As he led a recent tour of his planned restaurant Legacy Kitchen, now under construction inside the Renaissance Arts Hotel, Paul McGoey traced a progression of different dining areas, from a counter facing the open kitchen, through a bar and lounge and out to a lobby atrium to be set with cafe tables like an indoor plaza.
The new Warehouse District restaurant is designed with a flowing open floor plan. But it’s also a concept with a lot of angles, and all of them point to the quietly aggressive strategy that’s been driving the reinvigoration of what had looked like an aging New Orleans restaurant brand not so long ago.
“There’s so much going on in the Warehouse District now and we think we’ll fit right smack in the middle of where it’s going, between the high-end restaurants and the taverns and bars,” said McGoey, managing partner of NOHSC Restaurant Group.
Legacy Kitchen, first introduced in 2013 with a Metairie location, is that company’s upscale-casual restaurant brand and represents a distinct step up from its New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. restaurants, the counter service, fast-casual brand that debuted more than 30 years ago.
This new Legacy Kitchen, slated to open by March, will incorporate an outpost of the company’s new and growing New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co., which is putting the city’s famous French-style donut in more parts of town. The menu of American comfort food works in dishes that have proven successful at the first Legacy Kitchen, from ribs and chicken and waffles to lemon icebox pie, and adds a larger array of snacks and shared appetizers to court more bar business at its downtown address.
As recently as 2008, the NOHSC Restaurant Group had one concept and three locations. But growth has been accelerating. The tenth hamburger and seafood location is scheduled to open Thursday (Jan. 29) in Slidell, and the company now has three distinct restaurant types.
When the new Legacy Kitchen and New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. open in the Warehouse District, the company will have 15 operations altogether.
More locations for all three concepts are on the way, and McGoey’s goal is to have a total of 25 operations within the next three years. The additions, he explained, have a dual purpose for the company.
“The idea is we cover the bases: we have a café, a neighborhood restaurant and now something a level higher with Legacy Kitchen,” said McGoey. “And it means when we train people and they want to advance, we can keep them in our company at different levels.”
Knocking on doors
As he drives around town these days, McGoey is perpetually on the look out for locations that could fit one of the three concepts.
He’s not shy about knocking on doors or quizzing the owners of longtime restaurants about how much longer they intend to continue. That tactic landed his company the high-profile address at 4141 St. Charles Avenue, formerly Cannon’s Restaurant, which became the first New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. location actually in New Orleans when it opened in 2010.
Plans for the Warehouse District expansion began after McGoey drove past the former Rene Bistrot inside the Renaissance Arts Hotel once too often last year and realized that chef Rene Bajeux was no longer directing his namesake restaurant there (he’s now at the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street). McGoey walked in, asked to see the hotel manager, laid out his idea and set the wheels in motion.
The theme at Legacy Kitchen is “industrial chic,” and it will be a big place, with room for 200 diners from sidewalk tables to a lounge outfitted with vintage shuffleboard and foosball games. The pitch came at an opportune time.
Across the country, the Marriott-flagged hotel brand has been partnering with local restaurant operators to help its properties stand out, explained Lee Grossbard, an executive with Clearview Hotel Capital, the California firm that owns the hotel. But the deal hinged on more than luck.
“We met with him and we were impressed by his passion, by his enthusiasm and most of all by the success that he’s had,” Grossbard said of McGoey. “There are a lot of enthusiastic restaurateurs out there that I can’t talk to for very long. But Paul has the success to back it up.”
McGoey is a New Orleans native who got his start in the restaurant business at Commander’s Palace in 1989. He was later named general manager for Palace Café and then worked with the Brennan family on Foodies, the since-closed deli and gourmet grocery in Metairie and New Orleans.
In 2000, he left to start a consulting firm, Management Consultant Group, which he still owns separately from his NOHSC Restaurant Group role. New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. was an early client.
This restaurant was first opened on Clearview Parkway in 1984 by local businessmen Sandy Wiener and Norris Gremillion. They had previously built the Shoe Town brand into a regional retail franchise. For their first restaurant foray they intended to create an alternative to fast food, an early example of today’s now-raging “better burger” and fast-casual sectors. They eventually added two more locations in suburban New Orleans, but by 2001 the owners were looking to change things up.
“We were still successful, but the idea had gone stale a bit,” said Gremillion. “We needed to bring in younger customers, younger families.”
McGoey worked with the company on a gradual revamp, which was well underway when Hurricane Katrina hit. As the company regrouped, its owners asked McGoey to join them as managing partner.
They soon made other key hires, including Don Noel, who had previously managed the two local Houston’s restaurants, and then set about drawing a different blueprint for the company.
“I saw a great foundation, but also the need to evolve. Everyone has to evolve,” McGoey said. “We said, ‘Let’s get ourselves in a position to grow the company.’”
In 2008, they opened new locations for the first time in 17 years by adding restaurants in Houma, LaPlace and Mandeville, and more have emerged year to year.
Along the way, McGoey has become an exceptionally hands-on manager. Though he doesn’t consider himself a chef, he writes the menus and develops dishes for all three concepts.
He picks the décor and the soundtrack for his dining rooms. He even runs the restaurants’ social media feeds, regularly posting thank-yous for regulars, promotions for specials and photos of his own lunches. But Gary Weiner, son of co-founder Sandy Weiner, who has been a company owner since 1992, said his impact has been more on the big picture for the brand.
“What Paul has done the best is create a great organization,” Weiner said. “The people working with us are committed and have the same vision and that has enabled us to grow the way we’ve grown. The idea is the easy part. Getting it done every day is the hard part, but that’s what they do.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.