Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives and the Diaconate
“If I call myself a Catholic,” says celebrity chef Deacon Lou Aaron, “I need to live like a Catholic.”
A resident of Boise, Idaho, Chef Lou Aaron may be familiar to folks who watch Guy Fieri’s Food Network shows, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” or “Guy’s Grocery Games.” Or, if you live near Boise, you can watch his cooking spots on NBC affiliate KTVB-TV. You can also browse the internet and see him on Pinterest. No wonder he has created a following — he is the creative chef who owns the “Famous Westside Drive-In” that features an Idaho favorite, the Idaho Finger Steaks.
Chef Aaron was raised in a Catholic family, attended 12 years of Catholic school, and as a youth, served as an altar boy. But, as so many youths do, after high school, he left the faith. As he said, “I became a man of the earth, and went through my early 20s living the life of the devil.”
His life continued on a downward path. He started heavily drinking and became an alcoholic. “The problem escalated,” he said, “because I was a really good cook, so I could hide my drinking. I started cooking at 14, and it was easy to drink in the restaurant kitchen. You can work and drink at the same time. … I wanted to be a partier and I did not know my faith like so many cradle Catholics … but I prayed every night during those dark ages and asked the Lord to get me to stop drinking.”
Chef Lou admitted that even after he married in the late 1980s and had children, he continued drinking, always having a stash of beer in the garage. Then, one day in 1993, God finally answered his prayer in a way only God could answer. He came home from work, to find out that his wife had found the stash of hundreds of empty beer cans that were in a cubby hole behind the refrigerator and confronted him. He admitted that he was an alcoholic and made a resolution to stop drinking — a resolution he has held for the last 28 years.
Their marriage went through a rough transition — his wife had married a drunk who was now sober, and it took some adjusting. During this time, they started discussing going back to church because of their children. But, even then, after three years, the couple never attended a service. Then God decided to intervene rather dramatically. “In 1996, the Holy Spirit burned our house down,” he said, remembering how a bag of ashes near the garage door ignited the house fire. “We lost almost everything,” he said. “It was really tragic, and my kids had nightmares for months. But when you lose everything but still have family, that is a blessing.” He added that he was “100 percent convinced that it was God answering prayers.”
He and his family started going to several different churches and finally ended up at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Boise. In 1998, they had their marriage blessed, and his wife and kids were confirmed. It changed their lives forever. “I finally learned my faith and became a defender of it,” he said, “and I realized that God wants us to live the faith, not just go through the motions.” Over the next few years, he felt a calling to the diaconate and was ordained in 2016.
God also guided Chef Aaron to embrace all his culinary training and experiences, including his appearance on “Great Chefs of the West” on PBS, in 1986. He was a traveling corporate chef for a large restaurant chain in 1994 when he stumbled onto the “For Sale” sign that was posted on the Westside Drive-In. He always dreamed of owning a “French bistro” for fine dining, but this burger joint was the furthest thing from that. He actually used to go to the Westside when he was a kid. He saw something in the 50’s feel of the place and developed a vision for it, so he bought it.
Chef Aaron said, “I changed the menu, and all dishes are made from scratch. We became a destination spot in Boise and really, nationally, through the exposure of the national media.” His huge menu is All-American, with such dishes as his homemade meatballs, pork ribs and his novelty dessert, the “Idaho Ice Cream Potato.” The most popular item? Of course, the cheeseburger, but close seconds are his roast prime rib (featured on Triple D), and the ever-popular and unique “Finger Steaks.”
Sometimes, God sends signals he wants you to follow through on. In 2003, when he was trying to hire skilled staff for his restaurant, he had trouble finding the right people. He thought, “If I call myself a Catholic, I need to live like a Catholic.” He began hiring convicts, the homeless, refugees and people who were on their last leg of hope. And, for the last 17 years, it has blossomed into a huge ministry. At one point last year, 18 of his 24 staff had either been previously incarcerated, or were currently (or formerly) homeless or refugees. He feels it is a payback to the community he lives in.
He said, “The staff are family, so we help them out as a family helps out, with all we can give. We give them second, third and sometimes even fourth chances. We go into the game knowing they will take extra effort. … It is part of our mission statement to commit to the human factor. We try to give them hope that they have a future.”
As of now, Chef Aaron works at both restaurants only a few days of the week, handing the operations over to his son and daughter while he works as the administrator at the parish he started attending 23 years ago — Our Lady of the Rosary in Boise.
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Chef Lou’s Seasoning Rub (for Prime Rib)
- 1 cup salt
- 1/3-cup sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated Garlic
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 1-teaspoon black pepper
- 3-1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons whole thyme
- 2 teaspoons dill weed
- 1-1/2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Chile powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- Combine all ingredients in a mixer
- Turn on low speed with paddle attachment and mix for 20 minutes
- Store in airtight container — yields about 2-1/2 cups rub