711 Jefferson Highway
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Brew Ha-Ha! has been a part of the mid city landscape for nearly thirteen years. Its signature cake balls, which come in a wide variety of flavors and cause cravings all over Baton Rouge, are the result of owner Gabby Loubiere’s ability to turn unfortunate business circumstances to true successes. Brew Ha-Ha once had a second location. “While we had that store, we did lunches over there, because it was not going to make it as a coffee shop. Then on the weekends we would bring the extra cake balls to this store, to Jefferson. It started to create this hype: on Thursdays or so, sometimes Wednesdays, people would start calling to see how many cake balls we were bringing here. It was just this crazy little phenomenon that would happen.” Loubiere’s business was one of the first to sell cake balls, and the original recipes started with Loubiere’s grandmother, who won
countless culinary competitions for her pralines and other candies. They have changed and expanded as Brew Ha-Ha! has grown, and are still the best in town. “I guess it’s my grandmother’s candy-making skills that are still pumping through me.”
In addition to a variety of seasonal decorated options, Loubiere designs and makes cake ball wedding cakes. An invention of the peak of the cake ball craze, they started for Brew Ha-Ha! when a friend of Loubiere’s approached her about making one for the friend’s wedding. They’re made out of sculpted styrofoam, covered first in tulle and then in cake balls on skewers. “People who are traditional don’t necessarily love it;” nevertheless, it has become one of the creations in which Loubiere takes the most pride: “There’s a lot of pressure that goes into a wedding cake that somebody’s – hopefully their favorite day ever, other than the day they have children, so it’s nerve-wracking and stressful. But every time I set one up I cry a little at the end that I get to even be a part of that. They’re absolutely stunning.”
Loubiere had no prior experience in coffee shop management, and had not even worked in one before. “I just went to them when I was in college. I went to Southeastern and LSU, but mainly when I was at LSU, Highland Coffees was how I got through my shifts at The Chimes, and how I made it through college. So I knew I loved coffee, but I really didn’t know anything about it.” A friend approached her about opening a coffee shop in an available storefront in the shopping center where Brew Ha-Ha! still lives, but backed out at the last minute. “I decided to go ahead with it; I had her blessing…So I went at it solo. I knew nothing. I hired a cluster of girls that worked at a CCs, [and] I just kind of learned as I needed to.”
The coffee shop was originally set up because owner of shopping center really wanted a coffee shop to replace Perks, formerly across the street, which left mid city sadly caffeine-free when it closed. “It was scary in the beginning, because there was no one – there were a few other tenants in this shopping center, but there were just no people. You almost expected to see tumbleweeds going through the parking lot. Right away I joined the Mid City Merchants, a panel of probably about forty or so merchants then.” There are now nearly 150. “We’ve kept this very ‘this is my roots’ vibe in the neighborhood. People that live in this area are very passionate about this area. They’re super excited about the changes, sometimes adamantly so – I sit on the fence of, 80% of me usually sides with the homeowners, because I get it; I love that we have this love, family, curb appeal thing that happens. Growth is beautiful too, and I love that so many merchants want to be in mid city now. But we have to keep the culture alive that was here, and that was family and heart. It feels so good in this part of town, and I want to build it and build it and build it, but build it in a way that the feeling stays the same. I think that’s attainable, because there’s so much passion here.”
A recent expansion has already boosted sales, especially of lunch items. “People flow,” Loubiere says. “When you move things around, you realize quickly if the flow is there.” Though Brew Ha-Ha! has served breakfast, brunch, and lunch for the last several years, the menu was recently posted publically for the first time, because of the owner’s new confidence in their capacity. “Before, we kind of did it as an added bonus to people who came here already, but we didn’t market it too much, mainly because our kitchen area was so small and we were trying to keep up with the cake balls. Now we have a lot of space, so we’re putting it out there that we do this. It’s a simple menu, we have nothing over eight dollars.” A roaster, part of the reason for the build-out and a long-time goal of Loubiere’s, is next. She is full of ideas on how best to display it – “We may even quarantine it off with bulk bean bins with roasted beans, where people could maybe come in and scoop by the pound.” Blends from Brew Ha-Ha! Roasting Company may include light, dark, decaf, flavors, and even holiday specials: “Gabby Lou’s Brew,” for one. Gabby Loubiere herself is already looking several years down the line, which will hopefully include pre-bagged distribution into local restaurants and marekts; she has so many ideas for potential growth that watching her develop them in real time is inspirational.
Mid city is increasingly known for its seasonal neighborhood arts festivals: Art Thaw in February; Hot Art, Cool Night in May; A Mid City Night’s Dream in August; and White Light Night in November. “The fall one and the spring one are just unbelievable. Back in the day, I would fret for weeks preparing for those events,” but Brew Ha-Ha!’s success has allowed Loubiere to relax a little and let the artists come to her. “I get approached by artists from Lafayette, New Orleans, Hammond, and God bless them – they have huge arts markets there. I really, really stick to local, local artists. Preferably, I’d like them to live in walking distance. But if not, in Baton Rouge.” Since the event is free and open to the public, it used to be much less productive for artists, and expensive for the businesses using free refreshments to entice customers. However, the rising popularity has allowed them to cut back a little on free treats, so sales for everyone have gone up, solidifying the event’s place in the local art and business communities. “We have probably 60 to 70 merchants that participate, all of which have anywhere from 2-10 artists. It’s really unbelievable some of the talent that we see. And the prices are amazing, because these are people that are up and coming or they haven’t achieved this super-celebrity-ism as an artist, so they keep their prices affordable,” Loubiere says. “The whole art atmosphere here is probably one of the best things that we have going on. And people flock from everywhere.”
Being a small business owner is not always easy, but Loubiere has great advice for potential entrepreneurs. “First of all, you have to be completely passionate about what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to do it for the purpose of acknowledgment or getting rich, just go get a job. A lot of people I see get into business, self-employment, because they think it’s limelight and luxury. You have to live it, you have to love it, you have to respect it. You have to be present with your employees,” she says. “That’s just the world we live in. If you’re not 100% invested into what you’re trying to put out there, it’s going to show completely through. And you have to know your market – what do people want? What do people need? How are you going to communicate? It is so easy nowadays with social media to get your opinions out there. We have these overnight food bloggers that just yesterday were regular people, and now they’re Food Bloggers. You really have to pay attention to everything that you’re doing, because you’re on display. So I think the main thing people have to focus on is, it’s not that easy, be passionate, and remember that people are only going to support you if they dig you, and they’re watching everything you do.”
The most important thing is to “learn from [your] mistakes: try it, and if it doesn’t work, get out of it. Yes, there are tremendous perks to being self-employed. But they definitely are outweighed by the stresses and the responsibility. Where’s your heart at? Why are you doing this? If you love it, and you feel good about it, you have to be prepared to fail. And then, let’s go! Go for it! What have you got to lose?”
Stop by Brew Ha-Ha! for coffee, a cake ball, and a peruse of their Little Libraries today.