Dig Baton Rouge

A CANTINA BY ANY OTHER NAME

By Nick BeJeaux

The Ninfa’s that Baton Rouge has known for decades is being rebranded in honor of the man who helped build it, Javier Pallais.

“We wanted to move forward and grow a brand that is our own,” he said. “Burt, the owner of Ninfa’s and TJ Ribs and TJ Moran’s son, has two more mexican restaurants up-north with this concept named Rio Sabinas. So when we began discussing name changes, I assumed this location was also going to be named Rio Sabinas. Instead they started playing with the idea of calling it ‘Javier’s’ and my 25 years of being in Baton Rouge.”

“Tío Javi’s” obviously refers to Pallais himself, a choice by the owners that was both surprising and welcome.

“They came up with that on their own; I was very shocked and happy,”

In an interview with DIG Magazine, Pallais said it took some brainstorming for him and the owners to settle on the name Tío Javi’s, but not for reasons you might think.

“As it turns out, there are already two restaurants with the name Javier’s in Baton Rouge, which recently fought each other in court over the use of that name,” he said.

The two Javiers have resolved to leave each other alone, but the Ninfa’s team decided not to kick a hornet’s’ nest by renaming their restaurant ‘Javier’s.’ In the end, the name came from Pallias own sobrinas y sobrinos.

“We talked about Tío Javier’s, but that didn’t flow as well; but my little nieces and nephews call me Tío Javi – that flows much better. So that’s where the name comes from,” said Pallais.

Pallais is a 27-year veteran of the restaurant industry, most of that time he was stationed right here in Baton Rouge. A true success story, Pallais started at the very bottom rung of the ladder.

“I started out as a dishwasher in highschool at a Chili’s, and I’ve been managing restaurants for about 21 years,” he said. “My first managing job was at Hooters, that was before I met Burt Moran when I started working at TJ Ribs. He saw what I could do and made me General Manager here at Ninfa’s.”

Along with the rebranding comes with a promotion for Pallais, who will now be working as Managing Partner alongside Moran. But Pallais says he doesn’t plan on stopping here.

“Hopefully, I’ll get to buy more and more and eventually I’ll be able to take over the whole concept from them,” he said. “ The Moran family is continuing the model that TJ built when he was alive. He basically builds it, runs it, and eventually sells it to the people who helped build it. They did the same with Ruffino’s; Burt started as a GM at TJ Ribs and eventually bought it from his dad.”

To help in the rebranding, Pallais and the other owners are letting their clientele pick the restaurants new logo. Voting can be done online ( at ninfaslouisiana.com) or in the restaurant with a paper ballot.

“Right now we are letting the guests pick our new logo; we’re giving them a chance to be part of it,” Said Pallais. “September 30 is when we’ll have our new sign up front, new uniforms, new menu look – but we’ll have the same menu items and interior vibe that we’ve always had.”

Other than the cantina’s logo, everything else will be staying put.

“The menu that we have right now has made us a successful Mexican restaurant; everything here is our concept with the Ninfa’s name – now we’re making it all our own. It’s more a growth strategy when we build five or then, hopefully, a hundred restaurants. All that will change is that we’d own the concept; same great food, same great service.”

Pallais and the owners anticipate some disruption of their business in the early days of Tío Javi’s. But, he says once they realize it’s the same food, cook, skillets, and servers their numbers should bounce back.

“There are some Ninfa’s diehards that have a lot of memories here – and they may be wary about coming in here after the change. But once they realize the fajitas that they love so much haven’t changed a bit, they’ll come back. We expect to see a little drop, but it will quickly bounce back and go up from there.”

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