For years, as New York City restaurateurs Sean Josephs and Mani Dawes traveled to New Orleans to visit family, the idea of opening a restaurant in the city was never far from their minds.
“There were a lot of runs around Audubon Park where we fantasized about leaving New York and moving here,” Josephs said. “I didn’t understand that if you marry someone from New Orleans, they’ll always bring you back.”
Sure enough, the couple is now planning to open a restaurant Uptown, anchoring a redevelopment already underway at the corner of Magazine Street and Nashville Avenue.
Dawes is the owner of Tía Pol, a tapas restaurant in Manhattan. Josephs owns Brooklyn’s Char No. 4 and Manhattan’s Maysville, which New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells praised as a “confident restatement of the American tavern.”
“We want to open the kind of restaurant we’ve always opened in New York, which is a neighborhood restaurant,” Josephs said in a meeting with neighbors last week. While part of their clientele will come from all over, he said, “The basic idea is meant to serve the community.”
The as-yet-unnamed restaurant will be open all day, starting with a skeleton staff serving baked goods and coffee in the morning, followed by a casual lunch. The late afternoon might offer oysters and a beer, Josephs said, and in the evening the menu will transition to casual fine dining.
As with the New York restaurants, bourbon will remain an important conceptual focus. “Bourbon is kind of the American drink, the American spirit,” Josephs said. “Both of my restaurants have a significant bourbon selection.”
The 89-seat restaurant will fit into the redevelopment by Butler Callahan Holdings of three former businesses on Magazine at Nashville — Rare Cuts, Vom Fass, and Parcels and Post. The former Rare Cuts will primarily serve as the restaurant’s dining room, with a few tables outside and in a breezeway. The former Vom Fass will be the kitchen.
No tenant has been announced for the third building, but Josephs said it is not planned to be a restaurant. The parking lot in the rear is being reconfigured to hold 17 spaces, of which the restaurant will have 11 at all hours and possibly the remaining six when the retailer is closed. The restaurant will stay open until 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends, though the hours may be scaled back if necessary, Dawes said.
“We’re thrilled to be down here. We want to open a very special restaurant,” Dawes said. “It’s not about staying open all hours of the night.”
The couple shared their plans with about 50 neighbors recently as part of the city’s neighborhood-participation requirement for getting a conditional-use permit to serve alcohol in the building. Reactions to the plans ranged from excitement — especially among those who had tried the couple’s offerings in New York — to concern about the impact on the neighborhood, particularly on parking.
Off-street parking is already extremely difficult to find, especially near Magazine, and the problem can be brutal for residents without driveways, neighbors said. And if the restaurant closes for some reason, said resident Betsy Stout, the next tenant could be a large college bar.
“I was really excited when I heard a new little restaurant was going in there. I was thinking of a restaurant on the scale of Bistro Daisy or Martinique,” Stout said. But, she said, “the scale of this thing is very big from the get-go, and the fact that’s its open so late and it has a big liquor component” causes her concern.
Several members of the Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association, however, defended the restaurant. Cindy Schupp, a Realtor and association board member, argued that being within walking distance of so much commercial activity is a primary reason people want to move to the neighborhood, causing home values to rise quickly.
“Everyone loves being close to these streets — Magazine Street, Oak Street, Freret Street, where they can walk,” Schupp said.
Josephs and Dawes said the restaurant may sound bigger on paper than it will be in reality, comparing it to Clancy’s or Lilette. Its 89 seats equate to only about 20 tables, some of which they said they hope will be filled by neighbors who walk to the restaurant. Part of the floor space also will be taken up with storage and office areas, they said, as they get used to working in a city where basements are impossible.
They hope to receive the empty building from the developer around December, and possibly to open as early as next spring.