It’s 11:00 AM on a Tuesday and Inkka Beaudion has just opened the doors to Swamp Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen. Already, Beaudion and her employee, Anthony, are running back and forth in the kitchen trying to keep up with the steady stream of customers coming to get a taste of her Cajun food. It’s taken a lot of hard work but Beaudion is proud of what she has accomplished.
“The example that I’m setting for my daughters and other young women here, that are minority women, to let them know that, ya know, you can be successful within this community. I mean, although it is stressful, it is tiring. I cut myself, I don’t know how many times, chopping bell peppers. And, I mean, it’s all worth it. It is all so worth it,” says Beaudion.
At Swamp Daddy’s everything is made from scratch. The menu includes Cajun classics such as jambalaya, catfish, hush puppies and a few dishes Beaudion created herself.
“I am making the Cajun chicken pasta. It has the Cajun cream sauce, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach and fettuccine noodles with a little Cajun seasoning. And we’ll add the chicken here in a little bit,” says Beaudion.
Beaudion is originally from Alexandria, Louisiana. She decided to move up here after her then boyfriend, now husband, and his mom, convinced her to give it a chance. That was 12 years ago and today Beaudion is happy she made Sioux Falls her home. She says Sioux Falls is a city of opportunity.
However, a few years ago she realized that something was missing from her adopted hometown. And that was flavor. She missed the spices and seasonings of Louisiana. Often, she would just cook at home. She didn’t mind because she loved to cook. Cooking was something she often did with her father when she was growing up and like her father she loved sharing a taste of her kitchen with others.
“I think that's what kind of planted that seed of, ya know, hey, why don’t, it’s not here yet, why don’t you do it? Not let someone else do it. If this is what you love to do, ya know, if this is what I love to do, and I have the opportunity why not just take that? And I, I be the one to bring that flavor to Sioux Falls.”
So Beaudion set out to open a restaurant but there were a few obstacles in her way. For one, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. Also, she and her husband just couldn’t afford to take out a huge loan. But Beaudion didn’t give up. Instead she started slow. First she set up under a canopy in parking lots and at various events around the city. Then, with the help of a family friend she took another step towards her dream and bought a food truck.
The food truck was a success, but after 3 years Beaudion wanted more. She was ready for a permanent place and the perfect space opened up for her in the Jones 421 building in downtown Sioux Falls. However, she was again faced with the dilemma of how to finance this next phase of her dream. Beaudion decided not to go the traditional route and apply for a loan. Instead she and her husband financed the restaurant themselves. Beaudion says she pinched every penny to make it happen. And instead of paying a contractor Beaudion and her family rolled up their sleeves and did a lot of the work themselves.
“We hung the wallpaper ourselves. We, I mean I had friends here come late at night and we worked on this restaurant space until like sometimes 2, 3 o’clock in the morning ourselves.”
As Beaudion recalls all the hard work that went into Swamp Daddy’s she gets emotional.
“It’s something to look back, cause we literally built this restaurant pay check to pay check, which is, it’s amazing. It was stressful and it was hard for me and my husband with two kids, ya know, but we did it, and I’m thankful that we were able to put it together.”
Beaudion is also thankful for all the food truck customers that have come out to support her at the permanent location.
“For our customers to see that gradual growth of business and to go through that growth process with us. I mean it’s, it’s amazing. Sometimes I look back and I can’t even believe that it is actually happening,” says Beaudion.
The restaurant is attracting new customers too. Customers like Anthony Zenobi who keeps returning to get a taste of Beaudion’s Cajun cuisine.
“It’s fantastic. I love having some different stuff here, ya know. This is different than anything else in town,” says Zenobi.
Beaudion loves sharing her culture and her family’s recipes. But, for her, it’s not just about the food. It’s also about getting to know the people in her community.
Beaudion says, “A meal can bring so many people together and it can impact and change a situation. Like, these people, sometimes I don’t know what their outside life is like, ya know, other than the other side of this counter when they’re ordering their food or what their situation is in life. But whenever they come here and they’re greeted, and ya know, how are you doing? Just that whole atmosphere that I try to create whenever they come here. Um, I think it allows me to be able to, allows all of us to be able to build a relationship with each other with a complete stranger when I would have never, probably, had the opportunity to get to know them on that level elsewhere.”
Although, it hasn’t been easy Beaudion made her dream happen and she hopes she inspires others to make their dreams happen as well.