By: Sophie Brams
Most people know New Orleans as a great place to grab a bite to eat and millions of visitors flock to the city each year to experience the culinary culture.
In 2019, Sucre, a high end dessert company known for its mirror-glaze king cake and unique gelato flavors officially closed its doors after twelve years. The company, which had been one of the greatest success stories in Post-Katrina New Orleans seemed to have crumbled overnight. Without so much as an explanation, all three stores were closed and a notice was posted on the website. Sweets lovers across the state were left to wonder what had happened. While rumors have swirled around about the abrupt closure, the most likely explanation comes on the heels of a bankruptcy filing. The company profits just weren’t outweighing the costs.
Sucre is one of the examples of a beloved New Orleans institution that just couldn’t seem to survive. In 2018, an analysis conducted by the New Orleans Advocate newspaper found that there were 1,216 restaurants just in Orleans Parish alone. About half of those are full-service restaurants and the other half is made up of fast food and counter restaurants and bars that also serve food. Despite the booming tourism industry, the rate of restaurant failure is famously high in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty has been covering the New Orleans food scene for many years, taking on the trends and culture surrounding the city’s renowned dining scene. He highlighted the three key questions a restauranteur needs to ask themselves before opening up their doors to the public.
“How are they going to stand out? How are they going to fit in with the bigger picture? And three, the nitty-gritty of where they are,” he said.
Now it may seem that those first two questions are contradictory, but McNulty added that it is important to consider how to distinguish a restaurant as different, while still fitting in with the overall food landscape of the area.
When it comes to location, a restaurant needs to cater to the needs of that specific population. Restaurants near college campuses in the city, like Tulane and Loyola, are typically successful if they are focused on value: providing quality food at a low price. On the other hand, in a neighborhood like Lakeview, restaurants are more likely to succeed if they provide a family-friendly atmosphere.
But, not every restaurant that steps onto the scene will last. Most will fold within a year or two of opening their doors. Without a proper plan in place, McNulty said restaurants won’t be able to make it.
“One of the things I see a lot is that restaurants will open without enough resources to sustain themselves through the beginning and through some possible rough patches.”
He adds that restaurant owners should be wary of assuming their place will be the “next viral trend and that everyone will come flocking to their doors.”
So when it comes to restaurant success, it may be less about the food and more about the logistics.
“Sometimes you see restaurants that look like great ideas, have a really talented chef, and the location looks good too and they’re closed within less than a year because they didn’t budget right or have enough resources behind them to carry the restaurant.”
Still, if everything goes right during fall, winter, and spring, there’s still another hurdle to jump. As June rolls around and the city begins to heat up, tourism begins to cool down. The number of visitors to the city decreases significantly posing a threat to restaurants both old and new. The ‘Summer Slowdown’ as it is commonly known can spell trouble for the usually bustling restaurant scene.
“The most likely time for them [restaurants] to close is either right before summer because they know they aren’t going to make it or at the very tail end of summer because they thought they were going to make it and they were wrong,” McNulty said.
This was the case for Superfood Bar, a popular Vegan spot on Magazine Street that closed in late September of 2019. Once a destination where customers could get their fix of raw, vegan, and gluten-free food in the form of smoothies, salads, wraps, and cold-pressed juices, the small cafe shut its doors after nine years.
But McNulty reassured that hope isn’t lost for those who want to break into the restaurant business.
“It’s a business that has a lot of passion behind it and in this town, it has a customer base of people who are very, very interested in it and who will come out and give places a shot.”