Fried Crawfish Po'Boys Are a Lenten Tradition at Louisiana's Olde Tyme Grocery

At Olde Tyme Grocery in Louisiana, the fried crawfish po’boys are an elusive and anticipated special during Lent.

Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette, Louisiana
Memorabilia covers the walls of Olde Tyme Grocery. Photo: Cedric Angeles

Glenn Murphree's restaurant career nearly ended just one night after it started. He was "chewed out" for the way he peeled an onion. "All my friends were at the Mardi Gras parade, so I said, 'You know what? I quit.' And I stuck my knife in the table like a little punk would do," says Murphree, who was 14 years old at the time. "I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm not sure what I'm going to do in life, but I guarantee it won't be working in a restaurant or a po'boy shop.' God's got a funny sense of humor, because that's what I ended up doing for a living." Murphree bought Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette, Louisiana, nearly 40 years ago on his 23rd birthday. The place came with aisles of canned goods, five shopping carts, and plenty of character. Zapp's potato chips and New Orleans-style po'boys have since replaced the carts, and the restaurant's personality is all Murphree's own. License plates, kids' drawings, and old photos march across the wood-paneled walls, tacked up in tidy but wavering lines. Ragin' Cajuns football jerseys and a crucifix hang above the back counter.

Glenn Murphree and wife, Cheri, of Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette, Louisiana
Glenn and his wife, Cheri, posing with Becca, circa 1988. Courtesy of Glenn Murphee

Lunch hour at Olde Tyme Grocery is never quiet, but business picks up mightily on Fridays during Lent, the 40-day season that precedes Easter. "In Lafayette, a lot of people are Catholic," says Murphree's daughter Becca Kennedy, who works alongside him at the restaurant with two of her four siblings. "During Lent, Catholics eat seafood [instead of meat] on Fridays."

They cook about 1,000 pounds of seafood—shrimp, oysters, catfish, and crawfish—each Friday during this period. Shrimp is the reigning best seller year-round, but crawfish is the special treat, appearing only for the Lenten season.

The highly anticipated fried crawfish po'boy joined the menu more than 30 years ago, when Murphree's local bread man, Bobby Langlinais, suggested that he create one. It took time to get it just right. "I worked at least 25 or 30 hours playing with different batters, trying different things," Murphree recalls. When he finally came up with a recipe he liked, he introduced it to his customers. "I had no clue how many I would need to make, so I went ahead and did 200 pounds of crawfish the first day," he says. "We sold it all."

Olde Tyme Grocery has been slinging the specialty sandwich ever since. On a regular Friday during the year, they will typically sell between 900 and 1,000 po'boys, says Murphree. But during Lent, that number more than doubles. They hire 15 to 20 additional staffers to handle the volume. "The beauty of it is that people who used to work for us like to come back during the busy season, just because it's so much fun for them," says Kennedy.

Even so, it's a lot of work. The team shows up at 5 a.m. to begin prepping the crawfish, and the lunch rush is nonstop. "It's a little kitchen," says Kennedy. "We'll put 18 people in a place that normally holds only seven." For the past two years, COVID-19 complicated things even further, adding face masks and curbside takeout to the equation. And in 2022, they're planning for the usual rush. "It's good chaos!" says Kennedy.

Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette, Louisiana
All five of the couple’s children have worked at the restaurant (from left: Glenn, Lauren, Cheri, Becca, Gregory, and Ross; not pictured, Brad). Cedric Angeles

There are rewards for the staffers who survive all seven Fridays: eternal bragging rights and a commemorative T-shirt. "You can't buy one," says Murphree. "I wouldn't even give a shirt to my mom or my sister-in-law. You have to earn it."

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