672 Jefferson Hwy.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Hours: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm Monday – Friday
Seasonal Supper and Singing: 6:00 pm – 9:30 pm Saturdays
(approximately once a month)
Maureen Joyce always dreamed of owning a small café similar to ones located in Italy and France where meals are a part of the culture – taking time to enjoy your surroundings and eating in casual relaxed dining atmospheres. She experienced this mealtime custom while studying in France as an LSU undergraduate and later in Italy while pursuing her LSU Masters degree. She thought, “Why can’t meals here in Louisiana be served like this…we have wonderful fresh greens, veggies, cheese and shell fish. Why shouldn’t we enjoy Louisiana bounty, cooked fresh, each day?” So, On May 5, 2011, Maureen opened MJ’s Café. She is the owner/proprietor and the only full time employee. Maureen, along with one part-time employee, serves as the hostess, cook and waitress.
Joyce created a unique café for Baton Rouge located in the Capital Heights area of Mid-City that promotes a healthy lifestyle through fresh, homemade meals. MJ’s Café offers cuisine that encourages people to “eat light but right” and to eat a balance of fresh foods and good nutrients. Patrons can enjoy a dining experience that allows them to return to work without feeling sluggish and sleepy after their midday meal. MJ’s Café provides a vegan or vegetarian option rather than a heavy “meat and potatoes” meal. However, most of MJ’s Café’s customers are not strict vegetarians. They enjoy the change of pace and are not afraid to have a meatless meal. Most restaurants do not offer vegetarian choices other than a salad bar, but more are adding this option to their menu.
Menu items include homemade soup using Louisiana-grown veggies and beans, sandwiches with homemade bread, greens and cheese, and quiche or other shellfish choices. Often menu selections include what is fresh and available from the BREADA Farmers Market such as spicy sweet potato soup topped with goat cheese, curry carrot soup with cilantro, and Italian tomato and white bean parmesan cheese soup. All soups are veggie-based (not barley or rice based) and are served with a baguette. September is typically a lean month for fresh produce. However, beans that are harvested in the fall provide fare for hearty filling dishes. Creative menu items feature peaches, cantaloupe, and strawberries in sandwiches and salads, and cold apple and cucumber soup.
People enjoy and appreciate having a healthy choice for lunch. In Louisiana, chefs have access to fresh produce every month of the year. Joyce primarily buys and features locally grown items in salads, soups and other dishes. MJ’s serves fresh shrimp, crawfish, crab and catfish – all caught locally. She buys from local farmers markets and some items are delivered by Louisiana farmers. MJ’s Café is mostly farm to table; even the eggs are produced by free range chickens at Felixville Organics, LLC, in Clinton, LA. The bread served is from local providers such as Forte Grove located in Plaquemine, LA.
About once a month MJ’s Café offers a “Seasonal Supper and Song.” The event consists of a four-course meal along with live music. These are held on a Saturday after regular business hours (6:00-9:30 pm). Meals are served first and then the music begins around 8:00-8:30 pm. The music is international original compositions performed by local musicians. The menu always includes one seafood option for the main course and uses the freshest local ingredients available at that time.
Joyce was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father died when she was young and her mother, who has roots in Lake Charles, moved the family to Louisiana. Maureen grew up in Lake Charles and went to LSU to pursue a BA in English. She taught English for 4 years at a local private school and taught art history part time at BRCC and LSU. She also worked as marketing director for the Baton Rouge Arts Council.
She began her food career at high-end bakeries sculpting gum paste flowers, and learned everything from French butter cream to basic pastry while living in France. She now follows a philosophy based on simple, fresh, local ingredients beautifully prepared to nurture the body and spirit. A patron who frequents the restaurant for lunch keeps telling Maureen, “Attitude – Gratitude.” Maureen agrees and is grateful for the abundance of fresh vegetables and fresh seafood available in Louisiana. In the hustle and bustle of fast food restaurants and drive-thrus, she is grateful for the success of MJ’s Café – “the little café that could.”