Justin and Margaret Girouard are dreaming up a new restaurant, The French Press, to open in the Tribune building in December.
Over a year ago, the antique printing presses at the Tribune Printing Plant on Vermilion Street finally gave up the ghost. The business left behind vestiges of another time: the small wooden lettered blocks that made up the language of movable type, a gigantic camera the size of a snowball stand, a suspended, second story level that probably provided work space for scriveners wearing garters on their sleeves and green eyeshades, perched on high stools and writing with quill pens for all we know.
In November 2008, Place de Lafayette, a local development company, bought the 1930s brick building, which faces Parc Sans Souci. The company owns several significant buildings in downtown, including the Cal-Chlor building, which once housed Mello Joy, then Café Bonjour before the coffee shop was transformed into Cal-Chlor’s office.
The construction arm of the development company started work cleaning out the detritus of the Tribune building in January, leaving 14-foot-high pressed tin ceilings, plaster walls, concrete floors and big windows overlooking the popular fountain in the park. By June, Place de Lafayette had rented out the first of four retail spaces to William Atkinson Jr., who opened Recycled Cycles, a new- and used bike shop.
Three other potential slots stood open. According to Danny Nugier, business development manager for Place de Lafayette, which is owned by Jim Poché, Philippe Pruitt, Bryant Poché, Danny Nugier, Ed Krampe and EJ Krampe, the historic building generated a lot of interest.
“We had our eye on the building for a while,” Nugier says. “It is a significant presence in downtown.”
So when the “for rent” signs went up during the renovation process, the phone started ringing. “We had an idea about what sort of businesses we wanted to see in the Tribune building,” Nugier says, emphasizing that office space was not at the top of the list. “We saw retail, and particularly a coffee shop or restaurant.” The building has challenges. While structurally sound, it has minimal plumbing and wiring, necessities for a restaurant. Anybody who bought in to the history and architectural style would have to face an expensive kitchen build-out. That proved a deterrent of sorts.
The second business to sign a lease, two weeks ago, was Philippe’s Wine Cellar. Philippe Simon, owner of wine shops on Ambassador Caffery and on Albertsons Parkway in Broussard, wanted a presence downtown. Simon says he will offer the same selection of personally chosen wines, but plans to change up the business model a bit. Philippe’s downtown will open as a wine bar in November, designed more for tasting than imbibing.
“I’m not a bar,” he says. “Unfortunately there is no license for what I am doing — offering wine by the glass or a flight of wines, with a bit of cheese and charcuterie. It’s about wine education. You can sample some wine in a nice relaxed setting.” Simon will have a few tables in his new shop, a place to gather with friends on the way to dinner. He plans to stay open longer on weekend evenings as part of the downtown scene.
Last week, the final component to the Tribune complex fell into place. Justin Girouard, sous chef at New Orleans restaurant Stella, which just received a five bean (Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson’s equivalent of a five star) review, signed a lease to open his own restaurant. The French Press will serve breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday, and dinner Friday and Saturday nights. “During the day, the restaurant will be casual,” he says. “Dinner, though, will be a white linen atmosphere with more technical food.” Girouard dreams menu as he speaks. “Breakfast could be anything from eggs, sausage and toast to pancakes with nuts and berries or Eggs Scarlett — black bean jumbo lump crab cakes under poached eggs with a roasted tomato hollandaise sauce.” The breakfast menu continues through lunch, with the addition of soups, gumbos, salads and sandwiches like a cochon de lait on ciabatta. House-made ice cream, floats and milk shakes should beckon the mom and kid set, who gravitate to Parc Sans Souci’s fountain every afternoon.
Girouard, 28, and his wife Margaret are both Lafayette natives and St. Thomas More graduates. They didn’t really know one another until they reacquainted in New Orleans. Margaret will be running the front of the house.
Justin Girouard started off at Stella in 2000 as a part-time dishwasher while he attended classes at UNO. “I had no cooking experience,” he says. “But the cooks liked me and I eased my way in, learning on the job.” He decided he had a lot more passion for the stove than the classroom, dropped out of school, and worked his way up to the second-in-command position at the tony French Quarter restaurant. Executive chef and owner Scott Boswell opened another restaurant on Jackson Square, Stanley, a more casual, breakfast and lunch place. For the past few years, Girouard has worked in an administrative position overseeing both restaurants. But with two small children, the long hours were taking their toll on family life; Girouard decided it was time to cut back and move home.
Opening a new restaurant may not exactly give the chef more hours off the job, but the couple is thrilled about working together in their own place. They are excited about all the aspects of being back in Acadiana, from the raw ingredients that give local food its taste of place to the excitement of being part of a downtown revival.
Downtown Development Authority director Cathy Webre is delighted with the entire project as well. “This a significant step for downtown,” she says. “First of all the Tribune is an important building with its long-term place on Vermilion. And then add in the young entrepreneurs and the new energy. It’s great for downtown.”
JUNE 19 Former Saint Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed by ALS, released a statement Tuesday in response to the Atlanta radio station's skit making fun of him and the disease, this Picayune post reports. What did he say? He said he'd accepted the apology of the DJs who did it, notes that at least the incident has got people talking about ALS, and asks anyone who is burning to take action about it to do so -- by helping him fight ALS.
JUNE 19 Blogger Ian McGibboney takes a look at the Gleason incident in this post. He makes a good argument about the difference between having free speech and being free from consequences for your speech (which none of us is). He also admits that many of us got upset before we listened to the skit -- but lets us know that the reality is far worse than we can imagine. It was the incredibly bad judgment, even more than the actual speech, that probably got those DJs fired, he opines.
JUNE 19 Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake writes about Sen. Guillory's switch to the GOP in this post. He writes what most political watchers in Louisiana know: Guillory was a Republican before he decided to run for the senate seat in a mostly-D St. Landry district, and has switched back now that he plans to run for Lt. Gov. in a mostly-R state. But how come Blake missed Guillory's appearance on a TLC pageant show? Now that is a video we'd like to see. (Again).
JUNE 19 Here's another Washington Post blog post about a Louisiana politician, and it's just plain scathing. Ezra Klein says Jindal's Politico post was "insulting" to the intelligence of voters, and adds that Jindal is personifying the "stupid" he's railed against, by being an "elite" who convinces GOP activists of "things that aren't true." Me-ow.
JUNE 19 Here's Gov. Jindal's post in Politico, in which he asks the GOP to get over losing to Obama (again) and stop "the bedwetting." (Uh, what?) He gives his Republican buddies what is probably a nerd's idea of a coach's motivational talk, which starts with a list of accomplishments that they can't seem to exploit and ending with an absurd description of liberals that sounds like a character treatment for a Fox "News" movie scripted by Gordon Liddy. Sure, he's preaching to the choir, but even the choir's not this gullible.
JUNE 19 Lamar Parmentel read Gov. Jindal's post on Politico, but thinks it was so dumb it probably was published in the wrong paper. This post by Lamar on the Daily Kingfish opines that possibly Jindal's post was destined for the Onion -- because the governor couldn't possibly be serious here. If you listen closely, you can hear the staff of the Kingfish giggling.
JUNE 19 Blogger Robert Mann posts from Turkey, a country he has visited several times in the past few years. Mann gives an interesting overview of the current political and societal climate of the country, which -- if you're living under a rock and don't know -- is experiencing protests and turmoil these days. Mann promises to post as much as he can during his trip, which should be fascinating reading.
JUNE 19 Blogger CB Forgotston says the legislature is keeping the vicious cycle going with its funding of new buildings for the community college/technical college system. Universities across the state need maintenance and improvement on existing buildings, and the solution is to build new buildings at other schools? By the time the bonds are paid off, those buildings will be falling down, too, CB says.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to offer shares of its stock to the public for the first time.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.