Roger Smith, publisher of Louisiana Homes and Gardens, had an idea several years ago to create a magazine showcasing the state’s finest homes and gardens, interior designers and architects, builders and furniture makers, and those businesses related to Louisiana lifestyle. He had previously served as the director of sales and marketing for KMC for 17 years, traveling throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Brazil, and was also the director of strategic alliances for a national internet development company. He decided to change directions and embark on an independent publishing venture. The time was right, and Louisiana Homes and Gardens was born.
Since the magazine’s inception seven years ago, he has continually evolved and improved its content and direction. He began showcasing travel destinations, fine dining and recipes, a profusion of local artists and galleries, eco-friendly green construction and products, fashion, home trends, and notable people around the state ranging from Taylor Energy CEO and billionaire Phyllis Taylor to top chefs such as John Folse and Frank Davis, various Louisiana businessmen and politicos, musicians such as Zachary Richard and Irma Thomas, photographers such as Herman Leonard, and Louisiana’s First Lady, Supriya Jindal. Smith has transformed Louisiana Homes and Gardens into the state’s leading lifestyle magazine with a sizeable local and national following. He has also created StreetcarShops.com, an online savings guide with a Rewards Card booklet featuring an array of local retailers. I asked Roger to share his journey through the magazine’s initial concept and direction, his family, and his enduring love for Louisiana.
Tell me about your family, where you grew up, and how you feel your parents contributed to your strong work ethic?
I have an amazing family. We have such an eclectic mix of people in the line-up. My father was from Effie and so was my mother. Their two families couldn’t have been more different. Despite this, my parents were very much alike; they were the perfect, adventuresome couple. Unfortunately, my father was killed in an industrial accident at the young age of 29. I was seven years old. My mother had just had her fifth child. Looking back, I know she had to be terrified and devastated. She received no help from my father’s employer, Kaiser Aluminum, or the disloyal attorney she had hired, Camille Gravel. She was fortunate enough to find love a second time with my stepfather, Clifton Cortez, from Bayou Bouef. They had three children during their marriage, giving us a tribe of eight. The variety of backgrounds, traditions, and personalities in our merged families gave me insight into various Louisiana cultures. I enjoyed going to visit my three sets of grandparents, which included my mother’s family (Wiley). They were farmers and had cattle, chickens, hogs, and large gardens. It was there that I learned to milk a cow by hand at daylight, drive a tractor, and other farm duties. My father’s family (Smith) is where I learned to ride a horse and drive an old ’57 truck in the field. My stepfather’s home (Cortez) is where I learned to feast on Cajun cooking. My “Mai Mai” could cook like no other. Crawfish, pouldoo, and duck were among her specialties, but she could cook just about anything. Her food was exciting and different. Learning the Cajun culture helped me experience Louisiana on a different level. I also picked up some of the finer points of the Cajun French language, including words like couyon, jamais, envie, and the like. I am thankful for the support of a strong cross-cultural family background; it is the driving force behind my daily life. Each family had a very strong work ethic and solid principles. I feel very fortunate to have had these experiences.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of being the publisher of Louisiana’s leading lifestyle magazine?
The first challenge that I faced was to make this work. Everyone in the business told me we would be out of business within a year. But I had a dream. We are now going on year seven. When I started this I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I was going through a second divorce and a financial disaster and I didn’t even have a sample product to show people. But I had the concept and the vision and was determined to create the finest magazine in the state. During the time of the magazine’s inception, I belonged to a men’s group spearheaded by a man that I loved and owed my life to, Charles Harper. He reached out and helped me when many others wouldn’t. It was through him and the Healing Place Church that I learned the power of prayer. Charles has since passed on; not long after we met he was diagnosed with cancer. While selling the magazine ads in the very beginning of the project, I would conceptualize color ads on blank sheets of paper. I look back and am amazed we have come this far so rapidly. We have an excellent design team and photography that is on par with leading national magazines. We now set the standard for other monthly magazines that have been around much longer.
The other challenge of being a publisher is putting together the best people, like any other business. Right now we have the best people we have ever had; we are poised to create an even better product each month. I feel that each month, we get better and better. It is exciting to hear the feedback of readers and advertisers. We have a strong, loyal following and it shows in the way our readers support our advertisers and respond to the articles. I love it when people call in or write, telling of something they have gotten from the magazine, like using a recipe or connecting them to a source for something they want. I suggest everyone keep watching us, because we are still evolving and becoming better with each issue. It is obvious that Louisiana as a whole has adopted us as the emblematic state magazine. For that, I thank everyone—our readers, advertisers, and subscribers—for helping us become a cultural icon in our state. It may sound a bit Pollyanna, but we want to be a positive influence on our state and its culture, not just some rag that’s tossed. We want to add value to our society and document who we are. We have the most original culture in the country; there is no better place to live and raise a family.
In what manner have you seen your magazine evolve in recent years, and what are your future plans for expansion/diversification?
The magazine is always evolving. We have set the bar for everyone in the state, and we continue to strive for excellence and innovations. I have traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad and I feel there is no better place to be than Louisiana. I am passionately devoted to representing our state in the finest manner possible. This will help dispel the negative, short-sighted national media slant on Louisiana’s people.
Is being a publisher like being a restaurateur in that it requires working seven days a week? If so, why?
I guess you could say that. However, I don’t consider this work. It is really a labor of love. I meet the best people; many have become good friends. My only regret is that I don’t see them all as much as I would like to.
Why did you create the Sonata Awards?
The Sonata Awards were born out of a desire to recognize people in our state for their service and accomplishments. This year we will add categories of a broader nature giving you a view of where the magazine is headed. We had bronze sculpture artist Bill Binnings create something of value; it is like our Oscar, but more beautiful. Check it out online at sonataawards.com.
I understand you are a painter with an appreciation for art. Is this something that runs in the family?
I love art and music, I play some guitar (not very well), and I love to sing. I love to paint and collect art. My grandmother was an artist and a poet. I remember going to art shows with her. She exhibited her art next to Clementine Hunter on several occasions. My grandmother’s name was Clemmy Wiley. She was an incredible human being. She would always tell me, “Roger Wayne, make the best of every day, make the best of every hour, make the best of every minute because you only live this life one time. Part of it is to prepare for the next.” I still miss her.
What are some of your favorite things about living in Louisiana?
The most obvious is the food, not just eating it, but I also love to cook. I love the city of New Orleans, despite all its shortcomings. The Faubourg Marigny is one of my favorite neighborhoods. I also love Lafayette and Shreveport. There are great things to do and see in each city. I also love Effie and Grand Isle. And let’s not forget Baton Rouge and the River Parishes. I love the fact that we are under the Napoleonic Code, and that we have parishes instead of counties. I love the Crab Trap restaurant in back of Peavine Road in LaPlace. I love the accents in the different areas of the state. I love the fact that our parishes have finally learned to help and build on each other, so as a whole, we are becoming stronger and more unified. I love the fact that I can tell the difference between Louisiana crawfish and Chinese imports by just biting into them. Shame on anyone for serving Chinese crawfish! I love our colorful politics that are unique to Louisiana. I have great hope for the future of our colorful state.
Do you have any favorite restaurants around the state?
I don’t know if I have a favorite restaurant, since there are so many great ones. The method I use for selecting a restaurant is similar to the way I select mood music. To name a few of my current favorites: Cochon and RioMar (ceviche) in the Warehouse District, Stanley’s (breakfast), Stella’s, and Snug Harbor (great burgers) in the French Quarter, and One Restaurant and Lounge in the uptown Riverbend area. These are all located in New Orleans, but I enjoy many more that are far too numerous to list. I also like Houmas House, Sno’s Seafood, Bernadette’s, and Starlite Espresso café, all in the Gonzales area. Ichiban’s Sushi Bar in Baton Rouge has the best sushi in the state. Other Baton Rouge favorites include DiGiullio’s, Le Creole, and Beausoleil. I could go on and on; there are so many great places. This is one of the things that makes Louisiana unique—its indigenous world-famous cuisine.
If you could have one last meal in Louisiana, what would it be?
My last meal would be large and probably take hours to finish. It would be like a “feed me” experience, and would consist of a red fish courtboullion; venison sauce piquant; a sack of raw oysters from Venice, Louisiana; boiled shrimp, barbecue crabs, and boiled crawfish from the Crab Trap; my mom’s smothered round steak, her fried chicken, shrimp and corn soup, and her delicious chicken andouille gumbo. My Uncle Travis would roast a pig outside over an open fire with pecan wood. For dessert, it would be mom’s pumpkin pie, caramel custard from Sno’s Seafood and tres leches de cocao from Rio Mar. The main ingredient would be to have this all with a large group of friends.
What is your New Year’s resolution?
To stay better connected to the friends and customers I have grown to love and respect.