By Kayla Ashley
“I was born and raised in New Orleans East. And so, you know a lot of people try to play on the East and stuff. Say like it’s too far, but to me, it’s home. I was born and raised here,” says Derrick Robinson Jr. owner of Madchef at 59th. Robinson grew up watching his mother work as a pastry chef. Food has always been a part of his childhood. Outside of food, Robinson said that he always knew he wanted to be his own boss and calling out the orders. He’d watch his mother and grandfather worked for themselves his whole life and working for others just never worked out for him. Robinson, said “I walked off pretty much every damn job I had. I didn’t like to be told what to do. I knew I wanted to be the person to give the orders out.”
At the beginning of Derrick Robinson’s career, he initially did catering and meal preps for residents in New Orleans. As time passed Derrick would talk to Jessica “Judy” Dupart, a local hair mogul in the city, and he would watch how she had her own hair shop. He said he knew Ms. Dupart was making money because she started selling her hit hair Miracle Drops, but she was never really in the hair salon working. This encouraged him to create his own seasoning blend. Mr. Robinson’s said it was eye-opening for him and he realized that he never really had to do hard labor to make money. He believed that he could make money selling an item in the culinary industry just as she was within the beauty industry. This inspired his first two salt-free seasoning blends: Chicken and Fish and Smoked Garlic Herb. Within a year of his first two seasoning, Robinson created Cajun Nola which would eventually become his signature blend. Robinson said that each time he would release a new seasoning, his sales and support exceeded his expectations.
A month after releasing Cajun Nola Robinson began to start the process of putting seasonings in store. He still believed selling his seasoning was the way to make his money, but he knew he had to be creative with selling them to do so. In April 2017 Robinson shelved his seasoning in his first store off of St. Bernard Ave. This took off just as fast as the seasoning online. Robinson, with the help of the store owner of the St.Bernard grocery, began calling and reaching out to stores such as Rouses, Food Circle Store, Dorignac’s and others. Robinson’s seasoning continued to be a success with companies and his seasoning tend to sit next to a famous local seasoning Toni Chacere’s which has been in business since 1972.
The seasoning business was going extremely well for Robinson and he said he never had intentions to open up a restaurant. “ I relied on Internet sales and I could chill at home,” Robinson said he then was offered a deal by his first business partner. Robinson explained “As far as the restaurant you know like on the old Mob movies they’ll be like ‘I’m going to offer you a deal you can’t refuse’ This was really a deal. If I would’ve refused this deal, I would’ve been dumb.” On April 2, 2018, Robinson and his business partner opened up MadChef at 59th on Bullard Ave in New Orleans East. Robinson would run the kitchen and his business partner the bar. Six months into the initial opening, Robinson partner saw his hustle, grind, and motivation and offered him full ownership of the restaurant. This excited Robinson because working with a partner limited what he could do creatively, but full ownership allowed for creative vibes to thrive.
On January 4, 2019, Derrick Robinson did a grand re-opening of Madchef on 59th which he believes is the only thing the restaurant really needed. Robinson said his goal with the rebranding was to keep things fresh for residents in the local New Orleans East area. He said he loves to constantly add new items onto the menu to keep things fresh and exciting for local residents in New Orleans East. Robinson and his team have even gone the extra step and added loyalty programs into the restaurant where customers could receive a free birthday meal and his popular Taco Tuesday that feature shrimp jambalaya street tacos and on Friday’s which feature a local favorite fried fish plates.
Opening the restaurant for Mr. Robinson has been one of the biggest blessings of his life and he believes that he has only just started with truly building the foundation of his entrepreneurial success. Robinson says that he and his team are loving his new rebranding of Madchef on 59th and continue to work and build to expand their restaurant and brand. New Orleans East is home for Robinson, and he has no intentions of leaving. New Orleans East has not received much attention since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “The city ran the value of the East down. They don’t care about the area anymore,” says Robinson. Madchef on 59th he believes has brought value to the New Orleans East community. “You can get a lobster tail for $20. You can’t even get that in other parts of the city,” Robinson believes his restaurant brings a sense of pride to his community.