A Louisiana Life: Jerry Strahan
Putting the Mustard in Lucky Dogs
Photographed by Cheryl Gerber
Jerry Strahan says his main task as a manager at Lucky Dogs is “herding cats.”
Lucky Dogs are identified by those ubiquitous hot dog-shaped carts seen in the vicinity of New Orleans’ French Quarter. They were also immortalized in John Kennedy Toole’s novel, Confederacy of Dunces in which the lead character, Ignatius Reilly, had a brief career as a vendor for something called “Paradise Dogs.” Strahan has managed the hot dog company’s French Quarter vendors since 1976, and he knows this business inside and out. He’s even written a book about the characters he encounters on a daily basis, called Managing Ignatius: The Lunacy of Lucky Dogs and Life in New Orleans.
Strahan is a longtime friend of Lucky Dogs owner Doug Talbot, whom he started working for as a teenager. In 1968, Strahan, then in high school, began working for Talbot at an Orange Julius stand in the newly built Lakeside Mall. Talbot then bought the Orange Julius on Bourbon Street.
Much to his parents’ dismay, Strahan transferred to the Bourbon Street location as a senior in high school.
“It was every kid’s dream come true and every parent’s nightmare,” he says. “They weren’t overly happy, but they trusted me.”
Strahan’s gig at Orange Julius continued through his undergraduate years at the University of New Orleans. Having grown to trust Strahan after his Orange Julius years, Talbot asked him to help train a new manager at Lucky Dogs. That new manager didn’t work out, and soon Strahan found himself with a new job.
“A couple of weeks turned into a couple of months, which turned into a couple of decades,” says Strahan. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been about 36, 37 years now but it has been. We’ve lasted longer than most people’s marriages.”
Strahan originally wanted to be a history professor, but he burned out in graduate school after receiving his master’s degree. “I happened to see one day the salaries that liberal arts professors make and I realized, ‘You know, it’s a great life, but maybe economically I can do better elsewhere.’”
History continues to be a side hobby for Strahan, who has also written a book on Andrew Higgins: Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II. As an undergraduate, he wrote a paper on Higgins for Steven Ambrose’s modern military history class. He found out the hard way nothing had been written about Higgins yet, so he pored through newspaper articles and tracked down some of the company’s original employees.
It so impressed Ambrose that he convinced Strahan to go for a master’s degree. The two became friends, and Ambrose later suggested – about 15 years later – Strahan turn that paper into a book. Strahan volunteers regularly at the National World War II Museum.
But Lucky Dogs remains his day job, and there’s rarely a dull moment.
“It’s not your father’s corporation. It’s a little different, but it’s never dull,” Strahan says. He’s full of stories of men showing up to work in drag (Strahan submits them to the Catholic girls’ school skirt test; if it touches the floor when they kneel, they’re free to go out and work), of being a father figure or therapist to his vendors, of carts that go out and never come back.
“This is a very politically incorrect place. And it’s good that it is. We have straight people, we have gay people, we have whites, we have blacks, we have some people that don’t know what they are. But they all fit in together,” Strahan says. “It’s kind of like a foxhole mentality. They’re accepting of one another. They’re all working on Bourbon Street, they all have the same frustrations, they all have the same weather problems. They understand one another’s predicaments, and so they all bond together and it doesn’t matter what you were in the past, where you came from in the past, it’s just kind of in a sense one large family. Some of these people have no other family.”