Three local businesses, each known for hand-crafted food and Old World traditions, are headed to the French Market, the latest move aimed at reviving the market’s reputation as an integral part of the city’s food culture.
The owners of St. James Cheese Co., an Uptown cheese shop; Cleaver & Co., an Uptown butcher shop for locally raised meats; and Bellegarde Bakery, a Broadmoor-based purveyor of artisan breads, are now working together as a partnership called Continental Provisions. On Monday, the board of the city-run French Market Corp. approved their proposal to open a stall in the historic French Quarter marketplace.
The partners intend to open the stall sometime in October, offering sandwiches and other snacks made with their respective products.
“We’re really excited about this because it’s three of the finest purveyors for their respective genres in the city coming together and coming here,” said Jon Smith, the French Market’s executive director. “That’s a level of quality that legitimizes the ideas we have for what food in the French Market can be.”
While perhaps best known today for souvenirs and other retail items sold at its flea market area, the French Market, which dates to 1791, was the city’s original public market and was long considered an emporium of food.
Smith was appointed to run the French Market last year, and since then, he’s been vocal in his desire to bring in more local food. The goal, he said, is to give residents and tourists more reasons to visit the market.
In May, the French Market announced plans to begin a new edition of the Crescent City Farmers Market on its grounds this fall, and in June, the market revamped its annual Creole Tomato Festival with an expanded lineup of food and music.
Seth Hamstead, owner of Cleaver & Co., said this new direction for the market inspired him and his business partners, Richard Sutton, of St. James Cheese, and Graison Gill, of Bellegarde.
“We saw what Jon was doing; we saw the farmers market coming in. We think there’s a good opportunity to show what’s possible here if it’s done the right way, and hopefully more vendors will see an opportunity too,” said Hamstead, who co-founded his butcher shop on Baronne Street in 2012.
Hamstead, Sutton and Gill initially started working together last year on a different market project. In November, they submitted a proposal to the city to lease and operate the St. Roch Market, another historic public market at St. Claude and St. Roch avenues that was recently renovated after sitting vacant for nearly 10 years. But Hamstead said the city never responded to their proposal.
Last week, the city announced a plan to lease the St. Roch Market to Bayou Secret LLC, a company whose owners include the founding members of the local collaborative workspace Launch Pad. Under terms of the city’s lease requirement, that company will run the St. Roch Market with a “full-service neighborhood restaurant” and a fresh-foods market with multiple vendors “in a stalls concept.”
Meanwhile, the partners behind Continental Provisions say they’re happy their new plans have been approved by the French Market.
“It’s the heart of the city. It’s where a lot of things started,” said Sutton, a Tulane University graduate who worked in the cheese industry in London before opening his own shop in New Orleans in 2006. “We’re going to keep it very simple and hopefully offer something a little different.”
Continental Provisions will take over a 383-square-foot stall now operated as Cajun Cafe.
Earlier this year, the French Market put out a public request for proposals to operate that food stall, part of a series of walk-up food stands and open-air cafés developed in 2009. Others applied for the slot, including its current operator, Cajun Cafe.
The request called for food concepts that were not associated with Cajun cuisine and also excluded spice or hot sauce purveyors. Smith said the Continental Provisions proposal was deemed the most viable.
“This fits precisely with what we think food in the French Market can be about. It’s local; it’s high quality. It will appeal to visitors and serve as something people living nearby will want to use,” he said.
While Smith said he didn’t expect many other stalls to come up for lease anytime soon, Continental Provisions indicates the direction he hopes to take more of the food offerings at the market.
The stall for Continental Provisions is close to the market’s performance stage and also close to the area where the French Market and the Crescent City Farmers Market plan to center their upcoming weekly farmers market. While details for that market are still taking shape, Smith said it should begin in mid-October.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.