For the third time in less than a year, New Orleans restaurateur RobÃ©rt LeBlanc announced the closure of one of his group’s popular restaurants, citing a catastrophic combination of damage from Hurricane Ida, a season slower than ever and 18 months of a pandemic that has left an entire industry “demoralized”.
The latest closure is Cavan, the stylish LeBlanc restaurant on Magazine Street, which opened five years ago with its New Orleans-based LeBlanc and Smith hotel group. Over the past 10 months, the group has also closed long-standing Rampart Street Meauxbar bistro (in October 2020) and one of its new spots, the French Quarter bar Longway Tavern (in February 2021).
Longway, located at 719 rue Toulouse, is soon to become a new bar and restaurant under the aegis of LeBlanc and Smith, called the Will and the Way. Sylvain, also located in the French Quarter and arguably the group’s mainstay restaurant, is still open and thriving, as is the seven-year-old LGD Barrel Proof bar. The group also opened new venues last year – the St. Charles Avenue boutique hotel, the Chloe, as well as its restaurant of the same name, and Anna’s, who took over Mimi’s former lair in the Marigny, although Anna has additional outside partners.
While the specific circumstances that led to the three closures last year have varied, LeBlanc told Eater, they can all be linked to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. âThese are three companies that were all profitable and stable before the pandemic. I tried to hold on to that reality, but the truth is COVID has changed things, âLeBlanc says.
For Meauxbar, which LeBlanc bought in 2014, 10 years after it opened, the problem was seating and space – there were no seats outside, and the reduced capacity requirements could mean as little as ten people inside (staff included). He says they made the decision to shut down fairly early in the pandemic, hoping to give Meauxbar staff the opportunity to move to one of the group’s most pandemic-friendly businesses. LeBlanc received a grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund for Longway Tavern (a building owned by the group, unlike the one in Meauxbar), which LeBlanc says allowed them to reopen in the space for a short time, but not for none of the other restaurants in the group.
Cavan, located in an 1800s mansion in the Touro neighborhood, suffered extensive physical damage in Hurricane Ida, LeBlanc says, and reportedly took the most money to get back on track after its aftermath. This is not necessarily the main reason for the shutdown, however: âThe Cavan decision is driven much more by the circumstances of the workforce, the morale of the people after 18 months of the COVID pandemic. People are just exhausted, âsays LeBlanc.
LeBlanc himself owns the Cavan building at 3607 Magazine Street, which he says makes it the âbest optionâ of any restaurant to close immediately. âWe’re understaffed and under-capitalized overall, and if we tried to reopen everything at once, it wouldn’t work. [With] By shutting down Cavan, it’s easier to take the hit myself than asking others to take a hit, âsaid LeBlanc. The restaurant will continue to host the private events it was previously booked for over the next few months, he says, and it may re-evaluate its future down the line.
Hurricane Ida exacerbated an already extreme set of challenges regarding staffing, says LeBlanc, because it prompted some people to move or not come back to town after evacuating. âSales were already really down because of the delta peak and that was August. Then Ida hit, and it was just that awareness for some people,â he says.
âA couple of people told us they went to other restaurants,â says LeBlanc. âBut others tell us they’re leaving New Orleans, leaving the industry. We – New Orleans, really – have a manpower problem. LeBlanc and Smith’s full statement regarding the shutdown is below.