How our contest for the best po’boy in Louisiana sparked romance

how-our-contest-for-the-best-po’boy-in-louisiana-sparked-romance

Competition in our USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards tends to get pretty heated, but in recent months, one of our contests heated up in a way that none of us here at 10Best expected.

In 2016, we held a Readers’ Choice Award for the Best Po’Boy in Louisiana and the race was tight between two legendary, family-owned po’boy spots: Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette and Parkway Bakery and Tavern in New Orleans.

“It felt like we were running a political campaign,” says Justin Kennedy, General Manager and Head Chef over at Parkway.

Parkway, which has been open since 1911, is one of the oldest po’boy shops in New Orleans. Despite Parkway’s local fame and loyal following, Kennedy quickly realized that being a historic po’boy institution in the heart of New Orleans was not enough to win the competition for Best Po’Boy in Louisiana.

Parkway is also known for their roast beef sandwich, so their Surf & Turf po'boy features both seafood and roast beefParkway is also known for their roast beef sandwich, so their Surf & Turf po’boy features both seafood and roast beef — Photo courtesy of Parkway Bakery and Tavern

In Lafayette, Becca Murphree was campaigning hard for her family’s Olde Tyme Grocery. Olde Tyme Grocery, which has been open since 1982, started out as a grocery store, but the po’boys were so loved throughout the community, they decided to focus on just that: well-made sandwiches using high-quality ingredients.

When Murphree learned her family’s shop was nominated for our Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Po’Boy in Louisiana, she took to social media, promoting the contest and her family’s delicious po’boy sandwiches. Her efforts did not go unnoticed.

“We were number one in New Orleans but then this little place in Lafayette was beating us,” says Kennedy, who quickly realized that if he was going to win the competition, he’d have to start campaigning for Parkway. Kennedy called friends and family, sent out emails and even told diners at Parkway that they were gunning for Best Po’Boy in Louisiana, but a little spot in Lafayette was giving them a run for their money.

Olde Tyme Grocery's fried shrimp po'boy is a local favoriteOlde Tyme Grocery’s fried shrimp po’boy is a local favorite — Photo courtesy of Olde Tyme Grocery

Locals take pride in food in the same way that they take pride in their sports teams – with unfettered passion. Voting was tit for tat and so was the campaigning.

“At one point, we did a video on our Facebook page and then the next day Parkway would have a very similar video to ours,” says Murphree, who remembers the video Kennedy published to Facebook being pretty similar to her own. “You had to get the word out and keep that momentum going,” says Kennedy.

The competition was friendly, but fierce, and eventually the po’boys at Parkway in New Orleans won the top spot. In a true act of sportsmanship, Kennedy and his family reached out to Murphree’s family at Olde Tyme Grocery.

“We ended up winning by a hair, so we wanted to see them,” says Kennedy. “So we called them, picked a date, and me and my family, a few months later, went and visited.”

Justin Kennedy's family visiting Becca Murphree's family at Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette for the first timeJustin Kennedy’s family visiting Becca Murphree’s family at Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette for the first time — Photo courtesy of Becca Murphree

What started as a cordial meeting between two competitors ended up blossoming into a relationship worthy of a Shakespearean love story. The po’boy-crossed lovers met in 2016, but it wasn’t until 4 years later when their Romeo and Juliet-esque love story began. It was the COVID-19 pandemic that brought Kennedy’s and Murphree’s paths together again.

Murphree’s dad, who is originally from New Orleans, wanted to help out his old hometown. “My dad said I really want to help out in New Orleans because they’re suffering more than Lafayette is,” says Murphree. “I saw a video on Instagram where Justin was barbecuing for people in the service industry. So I sent him a message saying ‘Hey, if we can do anything to help, let us know.'”

Murphree ended up going down to New Orleans where she had lunch with Kennedy at Parkway. By the time lunch ended, Kennedy ended up asking Murphree out.

Despite being dueling po’boy joints, the couple has a deep respect for one another’s take on Louisiana’s most iconic sandwich. During his first visit to Olde Tyme Grocery, Kennedy got the shrimp po’boy. “I enjoyed it,” says Kennedy. “It’s different. That’s what makes it great. It’s so much different than what we have at Parkway. It is nice seeing something different.”

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