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Ryan and Jessica Legaux pose outside of their 53-year-old family-run Creole restaurant.
Photograph: Courtesy Harold and Belle'sRyan and Jessica Legaux pose outside of their 53-year-old family-run Creole restaurant.

At Harold and Belle’s, a new generation safeguards the future of a longtime Black-owned Creole eatery

With major renovations and vegan-friendly menu items, the South L.A. icon’s third generation owners hope to keep it around for decades to come.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo

When Ryan Legaux first took over Harold and Belle’s with his wife Jessica, the grandson of the New Orleans-inspired eatery’s original owner knew something had to change. The South L.A. restaurant, which Harold Legaux Sr. opened in 1969, had holes in the ceiling, major plumbing issues and stuffy, out-of-date formal dining decor. Though the pair didn’t completely overhaul the space until 2016, with additional renovations in 2020, they knew from the start they wanted to give the place a different look and feel. 

"We really looked at the state it was in, and realized that if we didn’t do something, the business was going to have to close," Ryan says. What led the couple to actually commit to revitalizing the space, however, were constant reminders of the 53-year-old restaurant’s legacy in the local Black community. 

"People tell us all the time: 'I met my husband there,' 'We had our anniversary there,' 'We got engaged there,'" the third generation owner says. "There's all kinds of stories like that floating out there, you know? And that's rare."

Harold and Belle's Dining Room
Photograph: Courtesy Vanessa TierneyThe inner dining room at Harold and Belle's.

Known both within and beyond L.A.’s Black community for its hearty seafood gumbo, po’ boy sandwiches and shrimp étouffée, the candlelit fine dining atmosphere of Harold and Belle’s under Ryan’s late father, Harold Jr., was a far cry from the sleeker, more casual restaurant you’ll see today. (The early restaurant under Harold Sr. resembled more of an informal after work pool hall.) The white tablecloths might be gone, but you’ll still find a bit of polish in the dining room, thanks to dark wooden tables, graceful light fixtures and artfully placed memorabilia all over Harold and Belle’s, plus a few new vegan menu items. A larger bar area and a newly added private dining room have also expanded the restaurant’s reach, making it easier to host happy hour and larger groups. 

Like other small food businesses, the Legauxes turned to third-party delivery and takeout to stay afloat during the pandemic. Paired with their participation in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s emergency senior meals program, Harold and Belle’s managed to weather the worst of the economic crisis, but has largely remained a takeout and catering-oriented business since March 2020. Third-party delivery workers head straight to a new "To Geaux" window outside the Jefferson Boulevard space, but dine-in guests have largely failed to return to pre-pandemic numbers.

Harold and Belle's Bar Area
Photograph: Courtesy Vanessa TierneyThe bar area at Harold and Belle's, which Ryan and Jessica first renovated in 2016.

Now, with the worst of the virus likely behind L.A., Ryan and Jessica have reopened the restaurant’s dining room in hopes of ushering in a new era for the iconic L.A. restaurant. As of writing, Harold and Belle’s is only open for dine-in service on weekends, though weekday happy hour in the bar area resumed in early February—the combined result of a staffing shortage and, according to manager Andrew Alvarado, the fact that patrons have only just started to trickle back in for on-site dining.

Those who return, however, will find the same delicious food and homey, yet modern atmosphere of Harold and Belle’s 3.0, plus new vegan menu additions spearheaded by co-owner Jessica, who’s been vegan since 2017.

New vegan items include red beans and rice, vegan gumbo and fried oyster mushrooms
Photograph: Courtesy Kathryn BallayNew vegan items include red beans and rice, vegan gumbo and fried oyster mushrooms.

"Of course, I wanted to be able to eat in my own restaurant," she says. "There’s absolutely a way to recreate the kind of food that I grew up on." Jessica also notes the long history within Black culture of plant-based diets, and sees the menu additions as a natural progression towards keeping Harold and Belle’s relevant for future generations. 

Alongside fried gulf oyster po' boys smothered in Cajun spice aioli and their famous filé gumbo, you’ll now also find French rolls stuffed with crispy fried oyster mushrooms and topped with plant-based aioli, plus a vegan gumbo with sautéed okra and red peppers. Harold and Belle’s red beans and rice, which date back to the restaurant’s pool hall days under Harold Sr., can also be made vegan. 

In the coming month, Ryan and Jessica look forward to hosting a ticketed Mardi Gras party this year, which falls on Tuesday, March 1. Coming full circle to almost two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s the first big celebration Harold and Belle’s has hosted in the Covid era, and a mark of how far they’ve come. The party will also feature beer from Crowns & Hops, an Inglewood-based Black-owned brewery, as well as multicolored beads and other typical Fat Tuesday freebies.

"We're gonna have live bands, a DJ, face paint, a photo booth. We make it fun," Jessica says.  While she and her partner work to preserve the future of Harold and Belle’s, it’s evident the Legauxes still know how to let the good times roll, NOLA-style.

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