Summer not so bad for N.O. eateries

Summer not so bad for N.O. eateries

Holly Miller

In summertime, the living isn’t so easy for New Orleans restaurateurs.

This year, five June conventions with attendance ranging from 8,000 to 27,000 provided an early summer windfall of hungry visitors but the usual summer restaurant slowdown was back in full effect in July and August.

June was a terrific month for everyone because of the additional doctors conventions in town, said Gary Wollerman, owner of French Quarter restaurants GW Fins and ZydeQue.

Convention visitors are finding their way Uptown as well, said Jack Leonardi, owner of Jacques-Imo’s Cafe at 8324 Oak St. In June, business at Jacques-Imo’s surged by 25 percent on the nights large conventions were in town, he said.

The dearth of diners in July and August contrasted with the busy summer start, said Horst Pfeifer, owner and executive chef of Bella Luna, 914 N. Peters St. This summer was similar to last for Bella Luna, which relies on locals for two-thirds of its business and business travelers for the rest, Pfeifer said.

Many restaurants run summer specials to buoy business in slow months. The hope is they enjoy what they had and remember us the rest of the year, said Susan Spicer, owner of Bayona at 430 Dauphine St.

Leonardi kicks up his spur-of-the-moment drink and dessert giveaways on summer nights at Jacques-Imo’s, he said. Brigtsen’s at 723 Dante St. has a year-round early dinner special that brings in business, particularly during the summer.

It’s what I call revenue contribution. It doesn’t create a lot of profit but it does create business, said owner Frank Brigtsen.

Brigtsen’s summer receipts rose 15 percent from last summer, he said.

We’re having our best year in seven or eight years, Brigtsen said. In the last year or two there seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in interest in us with locals.

Gautreau’s also is having its most profitable summer, said owner Patrick Singley. The 11-year-old Uptown restaurant at 1728 Soniat St. is so busy he didn’t need to advertise or run the regular summer special, he said. Chef Mathias Wolf’s April acclaim as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Top Ten Best New Chefs in America sparked a 40 percent increase in business this summer, Singley said.

We’re able to forecast three months out with future business with the notoriety of our chef, Singley said. That’s a breath of fresh air.

About 65 percent of the restaurant’s fall business comes from conventions, but Gautreau’s relies on locals for 99 percent of its summertime business as do many restaurants.

Lola’s, a small Mid-City haunt at 3312 Esplanade Ave., didn’t slow down a bit this summer, said manager Sonja Shahan.

We’ve had amazingly large number of people that rival times during the regular year, she said.

Jacques-Imo’s has been busy all summer partly because locals find their way back to the restaurant when school is out and tourism is slow, Leonardi said. He uses that time to introduce new dishes and refine service.

Some restaurants use the slow summer months as an opportunity to shut down for a week or more, clean up and give employees a needed vacation.

Summer is good. It gives us time to breathe and freshen everything up, Pfeifer said.

Restaurants often cut back on alcohol expenses during the summer, said Gina Warren, a wine consultant with alcohol distributor Glazer’s of Louisiana.

They’ll sit on their higher end wines, move through some of their lower-end inventory and reorder those value wines over the summer, she said.

Lenny Minutillo, sales director for the Louisiana Seafood Exchange, another restaurant supplier, said July and August sales were slightly down from last summer because of a lack of convention business.

The summer slowdown doesn’t end in September, restaurateurs say.

Everyone thinks Sept. 1 is the end of summer but historically the first two weeks of September are the worst two weeks of the year, bar none, Singley said.

That’s because students are back in school and expenses start rolling in, said Mary Sonnier, owner of Gabrielle at 3201 Esplanade Ave.

Everyone feels a little squeezed at the end of summer. It’s my least favorite time, she said.

Restaurant business has steadily improved since the summer after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

That was the worst summer we’ve ever had, said Sonnier. There were no tourists and locals didn’t eat out as much. After that people were kind of depressed.

Fall business is looking good, restaurateurs say. Five conventions with attendance ranging from 13,000 to 60,000 are scheduled for October, and the American Heart Association’s annual meeting will bring 30,000 members to New Orleans for the first week of November.

The city is pretty much jam-packed straight through to December, said Angela Day, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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