Drago Cvitanovich, who made his way to New Orleans from what is now Croatia to open up the legendary seafood restaurant Drago's, passed away at his home on Saturday. He was 94.

Many will remember Cvitanovich for he and his wife Klara's co-founding the eatery that serves up millions of its trademark charbroiled oysters from any of its three locations. The owner serenaded many a customers on their birthdays with "Happy Birthday", or as he pronounced it, "Happy Birzzday."

Drago Cvitanovich was the second youngest of 12 siblings born in an area of Croatia that was home to many oyster fishermen and until 1991 formed part of Yugoslavia. He first came to America in 1958 to experience Carnival first hand. Three of his siblings lived in New Orleans.

He would meet his wife Klara on that trip and in 1964 they made their permanent home in The Big Easy. They have two boys together: Tommy and Gerry.

After working at local restaurants for a few years, Drago borrowed money from his cousin to open Drago's in 1969 at North Arnoult Road and 18th Street in Metairie's Fat City district.

Drago's was initially small, seating at most 60 diners. But that didn't stay the case for long as the restaurant and seafood bar, along with its affiliates at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel and in Jackson, Mississippi now serve a mind-boggling four million oysters a year.

Drago and Klara Cvitanovich earned induction into the Louisiana Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, and they received a New Orleans Wine and Food Experience lifetime achievement award named after restaurateur Ella Brennan.

The Louisiana Hospitality Foundation even created an award named after Drago that recognizes outstanding philanthropy by an entrepreneur.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.


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