2014 brought surge of activity in BR restaurant industry

By: Stephanie Riegel

If activity in the local restaurant industry is any indication of the Capital Region’s economic well-being, 2014 will go down as a year of impressive growth and prosperity. Nearly two dozen restaurants opened or expanded during the past 12 months, and several more have announced plans to open in 2015.

“We are really excited by the activity we’ve seen over the past year,” says Ruffino’s Executive Chef Peter Sclafani, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “This area has been on a real uptick for the past several years, and 2014 continued that trend.”

Much of the growth came in the category of fast casual chain restaurants. Among the newcomers to the market were Santa Fe Cattle Co. and BullChicks, both of which opened new locations on Coursey Boulevard, as well as Mooyah Burgers on Siegen Lane, Bar Louie at the Mall of Louisiana—which moved into the space previously occupied by Bravo!—and Panera Breads on Jefferson Highway. Several local or Louisiana-based restaurants also opened for business this year, including a second City Pork location on Jefferson Highway, The Grill on Highland Road, the Rum House on Perkins Road, Zoroona Mediterranean Grill on Siegen Lane, and Pat’s Cajun Seafood on Jefferson Highway.

Meanwhile, downtown continued to see a number of new eateries with the opening of Jimmy John’s, Raising Cane’s and Spotter’s, all on North Third Street. Ruffino’s, which Sclafani says experienced its best year ever in 2014, also opened a catering operation in the newly renovated De La Ronde Hall. Downtown also saw the addition of Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar in recent months.

A number of healthy dining options also opened in Baton Rouge this year, including Fresh Junkie on North Boulevard downtown and Fresh Kitchen on Corporate Boulevard. The Salad Shop on Perkins Road also opened in late 2013.

Among the eateries that expanded or relocated over the past 12 months are Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, which closed its Coursey Boulevard restaurant (Santa Fe Cattle Co. later opened in the space) and opened a restaurant in Towne Center. Walk-On’s Enterprises also announced it is expanding the Happy’s Irish Pub on Third Street downtown, and is looking for a downtown space to open a new scaled-down restaurant concept called Walk-On’s Halfcourt.

Meanwhile, the iconic Louie’s Café relocated to the former Wendy’s location on Lake Street near LSU’s North Gates. Bin 77 in Perkins Rowe announced plans late in the year to expand into the space previously occupied by The Wine Loft.

2014 also brought a handful of restaurant closures. Louisiana-based Portico closed its Coursey Boulevard location last spring and, earlier this month, shuttered its Perkins Road restaurant in the Southdowns Village Shopping Center. Pastime Jr. closed in the Drusilla Shopping Center, and TGI Fridays abruptly shut down after more than two decades in the Esplanade Mall on Corporate Boulevard.

Still, openings far outweighed closings, and several more restaurants have announced plans to open in 2015. They include the Velvet Cactus on Old Hammond Highway, Crispy Catch on Perkins Road in the former Kean’s Dry Cleaner building, Anthony’s Deli on Government Street, Barcadia on Highland Road, and Newk’s Eatery on Lake Street.

Sclafani predicts many more will be announced in the months to come.

“We think we will continue to see growth,” he says. “Especially with food prices coming down because of lower gas prices—it will make it a little easier for everyone in the restaurant business.” —Stephanie Riegel

Crispy Catch