Raised on a farm in upstate New York by a French mother and an Italian father, Jacques Leonardi was exposed early to the cuisine of both nationalities and the use of fresh seasonal ingredients.
A graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, Jacques fell in love with New Orleans and all it had to offer while stationed in the city. In 1990, he started working at minimum wage for Chef Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen while continuing his tenure as a Coast Guard officer. It was at K-Paul’s where he learned the basics of “Nawlins” style cooking and laid the groundwork for his own dream: Jacques-Imo’s Cafe.
In 1996, Jacques and his wife Amelia purchased the building at 8324 Oak Street in the Riverbend/Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans. With a little help from the legendary Chef Austin Leslie (formerly of Chez Helene), a little creativity with the food dishes, and a lot of hard work, they now operate one of New Orleans most popular restaurants. Locals and tourists wait up to two hours nightly for a table. The reservation book (for parties of five or more) fills up weeks in advance, and Jacques strolls around his domain talking animatedly to guests and sharing his generosity with both food and drink. In a town that celebrates almost anything, no greater celebration is held than the tribute to Creole/Soul food and warm Southern Hospitality that Jacques Leonardi and the staff at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe provides on a daily basis.
In 2002, the itch to expand his culinary and entrepreneurial horizons proved too much to withstand, and Jacques opened up the now local favorite po’ boy shop Crabby Jack’s on Jefferson Ave. Since then, Jacques and his dedicated staff have been delighting patrons for lunch at Crabby Jack’s and dinner at Jacques-Imo’s.
*Images courtesy of Nola.com.