Follow the Lady

Hamilton Medical Group heads to new Lourdes complex.

Founded in 1928 in the Oil Center and housed on the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana’s grounds on Congress Street (formerly Southwest Medical Center) for the past 25 years, Hamilton Medical Group is following scores of medical professionals moving to the new Our Lady of Lourdes campus.

The multi-specialty physician clinic, which currently has 13 docs, is also consolidating its operations, shuttering its location at 3414 Moss St., according to Louise Derise, Hamilton’s administrator and chief financial officer. Hamilton’s Women’s & Children’s (pediatrics and OB/GYN specialties) and Farrel Road locations will remain open. The relocation, scheduled for January, is unlikely to affect any of the doctors’ privileges at local hospitals, Derise says. “It’s just a     physical move.”

Hamilton CFO Louise Derise (with yellow folder) leads a walk-through of the new
medical office building on Lourdes' campus.

Derise says the new office, located on the second floor of the four-story medical office building in front of Lourdes on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, is smaller than the current site on Congress — 20,000 square feet versus 25,0000 — but is being designed for the delivery of 21st century medicine, including enhanced patient privacy. Hamilton leases 25,000 of the 90,000 square feet in its three-story office building on Congress; it will have an ownership interest in the new 104,000-square-foot MOB on Lourdes’ campus.

Hamilton’s physicians — moving are Drs. Nathan Landry, Francine Manuel, Rick Matis, Daniel Salmeron, Bryan Frentz, Al Granger, Charles Olivier, George Sobiesk and Joshua Landes — plan to begin seeing patients at the new office building Monday, Jan. 10.

Also moving into the new four-story MOB on Ambassador Caffery Parkway are:
• Louisiana Oncology Associates (Drs. Gene Brierre, James Cole, Karen Roden, Chancellor Donald)
• Oncologics Radiation Oncology
• Lafayette Internal Medicine Clinic (Drs. Michael Vanderlick, Kemp Coreil, Angela Snow and Bradley Dowden)
• Dr. Stuart Begnaud
• Drs. Jeffery Chen, Esmond Barker and Lawrence Russell
• Spine Institute of Southwest Louisiana (Dr. Kevin Lasseigne Jr.)
• Lourdes Imaging Center

Not-for-profit Lourdes’ new 400,000-square-foot hospital, a $211 million investment on property it paid $14 million for, is driving additional medical office construction in the Ambassador Caffery Parkway/Verot School Road area. “Since we announced our new hospital, approximately 60 physicians will have relocated there before our move next summer,” says Lourdes President/CEO Bud Barrow.

Among the hospital’s most unique aspects is that it was designed on an angle for energy efficiency/sun patterns with an emergency room on the second floor rather than the first. “During the design phase, we worked closely with other new hospitals and consultants on best practices and how floor design could be most efficiently utilized,” says Lourdes spokeswoman Elisabeth Arnold. “Our ER will operate as part of a ‘Procedural Platform.’ This type of layout utilizes floor space to ensure emergency/trauma, imaging and surgery are in closest proximity to each other. Not only does this save valuable time with serious and emergent cases, [but] it also allows for us to better manage and efficiently cross train critical care nurses and technologists to work within other areas of the platform.”

The hospital also has larger rooms and windowed waiting areas with natural light. “We even have family kitchens,” Arnold continues. “There will be space to experience fresh air, like a rooftop courtyard, public balconies on each floor and a lush meditation garden that our employees raised $300,000 of their own paychecks to fund for our families.”
Arnold notes that employees were an integral part of the decision-making, some having the opportunity to test and select the most comfortable family couches for the patient rooms and others voting on a new food concept for the dining area. “The flat screen TVs in each patient room will offer movies and games, and even your meals will be selected onscreen and delivered like hotel room service,” she says.

And while Lourdes aims to make the patient and family’s stay a better experience, the emphasis is on a first-rate health care delivery system. “The community can rest assured that we will also have the most up-to-date surgery suites, imaging equipment — everything they have come to expect from regional health care at Lourdes,” Arnold says.
— Leslie Turk


Renee Ory and Nadine Biessenberger at the
St. Pius Holiday Market

Sister Act

The Mary behind Miss Mary’s Pralines has retired, but two Lafayette siblings now have her recipe for success.

Mary Usner retired from her 27-year-old business, Miss Mary’s Pralines ’n Things, last June and in July sold her business, including all the recipes and tools of the trade, to sisters Renee Hebert Ory and Nadine Hebert Biessenberger.
“Our family’s always been into cooking. The more people I can feed, the happier I am,” says Ory. “My sister and I work well together. We work as a family.”

Ory and Biessenberger have kept all the classic Miss Mary’s treats the same and have added a few new goodies, including three different types of breads, chocolate and coffee pralines, and pecan and coconut pies. Ory says Miss Mary’s regular customers have welcomed her and her sister.

“We’ve had some feedback from old customers, and they’re excited that someone took it over and that we’re continuing the tradition,” she says. “We had a gentleman call from California to say he was glad he could still get his pralines.” Although Usner is technically retired, the sisters say they still use her as a resource. Anytime they have a question, they turn to her.

Right now, the business is in full swing as people finish their holiday shopping and make room in their diets for the classic Southern treats.

“We have been surprised,” says Ory. “We had someone call and order nearly 300 dozen pralines.”

Ory says after the holiday season, the business is sustained by the line of granolas.

“In January the resolutions start, and everyone looks for healthier stuff,” says Ory.

In the grand tradition of Miss Mary’s Pralines ’n Things, the company primarily operates through orders called in directly to the sisters. However, some products such as their granola and nuts are found at Albertsons, Champagne’s, NuNu’s and Adrien’s.

“Everyone makes the same face when they try one,” says Ory, “like, ‘Mmmm... this is good.’ You just can’t help but smile when you bite into a good ol’ praline.” — Hope Rurik

Catching Up With 

Nan Strait
age 34

Emmy Award-winning executive producer for Top Chef

Local connection: Lafayette native, daughter of Dr. Craig and Susan (stepmother) Strait

Nan Strait, who relocated to Nebraska in the early ’90s after completing eighth grade at Ascension Episcopal School, earned a degree in telecommunications and film from the University of Alabama in 1999.

After college, Strait moved to Nashville and worked at the Tennessee Film Commission for three years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television. When she arrived in L.A., she worked on various reality shows until landing a job for the Magical Elves Production Company in 2006 as a production coordinator on Season 2 of Bravo’s Top Chef. Strait worked her way up to executive producer level and in August won a 2010 Emmy for Top Chef Season 6. As fate would have it, Strait had decided to stay in New York rather than give up two days of production and was not in attendance to hear her name called when the show was awarded its Emmy Aug. 29, beating out Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Project Runway and The Amazing Race in the Reality-Competition Program category (Top Chef put an end to The Amazing Race’s seven-year winning streak).
Strait, who still considers Lafayette home, recently finished production as EP on NBC’s newest reality competition show, America’s Next Great Restaurant, which premieres in early 2011. She’s currently the EP on Top Chef Season 8 All-Stars, which began airing Dec. 1. — Leslie Turk

Cox technician Jeremy Roy helps Brianca George
set-up her new Cox email account.

Bridging the digital divide

On Tuesday Dec. 8, 350 students and their parents were invited to the Cox Communications’ office for a reception celebrating an initiative by the Lafayette Parish School System and Cox to provide one year of free Internet service and Dell netbooks for eighth and ninth grade students.

Research prepared by the UL Lafayette sociology and anthropology department found that parts of Lafayette’s population fell far below the national average for Internet access. Following that finding, Julie Simon-Dronet, director of operations for Cox Acadiana, says there was a call for private and public communications providers to step up to help bridge the “digital divide.”

Cox’s founder, James Cox, was a teacher, so these types of partnerships with school systems have long been part of the company’s fabric.

Cox was able to identify children who needed technological resources by connecting with the GEAR UP program, which has been actively providing new resources and experiences for parents and students for two years. GEAR UP is a federally funded program for at-risk middle school students, aimed at raising their awareness of college and career options.

GEAR UP project manager Traci Aucoin says priority was given to students who did not have Internet access in their homes; students like Northside High School freshman Brianca George whose service was installed immediately following the reception. Following that criterion, officials considered attendance, behavior and participation in GEAR UP activities.

The rest of the 348 students (another student also received access that evening) will have their services connected throughout December.

During her address to parents and students, Dronet assured the community that Cox will continue working to bridge the gap.

Before Cox’s donation, George says she didn’t have access to the Internet at home and didn’t have time to work on research projects at school, so she would have to go to the public library. Even after she received a letter from Cox congratulating her as one of the recipients, she didn’t realize exactly what was happening until she heard others talking about it at school.

“I really wanted [a laptop] for Christmas, but it was so much money,” says George.
— Hope Rurik

Otter’s, Bonnie Bell’s Join String of Closures

Restaurants are opening left and right in Lafayette just as others have thrown in the towel. By Mary Tutwiler

While I’ve reported recently the plethora of new restaurants opening (The Independent Weekly “Restaurantarama” Dec. 1), I’ve been chastised by readers to tell the whole story. Restaurants do also close in Lafayette; it’s a tough business. Bonnie Bell’s Bistro downtown and Otter’s Chicken are the latest closures in a string this fall that includes Sage, Serranos, Phoenician Grill and Collage Café.

Bonnie Bell Gibson confirmed she will give up the ghost Dec. 31, saying she would discuss the closure, and plans for the Jefferson Street location, at a later date. By press time, she had not returned my call.

Otter’s owner Talbott Ottinger says the demise of both the Lafayette and Breaux Bridge locations is a layered story, but the oil and gas drilling moratorium in the Gulf, enforced because of the BP oil spill, caused the coup de grace. “Sales had dropped dramatically since the spill,” Ottinger says. “We stopped seeing guys coming in wearing jumpsuits with oil company logos. And even after the moratorium was lifted, it was still affecting us.”

Talbott, along with his brother Stuart and high school and college friends Steve Logan and Charlie Fitzgerald, started the first Otter’s in 2003 in Nashville, Tenn. The brothers are sons of Lafayette Consolidated Government attorney Pat Ottinger. That restaurant proved so popular the partners expanded to three locations in Tennessee before launching in the Ottingers’ home town, Lafayette.

Planned in 2007, the economic free fall of 2008 greatly affected profits, says Talbott. Another factor was the limited menu, based solely on chicken, at a time when chicken plants were closing in Louisiana. “The price of chicken has been at a 10-year high for the last year,” Talbott says, “in a business that has a thin profit margin, really pennies.”
The Breaux Bridge location opened three days after the spill, in late April, and was never able to stabilize with the uncertainty of the local oil-based economy. The Lafayette restaurant closed Dec. 4.

Stuart Ottinger posted this notice on the Otter’s Facebook page Dec. 4:

It is with great sadness and regret that we have decided to close the Lafayette location at the close of business today, Saturday the 4th. Given the current state of the economy and the effects of the oil moratorium on the area we are faced with this tough decision.
If you are in Lafayette today, please stop by and have a meal or beer so we can get rid of our inventory and please encourage others to stop by as well.
We would like to personally thank each of our loyal customers for your support for the past two years. We hope that if you are ever in the Nashville or Atlanta area you will visit some of our other locations.
We will have $2 beers all day so come watch the SEC Championship with us.
Best Regards,
The Otter’s Family

Evidently the national economy is not taking the same toll on other Otter’s locations. A new restaurant opened in Marietta, Ga., in July, and it’s going great guns, according to Talbott. Which is saying a lot when the competition is national brands, with deep corporate pockets for advertising. As for Lafayette, “it’s a tough foodie world,” he says.

“Everybody thinks their mama’s fried chicken recipe is the best.”

Talbott says his location, on the corner of Kaliste Saloom and Pinhook, is attracting attention. “We’ve been approached by people with other concepts,” he says. “They’re looking at our building.”

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