From its start on a Mid-City side street, the Ruby Slipper has grown rapidly across town and expanded down the Gulf Coast. Now, the popular breakfast and lunch café will relocate from one part of Mid-City to another with ambitious plans for the future.
Owners Jennifer and Erich Weishaupt plan to open a new Ruby Slipper at 315 S. Broad St., part of a large commercial property they bought near the new hospital complexes and a hub of redevelopment activity. The new restaurant will have a familiar menu of Southern and New Orleans flavors at breakfast and lunch, while adding room for private events, expanded corporate offices for the company, a commissary kitchen and even an outdoor playground for kids.
Pending a top-to-bottom renovation of the building, they hope to open early next fall. When that happens, they’ll close their nearby Ruby Slipper on South Cortez Street, or perhaps reconfigure it for another use.
Erich Weishaupt said the move is bittersweet, since the couple launched their business at that Mid-City location. But they do not own the building. They felt they needed a larger home base as the company grows and they found a property they believe has great potential.
“We’re a homegrown brand, and we’re trying to keep our brand in New Orleans as we grow,” Weishaupt said.
From that first location, which the Weishaupts opened in 2008 in a once-forlorn corner store, the Ruby Slipper expanded with three more, successively larger restaurants in New Orleans. In July they opened another location, this time in Pensacola, Florida. And plans for a sixth are now underway in Orange Beach, Alabama, as part of a new seaside development in that Gulf Coast town. That restaurant should open by June, and Weishaupt said they are in discussions with other developers for future projects.
The new Broad Street restaurant will be a big undertaking. The two-story, 10,000-square-foot building dates to 1951 and was formerly home to the Carpenter’s Local Union, though it’s been empty for years. The property also includes nearly an acre of undeveloped land, which stretches behind the building extending over most of the block to Banks Street. This is directing in part how they plan to build out the new space.
“The front faces Broad Street,” Weishaupt said. “But the focal point for the restaurant will be on the back side, facing this lot.”
Part of the lot will be devoted to parking, using a permeable paving system similar to a type recently installed at Parkway Bakery & Tavern designed for better water management. The rear of the building will be configured as the entrance, with outdoor seating at ground level and on a wrap-around balcony they plan to add above.
Altogether, the restaurant will have about 125 seats, comparable in size to the downtown Ruby Slipper on Canal Street. On the second floor, there will be another dining room available for private events. There will be a take-out station too, anticipating group orders for the nearby hospitals and criminal justice complex.
“We’re just really excited about all the possibilities there,” said Jennifer Weishaupt. “The most important thing to me is that we don’t lose the customer base we built up at the original location.”
While she said they are still assessing options for the South Cortez Street location, they would not operate it as a restaurant once the Broad Street location opens. Running it as a special events venue or subleasing it to another restaurant operator are possibilities, she said.
The plans align with a larger pattern of redevelopment and creative reuse in the area, said Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Broad Community Connections, a nonprofit community development group working to revitalize the Broad Street corridor.
“I think it shows how Broad isn’t just a regional thoroughfare but is a place providing neighborhood services,” said Schwartz. “It’s really exciting to have something coming in like this with that family-friendly aspect.”
The area has lately seen the debut of the Lafitte Greenway pedestrian path, the development of the ReFresh Project, built around a Whole Foods Market, an emerging cluster of small eateries and a string of new, small mom-and-pop stores. Schwartz said the addition of a well-known local restaurant brand helps draw more attention to the corridor. In particular, he said the Ruby Slipper’s plans for the long-vacant union hall property show the type of perspective that’s lifting the area’s prospects.
“We’ve been watching that building for a long time, but honestly I expected it to go to some kind of office use,” he said. “A lot of people would have looked at it without imagination. But (the Weishaupts) came in with the idea of using that land behind it, putting parking in the back, opening up the building. They came in with an urban way of looking at it.”
The Broad Street move is the latest in a series of expansions for a couple who initially seemed like unlikely restaurateurs. Both have backgrounds in engineering and the oil industry, and until earlier this year Jennifer still worked as an operations manager for Shell, overseeing offshore platforms.
They had little restaurant experience between them when they opened their first Ruby Slipper in a part of Mid-City that then still bore many scars from the Katrina levee failures. A CBD location on Magazine Street followed in 2010. They added a Marigny location in 2012 in a historic bank building that had once been the Bank restaurant, but had sat vacant for years. In early 2014 they opened their Canal Street restaurant in what was once the McCrory’s department store.
“I see this as making our mark,” said Erich of the Broad Street project. “We are going to turn this vacant property into something productive that’s good for the neighborhood.”
The Ruby Slipper
139 S. Cortez St. in Mid-City
200 Magazine St., in the CBD
2001 Burgundy St., in the Marigny
1005 Canal St., in the CBD
New location planned for 315 S. Broad St. for fall 2016
All locations: 504-525-9355
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.