722 Carrollton Avenue
Greenwood, MS 38930
When I married Andy and we got involved with Lusco’s, I was fascinated with what wonderful cooks all three of those little old ladies [in Andy’s family] were. I mean, they could--as old Doctor Lucas said, “They could cook a rat and make it taste good!” – Karen Pinkston
In 1933, Sicilian immigrants Charles and Marie Lusco opened a small grocery store. The store evolved into a restaurant that quickly gained a reputation as the place for the Delta gentry to get fresh fish, great steaks, and a dose of Charles Lusco’s homemade wine in the privacy of curtained booths. The fourth generation of Lusco's, Andy Pinkston and his wife Karen, still make the same great food, in the same great building, and you can now bring your own bottle to drink from behind the same great curtained booths. Visiting Lusco’s is an experience like no other, for it holds within it a patina of age and an unusual array of artifacts, highlighting the uniqueness of the place and making it as much of a living history museum as it is a restaurant--a living history museum that also happens to serve great food. Its location is also part of its charm, for it has remained in a part of Greenwood that has seen far better days. But rest assured, when you visit Lusco’s you will be treated like family and leave with an experience to write home about. Look for Andy Pinkston’s name scrawled in the sidewalk out front, the framed tablecloth Willie Morris made his own, the vintage phone booth in the lobby that came from the old Klein & Blumenthal department store in Greenwood and the collection of photographs in the back hallway.
What follows is a portion of the original interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.
SUBJECT: Karen Pinkston, 4th generation owner and cook
DATE: June 12, 2003 & June 19, 2003
LOCATION: Lusco's Restaurant
INTERVIEWER: Amy Evans
Amy Evans: It is Thursday, June 12th, 2003 at about eleven o'clock in the morning, and I'm at Lusco's with Karen Pinkston...I wonder, Mrs. Pinkston, if I may ask how old you are and how you're related to the Lusco's restaurant tradition.
Karen Pinkston: I am fifty years old, and I married Andy Pinkston, who is a fourth generation Lusco. And he and I took over Lusco's. And we actually came into the restaurant business officially, on October first, nineteen seventy-six. We actually worked here a year or two before that, part-time--helping the older sisters, because at that point, they were getting on up in age, and they needed some younger blood and some younger assistance. But, um, we--we started working here full-time in nineteen seventy-six. We worked with his mother BeBe until nineteen eighty-one, and then in nineteen eighty-one she left and we took it over completely--just the two of us by ourselves. So, I've been here--twenty-seven years?
Had you worked in a restaurant or anything before you came here? Before you all got married?
My grandmother was a real, real good cook. And, uh, I regretted the fact that she died, and she never shared any of her recipes with me. And I have often craved some of the things that she made. She made everything from scratch. She had a garden in the backyard, she made--raised all her vegetables, uh, we would have to spend the summer, uh, putting up green beans and peas and all kinds of vegetables, you know. She would fill the freezer. And, uh, that was what I did in the summer was help her with her garden and help her put up vegetables growing up. And I just--never had an opportunity to learn her recipes. [Counter; 59] Like her homemade biscuits, and--and different things. She made homemade gravies, and--so when--when took over--when I married Andy and we got involved with Lusco's, I was fascinated with what wonderful cooks all three of those little old ladies were. I mean, they could--as old Doctor Lucas said, "They could cook a rat and make it taste good!" You know. Anything that lady touched was going to come out just melting in your mouth. And I thought, if nothing else, I want to learn their recipes. I--they--these recipes cannot go, you know, and be lost. Because at that point, nobody else really seemed to be interested in learning the recipes. Because the other kids were younger, and they weren't concerned with it. And, um, they told me--I thought this was funny--they told me that they wouldn't teach me any of the recipes until I had been married to Andy for five years.
And so, I had been married to him for five years before they ever started teaching me any of the recipes. Because they wanted to make sure I wasn't going to leave and take their recipes with me.
Well, can we go far back into the Lusco's genealogy, and can you tell us a little bit about the Lusco family and where they came from?
Well, some of this has been a collection of, uh, things that were--I--that Marie [Lusco] shared with me, uh, and Mrs. Gory [second generation] shared with me before they died. And I talked with Jes, Andy's daddy, and I also spoke with Sam, Junior [third generation]. So, that's where that information came from. Uh, originally they were from Cefalu, Italy. Uh, in Sicily. And, um, they--I don't really know why they came to the United States. I've often wondered about that. I don't know if there was a famine in Italy or what. I don't know what was going on with the, um, with the economy of Italy. I'm sure there was a reason for so many Italians to migrate to the United States, but--uh, all of the children were born except Marie, and she was the only one that was born in the United States. And she was born in 1904. But, they came into Louisiana, and there's--there's a question there about where they settled. Marie always told me they lived in Jeanerette, Louisiana. But then, Jes says that they lived in Franklin, Louisiana [Franklin (St. Mary Parish) is approximately sixteen miles Southeast of Jeanerette, Louisiana (Iberia Parish)] because there was a brother, Giovanni, who had a farm down there, so they came and worked with him and farmed. And, let's see, there were two other brothers. It was Charles Lusco, then it was Frank Lusco, and Tony Lusco. And they lived in Louisiana for a while. Um--now, supposedly, Sam Junior--this was the oldest of the children--married a girl from Ar--married a girl from Vicksburg. Um, what was her name? [Karen waits for me too look on the page of information she typed earlier that morning] Betty Sanson? I know it's--
Bessie Sansone, that's it. Uh, so he moved to Vicksburg. And then Uncle Frank came up here to work, uh, with his son-in-law, Frank Marzulla, who was a banana man. And I have a picture back there on the wall of the banana men. The Italian banana men?
I'll have to show you that. Uh, and then, of course, Charles and Marie came up with their three daughters, and they opened a grocery store on the corner of Johnson and Main Street. And that was in 1921. Now, that building's no longer there. It burned, and I'm not really certain when it burned. Uh, when they opened the grocery store, that's when--it was during prohibition at that point, and that's when Papa [Charles Lusco] started making homebrew. And, then Mama and the three daughters were--were cooking in the back. And actually, I always thought the booths began here, and I think they did. But a semblance of a booth began there, because they had a table in the back in a room by the kitchen, and I guess you could say that was the first booth? I'm not really sure. But that's where all the cotton men would come, and they would drink the homebrew and eat whatever Marie and them were cooking. And they would hang out there and play cards and play dominoes and, um, I know they hung out there a lot. And there was a real strong bond between them and all the cotton men. I learned that over the years because of all the cotton people that would come through here. And some of the older men who would say, "Oh, I remember Mrs. Gory. I used to visit them when they were down on so-and-so." You know? And I used to think--I--at that point I didn't really understand or know about the Johnson Street location. I had just learned about it a good bit in the last couple of years. Because, to me, Lusco's began here in 1933, and I didn't realize that they actually started what was called Lusco's Grocery. And it was in 1921.
Do you have any idea if that was one of the only groceries around at that time?
I don't think so. I mean, I think it may have been the only one that sold homebrew. And where all the people came and, uh, hung out. I'm not certain. Um, I know there were anot--another couple of grocery stores. Because there was one in--right here that they rented one out to this one. Odom Brothers was right here. But, um, because that was before they moved here. They started building this building in 1924, and, uh, they rented it out for a while, until Mrs. Gory's husband died. And then, when he died--well see, she lost her daughter first, Margaret. She had polio. And, um, I forgot how old she was. She was very young. And they said Mr. Gory just died from a broken heart. He never got over losing the child. And he died of a heart attack right after that. And so, here she was left with three children to support. And the only thing she knew how to do was cook. You know, and she knew she did that well. So, um, she ended up--they moved to this location here because it was bigger. And added the other booths. And this was a grocery store out front. And right there where that door is [points to the door that separates the front room from the smaller booth dining area and the hall that leads to the kitchen], there was a screen door with a curtain over it. And Uncle Lee used to sit up here in a chair. Philip or either Papa or whoever was around at that time, and c--came in, you know. They only let certain people through that screen door. I guess mainly the cotton people, uh, or the people that they knew, you know--that they wanted back there. I don't know how that system worked. But, um, they had a grocery store out here. [Phone rings] And, of course, the locals would come in and buy groceries. But other people would come in and--and they would know the password [phone rings again] and they would let them in the back, and they would go back in the back and drink the homebrew. And then whatever Mrs. Gory and Mrs. Portera and Mrs. Correro were cooking--or Mama Lusco--that's what they were eating. You know, they would be--might be cooking pasta or--their menu evolved, and--and the cotton people played a role in the evolution of the menu because a lot of these cotton factors traveled a lot, and they would bring things back and say, "Mrs. Gory, will you cook this and see how it--see how it turns out?" That's how pompano came to Lusco's, is Tony Gregory's granddaddy--fact, Bob Gregory that works at Viking. His granddaddy. And I'm not sure which granddaddy it was, whichever one was a cotton factor. You--you can ask him that. He introduced the pompano to Mrs. Gory. He had had it in New Orleans, and he brought some back and had her cook 'em. And, um, she just came up with that fish sauce recipe, and he ate one and told her it was the best thing he'd ever had in his life. And he said, "That's better than anything in New Orleans. You've got to start serving pompano." And so, um, she found a connection, and she started serving pompano. Um, same thing with the shrimp. I'm not sure which one introduced--well, they knew about shrimp because they had been in Louisiana. And see that's-- that's why the sauces--our sauces--a lot of people say, "Your sauces have an--a Louisiana influence." And they really do. And I think it's because of them living in Louisiana first before they came up here. But, um, that--that's how their menu evolved.
You want to talk about the waiters?
See when--we took over Lusco's, I did not realize for many years that most of the waiters that were here--those old black men? I never saw them really write anything down. And I always wondered, you know, why are they not writing the orders down? They did it most by memory. They were illiterate. They didn't know how to read and write. And they were able to go into--especially Richard--He was able to go into that main dining room and there would be twenty people there. And you would have had to see him do this to believe it, because the first time I saw him, I was appalled. He would take that whole order, and he would come to the kitchen, and I would sit down with a pen and a pad, and he would go through seat one, seat two, seat three, seat four--he would give me every order. Exactly as they ordered it. Never had it written down. And I just looked at him and said, "Are you sure this is right?", you know. And he said, "Yes, ma'am."
You know, "I'm positive." And so I would consolidate the order where they could cook it and get it together, and I was just always waiting to see if there was a mistake. Never made a mistake. And I couldn't believe it. Well then when we took over in 1981, I started doing the tip slips and stuff and having them fill out their tip sheets and--and I would h--give 'am to 'em to sign? And it would have an "X" on it. And I realized, they can't read--or write. And that's why they able--they've been able to memorize so. Richard was better than Dan--at mem--And Dan had his own version of writing. Um, he could write his name where you could read it. But if you ever looked at any little pieces of paper where he may have taken notes on a--on a large party? You couldn't have figured out what it was. Because he had his own little system of writing. And it was--it was very scribbly, but he knew what each sign represented, you know. He had his own system. So he really never wrote.
Do you have many black customers who come in? Locals?
Yeah. We do. We do. We used to have more--from Valley [Mississippi Valley State University] when Doctor Boyer was there. He was one of our real good customers. Uh, when he was the president of--of Valley, he brought all of his professors and all of his guests over here quite a bit. Um, I don't know. I think some blacks feel uncomfortable coming here because in the past we had black wait staff, and they saw that as a sign of the times or whatever. And maybe there's a history with that. But I really try not to show any prejudice. I mean, I graduated from Greenwood High School when it was integrated. Some of my friends turned out to be, uh, some of the--the black people in the community right now, you know.
Well, do you have maybe a few minutes to walk around and maybe talk about some of the stuff
--in the restaurant?
Um. Uh, of course, this was the first side. Now, I will tell you, the first two booths are right here. [We're standing in that back of the front room at the door that leads to some of the booths and on back to the kitchen]. Number one and number two. And--and, uh--number four, excuse me. This--these started. This booth right here was here. But you know, oddly enough, when they moved here, Marie and her husband, Phillip, didn't have anywhere to live. They lived in this room. This was--
In booth three? [Laughing]
In booth three was their--their bedroom.
Oh my goodness! [Laughing]
And Marie used to tell us--and this was the kitchen right here. The original kitchen was right here [the closeted door next to booth three].
Okay. What's back there now?
Right here? Uh, this is a junk room.
But, um, they said that Phillip used to go out back and take his showers with a water hose.
So that was, um--originally, that was how they lived when they first moved down here. 'Cause they had just gotten married, and they didn't have anywhere else to live and--and Mrs. Gory had bought a house and, uh, that's when Mama and Papa--you know, they all lived together, practically. And-- except Marie and Phillip and so they lived in number three.
My goodness. And I have to ask you about all these stuffed and mounted animals around.
Those are Andy's. [Walking back towards the kitchen area]
My husband. [Sound of Karen unlocking the interior door that goes from the hall just outside of the kitchen, where the wait station is, into the back of the second dining room.] He--he is an--he used to be an avid outdoorsman.
Now, that deer? [The stuffed deer that hangs high above the door to the kitchen.]
We don't know where that deer came from except that we think Uncle Lee killed that deer, and it had to have been killed back in the twenties--or thirties, or something like that. And, as you can see, that's dust [hanging off of the stuffed deer head]. [Laughs] That's not fur.
[Laughs] Hanging off there. With the light bulb on his nose?
He's been there so long. But Andy put the light bo--light bulb up there for our children.
For Rudolph at Christmas, and we cut it on at Christmas.
[Karen walks over to booth number five and taps on it.] This booth was not here. We added this booth. This was mine and Andy's booth.
Booth number five.
We added that for our--for us. That was our booth. Uh, and the reason we did that was because when we were dating--
We'd call to come out here, and they'd be busy--
And they wouldn't have anywhere for us to sit. So Andy said, "Well, I'm--can I come out there and build my own booth?" And his grandmother said, "Yeah. If you want to that's fine." So he went and bought the wood and stuff, and he built that booth, and that became our booth.
And so, uh, that's our lover's booth. That's what we call that.
Over the years, I just would talk to people. As you see, I love to talk. And I love to talk to people that I've never met before because you just always find out and learn something new every day from 'em, you know. And whenever people would come through that liked to talk as much as I would, I would sit up there, and they would sit on that stool, generally right there and talk to me for hours and tell me stories and tell me things, and I would just absorb it. Loved to hear it. So. There are lots of those stories. I have lots of different things that people have shared with me over the years.
Yeah. And stories are important. That's why we're doing this.
Yeah, they really are. And, like I told you, one of these days I'm gonna write 'em all down, and I can remember them.
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.