and she had other family members in New Orleans. It was her grandmother, Sadie Williams, who taught her the importance of sharing food with others.
“She basically cooked for our whole neighborhood,” Robinson said. “She had an in-home daycare, but on Sundays she would cook for everyone. I always told people, ‘If you’re ever hungry on Sundays just go by Sadie’s house.’”
Her grandmother cooked anything and everything, but Robinson said she loved making classic, southern comfort food. “I had to pay for culinary school to learn maybe about one-third of what I could [have] learned paying attention to her,” Robinson wrote on her website.
She came to Alabama to attend the University of Montevallo, and after that made her way to Helena to open her first restaurant, a Cajun fusion restaurant called 122 Tree Lane. The restaurant was successful but when her mother took sick, Robinson went back to Baton Rouge to help her family. When she came back she realized her heart wasn’t in the right place for a restaurant. Gumbo to Geaux catering was then born.
Robinson said once she made the decision to begin a catering company, everything began to fall into place. “I found the name Gumbo to Geaux online,” she said. “I loved it and I wanted to trademark the name and when I went to look at the availability it was not only available, the dead date was my birthday. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s meant to be mine!’”
They started doing catering for corporate events and slowly began building their client base. Robinson began securing clients at a local logistics firm and at local hospitals, which ended up lying heavily in her favor once the pandemic hit.
“Luckily for me, those clients were essential workers and I ended up catering for them. The logistics company was half capacity so it was only 125 people, but that’s still a lot when it comes to catering, and the hospital workers, since they couldn’t leave they were ordering more lunches than ever,” she said.
While their catering thrived during the pandemic, the stars aligned again when Robinson went to revisit a former desire to find a food truck.
“I didn’t want to buy a truck on the chance I ended up hating it,” Robinson said. “So, I kept doing catering and one day I got on Facebook just randomly and I found a truck for rent.”
She began renting the truck in October of 2020, and they’re now so successful they’re in the process of buying a truck of their own. Robinson said the Gumbo to Geaux truck is unique in that they are providing fresh meals with generous, filling portions.
“I look at other food trucks and they’re all either barbecue, tacos, or wings,” she said. “We’re bringing you gumbo, pasta, shrimp and grits, real food! We’re like a restaurant on wheels for real. We do have burgers but we have real, hot food that is made to order for each individual person. I can’t stand when I wait in line at a truck and my food is cold.”
Robinson said another reason she believes their food is so popular is because there are so few options for real, from-scratch Cajun food in the area.
“When I came back [from Baton Rouge] there were a couple little places that had opened and were selling Cajun food, but it was still a niche market. I mean if I was selling gumbo in Baton Rouge, forget about it, but here it’s different because there aren’t that many Cajun places.”
She said she’s not worried about the competition. “We’re all family, lagniappe and all that stuff,” she said. “We’re all here to do the same thing.”
Whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, or a corporate event, Robinson just has one goal: to bring comfort through good food. “We just want people to enjoy themselves,” she said. “Food is not supposed to be complicated. It’s just something that makes you feel comforted, and I want people when they eat my food to be comforted.”
For more information on Gumbo to Geaux, visit their website at www.gumbotogeaux.com.