By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Shearn Lemoine always knew he wanted to be a businessman.
And only a few years after graduating from LSU in the early 90s with a bachelor’s degree in finance, he was off and running as co-owner of a growing, successful daiquiri shop in Mandeville.
“We were doing very well with that place and I thought it was going to be my first big success,” Lemoine said.
Lemoine and a friend opened Marley’s Daiquiri’s together, a fairly small gathering spot that was quickly making a name for itself. But as any business occasionally has slow times, the partners decided to open a small food service outlet at one end of the bar—simply to provide a quick bite to eat for clients, and hopefully keep them around a little longer.
“We were never trying to find a way to start a restaurant, that’s for certain,” Lemoine said. “When we started making hamburgers, it was just a little spot at the end of the bar where you put in an order and got something to eat.”
But a funny thing happened with the hamburger that was sold—it began to have a following, and word got out very quickly that Marley’s Daiquiri’s was a great place to get a burger.
“When we decided to sell hamburgers, we still wanted to make sure they were really good, so we got very fresh beef, and always used it within 36 hours of the beef being ground,” Lemoine explained. “We also had super fresh dressings and bread.”
Lemoine said they created their own creole seasoning, ending up with what he called “the perfect storm for a burger.” The partners were surprised to see an exploding business for their hamburger, something that grew so fast that they closed down the daiquiri shop after a year, and moved to a new Mandeville location with the first Times Grill restaurant.
Lemoine said the business quadrupled in the first year, and while it brought new challenges, as a businessman he was excited beyond belief.
“Operating a full service restaurant was very overwhelming since I learned a lot about customers demanding much greater service,” he said. “But I was young and fortunately I had great people working with me, so it was very exciting to see how quickly the business grew.”
The Mandeville location for Times Grill is still in place today, along with a Baton Rouge location for Times Grill, but in 2001, Lemoine and his partner considered opening another location and were looking towards eastern St. Tammany.
“We heard about the vision Mayor Sam Caruso had to renovate the train depot there and offer some business opportunities,” he said. “That was a unique opportunity in a beautiful building and we were thrilled to make that work.”
Even though the City of Slidell spent money to renovate the old train depot on Front Street, Lemoine also spent several hundred thousand dollars to turn a portion of the building into a restaurant, which continues to operate today.
“Our idea for the restaurant was always to have a sports type atmosphere, with TVs showing games, but also for it to be a family place,” he said. “I think we achieved that.”
Now 18 years into a restaurant business he didn’t exactly plan for, Lemoine said Times Grill has made and sold 3.5 million burgers that continue to be the signature item in the restaurant. Besides the number one Times Burger, they actually have over 20 different kinds of burgers, as well as a wide variety of other foods, with everything from wraps to steaks to sandwiches to seafood.
“But the burger is still what we are known for, and before I did this interview today, I had one just to remind myself how good they are,” Lemoine said with a smile.
Lemoine, 43, who bought out his partner in 2005, believes the biggest reason for the Times Grill success goes back to his early days of working in restaurants. He learned valuable lessons at the Winner’s Circle in Folsom where he started as a busboy when he was 14, then at LSU, where he got a job at popular Murphy’s.
“To get a job at Murphy’s at LSU was an honor to me,” he said. “I elt like it was a privilege to get to work there, since so many others wanted that job. I learned a lot about the restaurant business.”
He credits Murphy’s owner Marc Fraioli as a man who taught him how to value workers and clients, something he has never forgotten.
“That’s really where the success of a business comes from,” he said. “The secret—well, it’s not really a secret—is to have great people around you. I’ve been so fortunate to have wonderful people working at our restaurants.”
The Times Grill in Slidell is located at 1827 Front St.