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He served 20 years for marijuana. Now, he's opening up his own New Orleans restaurant

“You have to choose your own fate, and if you strive hard enough... you are going to accomplish it no matter what.”

NEW ORLEANS — Shermond Esteen Jr.’s friends called him crazy when he got into the restaurant game in June of this year as a global pandemic forced so many other businesses to close but the 47-year-old New Orleans native and former inmate is not interested in wasting any more time.

“The first day I went to prison, I knew I had to get out,” said Esteen, speaking with WWL-TV’s Paul Dudley.  

Before opening up Nonno’s Cajun Cuisine & Pastries in the 7th Ward, Esteen served 20 years of a 33-year sentence for a 5-ounce marijuana charge. It left him feeling empty at first but he figured out a way to stay positive through food.

“When I was in prison I went to culinary for baking because I wanted to learn how to bake,” said Esteen. “I knew how to cook really well and baking was another passion of mine.”

It was more than good. While at Plaquemines Parish Detention Center, Esteen was put in charge of feeding 600 inmates. When he got out in 2019, he immediately got to work. When he wasn’t cooking in his mom’s kitchen, he was driving for Lyft to get enough money to open. 

“I think I took one day off just to smell the air and see what I was going on and I started cooking out of my mother’s kitchen,” said Esteen. “You have to choose your own fate, and if you strive hard enough... you are going to accomplish it no matter what.”

Since he’s been out, Esteen has gotten to the chance to mentor some neighborhood kids. He tells him his story.

“They just want someone to be able to relate to them and that’s what I offer,” said Esteen. “I am able to relate to them in several ways because I’ve been to the bottom and now I am on my way to the top.”

Esteen’s charge -- 20 years for marijuana -- could have left him feeling bitter instead, despite all odds, he figured out a way to become better.

Nonno’s Cajun Cuisine & Pastries is at 2025 N. Claiborne Ave.

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