Off the page: ‘Drago’s: An American Journey’

Indulging in the rich flavors of locally sourced seafood is a way of life for most Louisianans. And if you’ve been here long enough, there is no doubt you’ve heard the chorus of praise for the charbroiled oysters served at Drago’s. In the newly released Drago’s: An American Journey, award-winning journalist Peter Finney, Jr. unveils the story of the family who invented the New Orleans staple and revolutionized how the world eats oysters.

After immigrating from Croatia with mere pennies in their pockets, Drago and Klara Cvitanovich opened the first Drago’s location just outside of New Orleans in the early 1970s. Drago ran the kitchen while Klara handled bookkeeping and table settings in addition to her full-time job as a travel agent. Together, they built the beloved restaurant while raising their sons, Tommy and Gerry. Drago’s was open six days a week for lunch and dinner. More often than not, the line was out the door.

Despite facing its fair share of obstacles, the restaurant thrived thanks to the unwavering resilience of the Cvitanovich family. In 1982, Louisiana recorded 400 gastrointestinal illnesses linked to contaminated raw oysters. The city’s appetite for the shellfish plummeted, slashing oyster sales in half seemingly overnight. The Drago family and their staff were in disarray until a delicious innovation saved the business and, some say, the city of New Orleans.

“Now world-famous, Drago’s charbroiled oysters were invented on a whim by Tommy Cvitanovich in the late 1980s and burst onto the New Orleans culinary scene in the early 1990s as the single-best bite in a food-crazed city,” Finney writes in the book. 

With a hefty pat of butter, freshly minced garlic and grated parmesan cheese, Tommy Cvitanovich saved the family business and changed the way oysters are eaten everywhere. Before they knew it, people began arriving from all over the United States to try Drago’s charbroiled oysters, making it their first stop from the Louis Armstrong International Airport, luggage in hand.

“This inspiring and uniquely American story validates the power of hard work, perseverance, faith in family, and generosity,” says Hampton Ryan of Arcadia Publishing.