by Ian McNulty
Angel Miranda, the founder and owner of Lola’s Restaurant in Faubourg St. John, died from cancer late last week at age 57.
The restaurant remains open, serving dinner nightly.
A native of Seville, Spain, Miranda opened his first New Orleans restaurant, called Altamira, in the Warehouse District in the 1980s. That folded a few years later, but he found lasting success with his next venture, Lola’s, which he opened in 1994 and named for his mother.
Lola’s is a tiny place that has developed a huge following, and Miranda provided many New Orleanians with their first tastes of authentic Spanish cuisine. Even as the number of Spanish restaurants in New Orleans has grown, Lola’s has remained popular as both a neighborhood café and a cross-town destination.
"When he opened, there was nothing even remotely like it in New Orleans,” says Xavier Laurentino, a close friend and owner of the Riverbend restaurant Barcelona Tapas. “But here’s what people don’t always know, no one worked harder than him. Whenever there was an obstacle, he worked through it. You see Lola’s today and it’s a successful restaurant, but to make that happen he had to work incredibly hard.”
Miranda got Lola’s back in business very quickly after Katrina, and I happened to be there when it reopened in November 2005. I will never forget the scene there that night, nor how Miranda responded to it.
It was a highly emotional time, and being back in so familiar and treasured a neighborhood setting as Lola’s dining room was tugging at people’s hearts. They quietly wiped back tears with their napkins and toasted each other in rattling voices. There were pledges to never leave New Orleans, or to come back soon if they had to go. This type of thing was happening in New Orleans dining rooms wherever they reopened during that time, and in the intimate confines of Lola’s it was particularly intense.
At one point, someone tapped a spoon against a glass, as if calling a wedding party to attention, and the dining room grew quiet. Then someone started clapping, loud and fast, and the idea spread in an instant. Soon everyone in the room was standing up and cheering and hollering, hoisting their glasses high. Everyone was looking at the open kitchen across the room, looking to Miranda, the man who had reopened his restaurant and brought back one little piece of their New Orleans. The dining room was seized by a spontaneous standing ovation.
It took Miranda a moment, but then he looked up from the fire-licked skillets on his stove and surveyed the situation in his restaurant. He gave a little wave, a shy acknowledgement, and then clapped his hands at his beaming waitresses and implored them to get back to work. I found Miranda a few days later relaxing and watching a Spanish soccer game on TV. I asked him about the opening night scene.
“I was so tired from getting the restaurant open," he told me. "You know, we had a lot to do with cleaning everything up and finding people to work. I was just so tired I couldn’t even show how touching it was when they stood up for me like that. But inside my heart was bulging with happiness.”
That’s how I’ll always remember Angel Miranda, the man who brought the delights of Spanish cooking to so many New Orleanians and who brought back a treasured neighborhood spot when we needed one most.
3312 Esplanade Ave., 488-6946