The tantalizing aromas of Cajun spices draw you in to Luchals, and the mega-electric smile that Chantal Lucas flashes — one that is welcoming and that informs about her nature and devotion to hospitality — makes you want to take a closer look at that menu and put in an order.

And you should, because this is the place to get your Cajun seafood fix. Lucas and her husband, T.J. (Travares Jamal), put their souls into their three Cajun American seafood businesses: a food truck, a brick-and-mortar eatery downtown and a catering business.

While both enjoy cooking, Chantal is the on-the-line chef and T.J. is the business guru behind the scenes. We talked to Chantal about her path to becoming a chef and the first in her family to be a business owner — and a successful one to boot.

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Childhood

The only child of a single mom, Chantal grew up in South Central Los Angeles. When asked what type of neighborhood she lived in, she replied, with a roll of her eyes, “It can be a little rough. There were things a child should not see. As children growing up in South Central, the success rate for kids making it out of the city was low for my generation.”

Statistically, children from this environment do not make it, by getting involved in either gangs or drugs and not being able to break the mold.

“Just because I’m in this situation or I’m living in this type of lifestyle, doesn’t mean I have to stay there,” she said.

That’s where being raised by a strong mother played a role in shaping Chantal’s dreams and aspirations.

“It was just my mom and me until I was 17,” she said. “My mom married my stepdad, Kenneth Hines, but he passed away from cancer two years later. That hurt me because he had dreams and motivations for me to have a better life.”

But her mom had laid a foundation for young Chantal.

“I was a B-average student and didn’t get into a lot of trouble in school,” she said. “If I did do something, my teachers knew a call to my mom would handle the situation.”

Teachers had Chantal’s back.

“They saw something in meand gave me encouragement,” she said.

One of those teachers was Regis Inge, her middle school English teacher.

“She’s a teacher’s dream,” Inge said of Chantal in an email. “I am so proud of her. She makes my heart smile.”

He was concerned about her ability to handle the challenges related to self-esteem.

“She just did not believe she was pretty,” he wrote. “She felt that she was too dark, too skinny, and did not feel great about herself at all. It affected her socially, academically, and emotionally.”

As a result, her academics suffered.

“It all changed when she joined a club that I sponsored: The Ladies and Gents Club,” he continued. “I told her that she could not be in the club if she didn’t want to believe that she was pretty and just as talented as everyone in the club and school. I told her that God made you dark-skinned, beautiful and there was nothing to be ashamed about.”

This was a turning point. Over a period of a few weeks, she started to blossom. She later graduated high school in 2008.

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Culinary path

When she was 14, she started working as a cashier at McDonald’s.

“I worked my way up to lead staff trainer,” Chantal said. “My dream then was to own my own McDonald’s franchise.”

But she changed paths in 2008 when she took a job as a teller at a Chase bank.

“After being a teller three to four months, I was offered a position as a private banker,” she said. “But I had other plans. I had decided to enlist in the Army. My granddad, stepdad and several of my friends were in the military.”

She was 18. She was given three job options in the Army, one of which was cooking, which she chose. Her first assignment was in Hawaii, where she met T.J., who was also in the Army. He was a single dad raising five children, ages 8, 7, 4 and 2-year-old twins.

“I looked at him raising his family and was impressed,” she said.

They married in 2014 and started the traditional military family life, moving from post to post. Chantal honed her culinary skills as a cook and participated in the American Culinary Federation and National Restaurant Association competitions, winning many of them.

Army Sgt. Maj. Katrina M. Munoz, Chantal’s first trainer as a culinary specialist, had high praise for the starting soldier.

“She stood out from everyone else because even as a trainee she would stand up front and take charge of the class when the instructors were not around,” she wrote in an email. “Her motivation and upbeat personality were contagious. The last day of the field training exercise, the culinary specialists were cooking steaks for over 300 soldiers. Chantal saw the motivation was low, so she started rapping about them cooking; she was pounding on pots and pans getting everyone singing and hyped while they were cooking in the 100-degree heat.”

When the couple both left the Army, Chantal with nine years of service, TJ asked what her dreams for the future were, pointing out her talent for cooking.

“He wondered if I wanted to do anything with that,” she said. “He encouraged me to pursue it.”

The couple decided to do catering and operate a food truck together. They named it Luchals and launched the business in 2016.

To better her culinary skills, Chantal enrolled in 2018 in a one-year degree program at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder.

“For a year I got up at 3 a.m. to drive to Boulder for school and left at 1 p.m. to be back in time to prep and work at Luchals,” she said.

After completing the culinary program, she and TJ opened a brick-and-mortar eatery in CO.A.T.I. food hall in 2020. COVID shut them down, but they were able to reopen in three to four months with the same employees.

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The future

The couple continues to run the three businesses and has rolled out a bigger, better food truck.

“I want to get a fleet of food trucks,” Chantal said. “My goal is to get more trucks and be able to travel out of state. We’re exploring the possibility of opening our own stand-alone restaurant with a liquor license. I’m not rushing things.”

As veteran business owners, she and her husband are passionate about giving back and have dreams of one day opening a second-chance nonprofit to provide cooking classes and opportunities for other veterans.

“And as the first business owner in my family, I want to be the first Fortune 500 company owner in the family too,” she said, flashing that mega-electric smile.

Contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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