Two crème brulees all day! I have a Caesar Salad and a caprese as appetizers followed by a medium ribeye and salmon! I have an order of Cajun eggrolls walking in! It’s Friday night and as the evening continues, Chef Gabe Toups calls out the orders like an auctioneer.
The beeps are coming in more frequently as the orders slowly start to pile up. Chef Gabe and his army of four feel the heat as they keep pace with the upcoming rush to kick off the busy weekend.
Chef Gabe Toups is executive chef and owner of Gabe’s Downtown, a Louisiana Bistro based out of Villa Rica, Ga. Hailing from Lafayette, La, Gabe fuses his classical training with native dishes to bring something truly unique to West Georgia. Trained under master chef, Gilbert Decourt and former executive chef of both Metro Bistro as well as the prestigious and renowned Broussard’s of New Orleans, these experiences shine through on the menu from a place where gumbo and crawfish reign.
Gabe moved to Georgia back in 2002 with his wife, Tami to start a new life. Upon being asked why he left Louisiana, where he most certainly would have found fame, he said that family was
important as well as having a family life. Working almost seven days a week he knew he could not dedicate the time to future children, which was a priority for him and his wife. However, with new beginnings come new possibilities and Chef Gabe realized his dream of opening a restaurant before the age of 30. He was 29.
Opening Gabe’s Downtown is what he considers not only his proudest moment of his career but also the most difficult one.
“When I first opened the restaurant I was pretty humble about it, I didn’t think it was gonna be what it was.”
Six years later people still come out to wait for one of the 15 tables to have what is considered the best food west of Atlanta. With people trying it out for the first time everyday the
clientele keeps getting bigger and bigger. Gabe attributes this to the passion and love found in each of the employees, which he considers to be the secret to the restaurant’s success. With patrons requesting to be sat with specific servers or the bartender it is obvious that they see it too.
The son of a dancer and former school board member Gabe recognized his passion early on in high school when he landed his first job in a gourmet kitchen. Surrounded by not only love and
attention but with discipline as well, his parents supported his passion as well as his brothers who have both gone on to run their own successful businesses.
“My dad always said, you know, right now if you’re working and you’re pointing [downward] this way you’ll end up here. If you point [straight] this way you’ll end up here, and if you point
[upward] this way you’ll end up here.”
These simple words of advice truly stuck with Gabe’s outlook and work ethic in his career. Now in his mid-30s, Gabe is offering advice to a new generation. With staff as young as 18 he is
seen not only as an employer but as a mentor constantly telling them to do the best to their ability and to never send out a dish that they would not want to receive themselves.
Chef Gabe emphasizes how important and incredible his family is not only in his life but also in the success of his career. He extends this to his work where he and his wife consider the
restaurant as part of their extended family. Gabe reveals that his wife Tami is his biggest inspiration, though no longer working full-time at the restaurant, she can be seen from time to time working alongside her husband and staff. According to Gabe, as obstacles become harder and more stressful it makes their relationship more powerful.
What is in store for Chef Gabe’s future? James Beard is a definite possibility but he states that owning a restaurant group has always been the ultimate goal to where he can explore new
concepts and ideas. On a long-term scale, he expresses the idea of moving somewhere
new, to open up a small po’ boy shop and eventually retire.
During the interview, the restaurant is empty except for the kitchen staff preparing for dinner service in a couple hours. The sounds of meat being pounded out, chopping, Lynard Skynard and the Sous Chef repeating what tasks need to be completed before the first table walks in can be heard in the background. The natural grey light pairs with the dim lighting to create a soft glow as Chef Gabe sits in the booth by the kitchen where he checks his phone for sport updates on who is joining his beloved Saints.
Before the interview concludes Gabe adds, “Life is so short. Celebrate life, and celebrate it with good food.”
The humble man from Lafayette who says it is awesome when people tell him that his restaurant is the best in West Georgia. He has found success in Villa Rica and is leaving his mark not only on the community but also on the greater area as a success story. That a
restaurant with good food does not need to be located in a city or food district but that people will flock to it based on a simple premise no matter what, which makes it truly special.
Chef Gabe casually walks back into the kitchen post interview and joins his crew prepping for dinner service. Weapon of choice? His bread knife, which he uses to swiftly slice through parsley in anticipation of what was to come.