By Leslie D. Rose
Soon downtown Baton Rouge will welcome its 63rd restaurant, when Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar opens in October. Once a dead-zone for businesses, one might question the spike in interest to operate an eatery downtown. The answer: we’re finally getting the Capital City treatment.
“We’re a capital city, we’re the seat of state government so you always have people coming in to do business with the government,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of Downtown Development District.
Visitors in town for state business are a major target audience for the restaurants. Thanks to a surge in hotels and walking-distance restaurants, Baton Rouge’s guests can be treated to le bon temps without having to travel to New Orleans.
“We’ve seen the influx,” Rhorer said. “The consolidation of state government downtown caused us to jump from 31 restaurants to 45, so it was a huge impact.”
Locally owned and operated
Davis, who said that he’s very pleased with the diversity of the restaurants, also pointed out that many of them are local favorites – about 70 percent according to his math.
“The food is local,” he said. “It’s a great flavor of Baton Rouge, so if you’re a visitor here, you can go to IPO and taste a new recipe or somewhere like Little Village, which has some of the best Italian in the city, or even Poor Boy Lloyd’s and get chicken dumplings on Thursdays, or Pastime, which is a very unique place known for their pizzas.”
Even so-called “fast food” places like Raising Cane’s give downtown dining a new dimension.
“Cane’s opening up downtown was a wonderful thing,” Rhorer said, “because they’re locally owned and operated and they’re investing in downtown and have a prime corner.”
A possible annotation could be Walk On’s. Rhorer said DDD is working to help the bar and bistreaux find a spot after a location previously selected wasn’t large enough for its downtown venture.
The downtown area encompasses 4,500 acres, and having so many restaurants in such a consolidated area provides convenience. It’s a snowball effect: more workers leads to more residents, which leads to more restaurants, which attract more people.
“As we continue to increase the market downtown of people that are working here, living here and visiting here, then that in turn, the market reacts and more things open up,” Rhorer said.
But for many years, most of the downtown restaurants operated only during the standard business hours of Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. However, Rhorer said that’s beginning to change.
“We have a healthy number that are opening at night,” Rhorer said. “We continue to encourage more and more, but the market’s got to be there.”
The Millennial Market
Generation Y is running things these days and people are taking notice.
As more millennials rush to fulfill the desire for more downtown eateries and older businesses change their hours to reflect the budding nightlife of the area, companies are taking note of the housing increase downtown – and everyone is getting in on the pie. Most impactful is that more millennials are choosing downtown as home.
“What I find with the millennials is that a lot of them are comfortable with smaller units to live in, but they also want the convenience of walking to restaurants,” Rhorer said. “We have a 300 housing unit under construction right now, and that will help to deliver this.”