The Camellia Grill stands at the corner of Charters and Toulouse in the New Orleans French Quarter. Seven days a week, it’s packed with customers, all sitting on metal swivel stools along a meandering Art Deco counter, seemingly unchanged since the 1950s, with lots of pink and chrome.
“Make that bacon well-done! Make it as dark as Wesley Snipes!”
Watching Lu work the crowd of hungry diners is like watching a young James Earl Jones as a Shakespearean actor in the round. His passion for his work is enviable and his excitement rolls over me like the breakfast aromas coming off the grill. With eye contact that bounces back, “I like you, too,” he is instantly likable.
With great attention to detail, Lu takes pride in placing knives, forks and spoons precisely, deliberately, on the shiny counter next to each bleach-white cloth napkin. He greets tourists and locals alike with warmth and charm. Minutes later, he stops everyone mid-bite with his booming bass voice: “If you’re happy, clap your hands!” Then he claps his own. Lu lets out a laugh and shakes his head at the customers’ inability to match his fire. He gracefully moves back to work, like an air traffic controller, with a perfect balance of focus. He remembers the details of every order while keeping an eye on the larger landscape of who’s coming through the door and who needs their check.
I want to know about who this guy is and what drives him.
”I enjoy being a dad,” Lu tells me and proudly displays the tattoo of his son, Savoy, inked on the inside of his right forearm. “I’m always excited to come to work. I like fine things. I’m touchy-feely. I love the company of women,” he says in a deep, soulful voice, a blend of Barry White and Lou Rawls. He turns his head to look out the window and carefully studies the tourist-packed sidewalk. His sexual radar is always scanning.
Lu notices some of his new fans about to pay their bill at the front register. He moves toward them, to a couple paying their check and wraps his arms around the guy’s girlfriend, enveloping her so completely I fear she will melt on the spot and never want to leave. She smiles from ear to ear, enjoying the glow of Lu’s attention.
More hungry customers enter from the street and wait for an empty stool.
Lu fills my coffee cup, always smiling. ”I could never get away with this shit at TGI Fridays.”