But that's only a fraction of the news coming out of the City Club at River Ranch. Lafayette restaurateur Jack Ainsworth is uprooting his successful Kaliste Saloom Road restaurant, Bella Figura, and moving it to the City Club ' perhaps as early as mid-March of this year. The Italian eatery is relocating its entire staff of 40 into a newly renovated City Club dining area that will be open to the public. "We'll have to expand the menu somewhat," Ainsworth says. "We're going to try to re-create [the Kaliste Saloom Road atmosphere], and make this look like it was born and bred in Florence."
The Bella Figura owner hopes his regular clientele follows him to River Ranch. "It's going to take a lot of marketing to let people know what we're doing is open to the public," says Ainsworth, who also has a snazzy Art Deco bar, Bella Notte, a few doors down from Bella Figura on Kaliste Saloom Road. "It's doing very well. That's going to remain open," he says.
The venture is a major undertaking for Ainsworth, who within two months of opening the new Bella Figura assumes the additional responsibility of managing a new members-only fine dining restaurant and bar that will also be carved out of the existing City Club dining space. That smaller concept, which has not yet been named, aims to be among the most upscale venues ever offered in Lafayette, on par with Mr. Lester's Steakhouse at Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton, according to River Ranch's Daigle.
The City Club's current dining elements, the casual Basin Bar & Grill and upscale CafÃ© Lafayette ' which share the same menu ' have struggled to gain a foothold in this competitive market since opening four years ago. However, the banquet side of the business has done phenomenally well, and with the recent addition of veteran Lafayette caterer Joe Broussard, it's expanding to include off-site services.
Over the past couple of years, the club's owners have toyed with a variety of options for retooling the restaurant side of the business until finally settling on the new partnership with Ainsworth late last year. "We're setting up a new entity that the City Club will lease the food and beverage facility to, and that entity will be a joint venture between the City Club and Jack," Daigle says.
The project is on an ambitious time frame in an effort to lessen the impact of the renovations on the membership. Daigle is notifying the club's members of the changes ' which will cost about $500,000 ' in a letter early this week. He's anticipating that they'll respond favorably to the convenience of a casual restaurant with an established name as well as the exclusive nature of the members-only upscale concept. "We think the membership will be excited," he says.
Bella Figura will occupy the entire Basin Bar & Grill and the portion of CafÃ© Lafayette along the wall facing DeGaulle Square, where the outdoor events take place. The much-anticipated alfresco dining will be incorporated into Bella Figura. The Evangeline Room, which is accessible from the City Club's main entrance and also opens up to the Basin Bar & Grill, will be part of the Italian restaurant and will also be utilized for private dining and special events.
The fireplace in the formal dining room becomes the centerpiece of the new upscale seafood and steakhouse concept, and a members-only bar will be added to that space.
Ainsworth says he was first approached by Daigle about opening a small restaurant for homeowners and construction workers several years ago, when the traditional neighborhood development was still in its early stages. He told Daigle he had his hands full on Kaliste Saloom but that was only part of the reason he declined the overture. "I didn't know at that time River Ranch was going to be what it is now," Ainsworth says. The restaurateur says his own circumstances have changed, too ' after about eight years he's outgrown his 3,600-square-foot space on Kaliste Saloom. "The customers don't see it," he says, "but it's just overbearing [for the staff]." Last summer, when Ainsworth noticed River Ranch developers clearing land along the Vermilion River near the Camellia Boulevard bridge, he inquired with Daigle and learned that a riverfront development ' a boardwalk with high-end restaurant and retail ' was in the works. The proposed riverfront development piqued his interest in the TND, and he told Daigle he wanted a spot.
But Daigle and his partners instead proposed Ainsworth take over the City Club's dining facility, and this time Ainsworth was all ears. "It dovetailed with my thinking that we're maxed out here, that there's no growth opportunity for me," he says.
For a host of reasons, the City Club at Lafayette, started by B.I. Moody III and about a dozen prominent Acadiana business and community leaders in 1978, was dying a slow death in the years leading up to its move to River Ranch. From the top floor of the First National Bank building on Jefferson Street, its high-rolling atmosphere and Continental cuisine initially attracted an elite following of legal and business leaders; at one time the City Club held a popular Speaker's Forum, hosting prominent dignitaries, controversial figures and celebrities ' among the group former President Gerald Ford, Oliver North, F. Lee Bailey, G. Gordon Liddy and Rich Little. Oil was big in Lafayette, and the City Club was the place to be.
But the fall of the oil industry in the mid-80s brought considerable changes to Lafayette's social and business scenes. In the years that followed the oil bust, the City Club's timeworn atmosphere and prestige, along with its membership, began a downward spiral. Its struggles coincided with a trend that saw city clubs across the country losing their allure. Just as downtown Lafayette was endeavoring to reinvent itself, the Moody family ' rather than shutter the club ' decided to revamp the concept by expanding its offerings. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to merge with or buy the now defunct Lafayette Townhouse Club on Auditorium Place (a site that's since been renovated into a restaurant and catering facility), the Moodys struck a deal with River Ranch's owners. The move brought new life to the antiquated club, skyrocketing membership from 600 to 3,000 thanks in large part to amenities like a spa, workout complex, tennis courts and a large swimming facility. The lone exception has been the dining element, which never caught on with much of the membership.
But the City Club partnership splintered for reasons unrelated to the operations of the club itself. "The bottom line is we never had a disagreement with Kevin [Moody, B.I.'s son who runs the family business] on the direction of City Club, and we made some big decisions, including decisions on replacing personnel," Daigle says.
Savoy, Daigle and Gagnard develop and retain ownership of a variety of projects within the TND, like The Crescent apartments, that award tenants access to the City Club's diverse offerings as part of their rent. With a host of new projects on the horizon ' a boutique hotel, an extended stay hotel, a new apartment complex and a senior living facility ' not to mention their new TND in Youngsville that will also have affiliations with the City Club ' the inequity of the partnership became more and more evident to both sides. "If we'd stayed co-owners," says Daigle, "it was going to result in a situation where we couldn't tie the City Club to some of these other assets."
"Kevin actually raised the issue with us first," Daigle continues. "He didn't say, 'We want out of this deal,' but he did say they'd have no problem selling."
Kevin Moody did not return a phone call for comment.
Several old guard Moody family employees have moved on since the relocation to River Ranch, including Gary Wilkerson, who was replaced as president when the club moved to River Ranch, and Ghassan Harb, who went to work for the City Club in 1980 and left in late 2005 to open Mazen's on Johnston Street. Other familiar faces, however, like chef Pat Breaux, sous chef Charles Thompson, assistant banquet manager Brian Edmonson and restaurant manager Susan Nickerson, have stayed on and will have jobs on Ainsworth's new team.
"They're not overstaffed there; what's there we'll need," notes Ainsworth, who does not anticipate any staff reductions or turnover.
"I think the transition will be seamless," Daigle says.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Coton de tulear joins Westminster; Paypal splitting from Ebay; first US Ebola diagnosis and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.