UPDATED, Jan. 7, 2015: Last spring, the local company Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts took over the former Spanish restaurant Galvez in the French Market, a space still well-known for its pre-Hurricane Katrina tenure as the restaurant Bella Luna. The company is now developing it as venue for weddings and other events.
This new venue will be called Marché (French for market), and it should open in early spring, according to Zeid Ammari, chief operating officer for Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts. Renovations to the property have opened up a long bank of windows facing the French Quarter, he explained, which gives the main room a sweeping view from the rooftops to the river.
Other New Orleans restaurant groups are expanding to meet what they call growing demand for special events and private functions. Most recently, chef John Besh and his company bought the grand CBD restaurant Le Foret with plans to make it an events venue. Now called Pigeon & Prince, the new venue is expected to begin booking in late January.
A French Quarter restaurant space famous for its river views and also for the number of marriage proposals once carried out under its roof is now slated to become a dedicated venue for weddings and other banquet events.
Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, the fast-growing New Orleans restaurant company, has a lease agreement with the French Market Corp. for the 7,000-square-foot riverfront property that is currently the Spanish restaurant Galvez.
The address, 912 N. Peters St., was the pre-Katrina home of Bella Luna, an Italian restaurant that was a magnet for romantic couples and suitors eager to pop the question.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity and just very happy with the French Market’s trust in us to do this right,” said Zeid Ammari, chief operating officer of Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, which runs 10 restaurants in the French Quarter.
Ammari said the company plans “a major renovation” once it takes over the property and predicted it will be ready to reopen by early fall. The new operation, which has not been named, will host private events only. The kitchen will be led by a chef who has yet to be selected, Ammari said.
“For our company, we’ve seen tremendous need for more spaces for special events and banquets,” he said. “I just think the city is attracting so much attention, nationally and internationally, and that’s driving a lot more destination weddings and other events that need banquet space.”
Galvez manager Jessica Cedillo said she was unsure about any future plans for the Spanish restaurant once it leaves the French Market.
The property’s second-floor dining rooms and terrace enjoy a unique location along a curve of the Mississippi River that presents sweeping views of both the river and the downtown skyline. The space was built by restaurateur Jimmy Moran and originally opened as Moran’s Riverside in 1975, according to the book “Lost Restaurants of New Orleans,” by Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris.
In 1991, it was taken over by chef Horst Pfeifer, who ran Bella Luna there until 2005. Bella Luna didn’t reopen after Hurricane Katrina. (Pfeifer, who now runs Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac, blamed lagging repairs by the city to the battered property).
The French Market space then sat empty until Galvez emerged there in spring 2009, serving as both a restaurant and an events space.
“This was always one of my favorite restaurants, one that we missed after Katrina,” said Ammari, referring to its tenure as Bella Luna. “To be able to come in here with our plans is just wonderful.”
The city-run French Market Corp. serves as landlord for the property. Jon Smith, the executive director, said the agency and Galvez’s operators agreed to allow the Galvez lease to expire at the end of June.
The French Market issued a public request for proposals for the space in February, specifically seeking either a special-events venue or a restaurant with “a strong catering/special events component.”
The solicitation netted several proposals, and Smith said he was excited to work with Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts.
“As part of their presentation package, they outlined an extensive renovation plan for this property, and their proposed financial investment and upgrade into this city-owned property was the deciding factor in choosing this group,” he said in a written statement. “Suffice it to say that the French Market Corp. shares (the company’s) enthusiasm about returning 912 N. Peters to being a showcase event facility on the Mississippi River.”
Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts is a family-owned company that got its start in 1989 and grew to operate a string of daiquiri shops around the French Quarter under the Big Easy Daiquiris brand. It later expanded to full-service restaurants and has been growing rapidly in the past two years.
In 2013, it opened the modern Louisiana restaurant Kingfish and acquired the historic Broussard’s Restaurant. In 2014, the company added Café Maspero and the Bombay Club to its portfolio. The company now employs more than 800 people, Ammari said.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.