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Drago's Restaurant a part of close-knit Croatian community in New Orleans
By Nenad N. Bach and Darko Žubrinić | Published  04/21/2017 | Croatian Cuisine | Unrated
In the weeks after Katrina tornado, their restaurant gave away more than 75,000 free meals

Klara, Drago and Tommy Cvitanovich, founders and owners of Drago's Restaurant in New Orleans

Nenad Bach, Mime Restović and Tommy Cvitanovich, son of Drago and Klara.
The ring on Nenad's finger is authentic Chicago Cubs baseball champion ring.

Draga and Klara Cvitanovic have been inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Louisianna Restaurant Association in 2013

Klara Cvitanovich, Nenad Bach and Vjera Bach

Drago and Klara Cvitanovich

People often ask us about the secret to our success. It’s no secret. You see it at the restaurant every day. We all love what we do.

It’s been that way since Drago and Klara Cvitanovich opened our restaurant in 1969. They set out to offer delicious seafood and a good time to guests for a reasonable price. At that time, they couldn’t even imagine how many guests that would become.

Today it’s still a family atmosphere. Klara is still at the front to greet our guests. Tommy Cvitanovich, Drago and Klara’s son, is there to see that things run smoothly. And though 92-year-old Drago doesn’t select the oysters himself anymore, you can still see him at the restaurant when he’s not on duty as Grandpa.

Our family has grown a lot since the early days—and our work family too. It would be impossible to do what we do without our very hard-working and loyal staff. Drago’s now has more than 400 employees who help us carry our legacy forward. And we all have a great time doing it!

We’re proud to build our business on a strong heritage. We’re building on a legacy of oyster farming in Louisiana and an ongoing commitment to great food and great service at a great value.


Drago's Jackson opening announced

Deuce McAllister to Participate in a Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

NEW ORLEANS, LA. (December 9, 2014) – The Cvitanovich family of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, with their partner Spire Hospitality, have announced the date of their Jackson, MS opening. Beginning Wednesday, December 10, 2014, Drago’s Jackson will be open nightly for dinner service, 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., for the initial opening period. They plan to expand hours to offer both lunch and dinner service in the beginning of January.

Deuce McAllister, a Jackson native, former New Orleans Saints player and close family friend of the Cvitanovich family, will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to be held at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, celebrating the grand opening of the first Drago’s location outside of the New Orleans area. Deuce has been a big fan of Drago’s and their signature dish, the Original Charbroiled Oyster, since he originally moved to New Orleans in 2001.

The new restaurant is located at 1005 East County Line Road, next door to to the Hilton Jackson Mississippi at Interstate 55 and County Line Road, just 13 miles from the Jackson-Evers International Airport and only a few minutes from downtown Jackson. Guests will be able to view first-hand the $2.5 million renovation of the site where Huntington’s Grille was previously located.

Drago’s will bring their authentic New Orleans-themed seafood dishes to Jackson, including their world famous Original Charbroiled Oysters and the freshest live Maine lobsters. “We will be serving the same menus and prices at all of our locations, and consistency in both food and service is of the utmost importance to our family,” said Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant. “Our customers continually expect the best from Drago’s, and we plan to continue to give it to them whether they are in New Orleans or Jackson.”

The Jackson restaurant features seating for 400 guests throughout a 10,000 square foot space. Other locations are in Metairie, LA and in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. Drago’s delivery trucks will bring fresh Louisiana oysters and other Gulf seafood to Jackson daily from New Orleans.

The Drago’s family of restaurants now collectively employs approximately 450 total employees –
the Jackson location has created 150 new local jobs, in addition to approximately 300 employees in the New Orleans area. “We are proud to be partners with the Cvitanovich family who created this business in 1969,” said Skipper Westbrook, Hilton Jackson general manager. “The jobs created here will make a significant impact in our local community, and we have a great product to bring to the people of Jackson.”

About Drago’s Seafood Restaurant

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant officially opened in February 1969. Owners Drago and Klara Cvitanovich are part of a close-knit Croatian community that has thrived in New Orleans since the 1800s. Their son, Tommy, created their signature dish, the Original Charbroiled Oyster, of which they sell over 3 million annually. Drago’s has locations in Metairie, LA, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and in Jackson, MS. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside location is among the highest grossing restaurants in Louisiana, and is the highest grossing and most profitable restaurant in the Hilton chain worldwide. For more information on the Drago’s tradition and their commitment to community giving, visit Follow on Twitter or on Facebook.


Drago and Klara Cvitanovich built an empire on oysters. Born in Croatia, the couple opened their restaurant Drago's in 1969. They turned the chargrilled oyster into a dish as central to the New Orleans diet as barbecue shrimp or trout amandine. In the weeks after Katrina, their restaurant gave away more than 75,000 free meals.

On Thursday (Nov. 13), the couple will receive the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, or NOWFE.

The award, named in honor of famed restaurateur Ella Brennan of Commander's Palace, recognizes a "lifetime commitment to the hospitality industry."

Previous recipients of the Ella Brennan Award include Paul Prudhomme, Leah Chase and Bill Goldring.

The Cvitanoviches now operate two restaurants: the main location in Metairie's Fat City and a second in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. In December, a third Drago's will open in Jackson, Miss.

The Cvitanoviches will receive the Ella Brennan Award at a gala celebration at the Nation World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.). In honor of the Cvitanoviches, a number of local restaurants, including Arnaud's, Galatoire's, Kingfish and Restaurant R'Evolution, will serve seafood dishes at the ceremony.


Drago and Klara Cvitanovich in their paradise

Drago Cvitanovich, restaurant patriarch and community icon, dies at 94

Drago Cvitanovich and his wife, Klara, opened a Fat City restaurant in 1969 built upon their ties to Southeast Louisiana's community of immigrant Croatian oystermen. The success of their business, which now includes three restaurants, paralleled the esteem held for Mr. Cvitanovich among restaurateurs and the local community, who died as this home in Metairie on Saturday (Feb. 4, 2017) at age 94, surrounded by his family.

Mr. Cvitanovich took a storied path from his birthplace, Igrane, Croatia, to the New Orleans area. He fled his homeland following World War II to escape the new Communist regime. His first stop was Germany, where he joined the U.S. Army Labor Department and served as a military police officer.

In the spring of 1958, he took a trip to New Orleans to visit family and experienced his first Mardi Gras. It was during that trip he met Klara, also a Croatian, who was visiting her family. They were married three weeks later.

Mr. Cvitanovich and his wife moved to Canada, where he began his career in the restaurant industry, with the goal of returning the the United States. Four years later, they received their visas and arrived in New Orleans in 1964 with two young sons, Tommy and Gerry. 

The first Drago's restaurant in New Orleans was in Lakeview, but it was not named for Mr. Cvitanovich. It was owned by his sister, Gloria, who named it after her husband, Drago Batinich. Mr. Cvitanovich would work for nine years at his sister's restaurant and two years with Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter.

From the Fat City restaurant he and Klara opened in 1969, Drago's has grown to three locations and more than 450 employees. Its signature dish -- charbroiled oysters -- has taken its place alongside renowned seafood dishes from other New Orleans restaurants, such as trout amandine, barbecue shrimp, blackened redfish. Even after Mr. Cvitanovich's retired well into his 70s, he would remain a regular presence at the restaurant, singing "Happy Birzzday" in his Croatian accent to celebrating guests.

Faith and service to others were guiding principals for Mr. Cvitanovich. The family is well known for its generosity within and outside the restaurant industry. Perhaps most notably, they organized donations from several restaurateurs and served hot meals from the parking lot of their Fat City restaurant in the weeks immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- even as the family was coping with its own storm damage.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association inducted Drago and Klara Cvitanovich into its hall of fame in 2013, and the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation created the Drago Cvitanovich Award for Outstanding Philanthropy by an Entrepreneur. In 2014, the couple received Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.

Mr. Cvitanovich reigned as king of the Krewe of Argus in 1995, although the honor came literally as a big surprise orchestrated by his sons.

"We kind of stood him up -- he had a tuxedo on -- put the sash around him, put the medallion on him," Tommy Cvitanovich said. "Lo and behold, he realized we sandbagged him."

While entrenched in the greater New Orleans community, Mr. Cvitanovich retained lifelong pride in his Croatian heritage. The Monument to the Immigrant statue stands in Woldenberg Park with the following inscription: "Drago and Klara Cvitanovich immigrated to the United States with a vision that only hard work and perseverance could make make happen. What they gave to their sons and others is an example for generations to follow."  

In addition to his wife of 59 years, his survivors include his sons, Tommy, who leads the restaurants, and Gerry, a physician who is in his second term as Jefferson Parish coroner; daughters-in-law Leanne Flick Cvitanovich and Heidi Hoffmann Cvitanovich; and eight grandchildren, Maddie, Josh, Maya, Carson, Callie, Caroline, Kacie, and Drago.

Relatives and family friends are invited to attend a visitation at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. in New Orleans, on Monday (Feb. 6) from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Visitation will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday (Feb. 7) at St. Clement of Rome Church, 3978 West Esplanade Ave. in Metairie. A funeral mass will be held at 12:30 p.m. Burial will take place at Lake Lawn Park Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Drago's Foundation, 3232 N. Arnoult Road, Metairie, LA, 70002, which distributes funds to the Alzheimer's Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Sunshine Kids, Jesuit High School, Mt. Carmel Academy, Christian Brothers School and St. Clement of Rome and Catholic Charities.

By Greg LaRose


Drago and Klara Cvitanovich, both born in Croatia, founders of the Drago's Restaurant in New Orleans


The Tockos, were willing to kill for their oysters. The French and Americans called Dalmatian Croatians “Tockos” in Louisiana. It came from “do this or that” or tako-tako.

Kings or no kings, the Tockos had converted oyster production into what is probably the most efficient of the Delta gathering enterprises. The French remained in the business, but it expanded all about them, and the expansion was Dalmatian. Between the Frenchman and the Tocko, little friction developed; the French shrugged and concentrated on their trapping and their various other callings. When a Dalmatian oyster man needed extra help, the French did not object to digging and tonging, though they complained that he was a hard driver. But occasionally a Tocko would find oysters missing from his reef and accuse certain of the earlier Deltans of stealing. The reefs until now had been more or less public property; and among some it was not regarded as a mortal sin to draw out a few shellfish. A man moved his pirogue into low water, slipped over the side, and felt for the oysters with his feet and his rump. When he dumped his catch at home, he rubbed his trouser-seat and said, "I worked for them;" and the family knew what he meant. Gradually, however, the poaching decreased.

Source Adam Eterovich - Bracanin

Formated for CROWN by Darko Žubrinić
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