Pictured here is the front exterior of Donny’s Place that is located on Main Street. The bar has been at its location for the last 25 years. The location was previously the site of three old buildings that were torn down for the bar to be built. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Spearing into the future
At one point in time, the City of Ville Platte had rows of bars that lined its Main Street. Because of several factors over the years, that number has dwindled down to two. One of the bars that remains today in the part of town that used to be known as Little Mexico is celebrating 25 years of carrying on traditions of the city’s past.
“I never would have thought that I would have been here 25 years,” said Donny Spears who owns Donny’s Place.
Spears has a weekend long celebration planned that begins tomorrow in honor of his anniversary. “We’re going to run specials Friday and Saturday,” he said. “Then, on Sunday, we’re going to set up in the back parking lot outside. We’re going to rope it off, we’re going to have a DJ, and we’re going to barbeque hamburgers and hot dogs. I think we’re going to have a mechanical bull set up in the grass.”
He added, “We’re going to run that from 2:00 in the afternoon. The people can keep playing music outside, but at 6:30 p.m. we’re coming in the bar to watch the (LSU) Tigers.”
Spears’ time behind the bar began when he gave up being a teacher. He taught at the Evangeline Academy and Belmont in Opelousas. He quipped that he gave up being a teacher to open a bar because there is “more money in a bar.”
He first had The Little Brown Jug that was on Main Street in Ville Platte and Pommier’s that was located next door. Spears said of The Little Brown Jug, for example, “It was more like a pool hall. There were three old time pool tables, and back then every bar in town played cards. It was just a tradition in Ville Platte, and every bar was busy.”
After he had gotten out of the bar business for a while, a chance conversation led Spears to opening his current venture. “Mr. Norwood Wyble and I were sitting at Mr. Quick about 26-years-ago,” he said, “and I said that I would like to open me another bar if I had the place. He said that he would build me a building, so he tore down three old buildings and built this building. Then, I opened up around Labor Day in 1993.”
Spears recalls how business was in the beginning. “It was very busy, and it was good,” he stated. “My business has always been good since I opened.”
Part of the bar’s success in business is adapting to its different target markets. As Spears explained, “During the day, we console all of the old people in town, and, at night, we have the young ones come party.”
Regardless of the age group, Donny’s customers enjoy their time at the bar as they did back when it first opened because not much has changed inside. “Everything in the bar is the same,” Spears said. “Just the workers and the customers have changed.”
One staple from the bar’s past is the pool table in the corner. “The pool table has been there in the corner since we opened,” Spears commented. “At one time, I had two pool tables in here, but they took up too much room.”
He continued, “Pool is getting to where it’s coming back. It’s getting to where people are playing more and more pool. For a while, pool was kind of dead, but people are getting to where they’re playing it more.”
A new table game that is popular with the younger crowd has made its way into Donny’s Place. This game is called beer pong, where Solo cups are set up at each end of a table and teams of competitors attempt to get a ping-pong ball into the other team’s cups that are filled with beer. “People have tournaments every now and then,” Spears said. “They really enjoy that. I think they keep water in the cups now and just play the game to see who’s the champion.”
While the bar games have generally stayed the same, one big difference is the jukebox. “We went from a regular jukebox to an Internet jukebox,” said Spears. “People can play it now with their cell phones and can play anything they can find on their phone.”
“The young ones,” he continued, “prefer that one, but the older people would rather the jukebox that they can put their quarters in.”
Another change inside Donny’s over the years is a result of the loss of video poker. The bar curved in the middle with an island in the middle where the bottles of hard liquor is located. The bar then ended where the video poker machines were housed. When video poker went away about 20 years ago, the bar was straightened out to make more counter space. But, the bar is still curved in the middle.
Spears attributes much of his success over the past 25 years to luck and to the community’s support. “I feel very lucky that the community has supported me that long,” he expressed. “Without Ville Platte and the people of Evangeline Parish, I wouldn’t be here. It’s as simple as that. It’s this area that supports us.”
The success of Donny’s is also chalked up to its employees. “I wouldn’t be here without the people who have worked for me over the 25 years,” Spears said. “I’ve been fortunate, and, right now, I probably have the best workers I’ve ever had. I’ve been lucky for 25 years to have good workers who have taken care of me. That’s all that’s important.”
He added, “I made a lot of friends in here in 25 years, and that’s something you can’t lose.”
While this weekend is about celebrating the past, Spears is unsure about the future. “I’m in no hurry to get out,” he said. “I’m going to be 72-years-old in November. But, what I’m going to do if I quit?”