Kathy Mangham has been in the restaurant business since 1993, and she knows success depends on flexibility and creativity.
"There were so many things we weren't able to do, so I decided to focus on the things we could do," she said.
While Gourmet Girls offers lunches and always sold-out Sunday Supper gatherings, catering is its lifeblood.
"I had events scheduled through the end of summer, and in one week, I think everybody was panicked," Mangham said. "And we were panicked at the onset, because of all the uncertainty and unknowns about everything. So, everyone but one client canceled, and they asked that we just keep their deposit."
She pivoted from catering to offering family dinners.
"To be successful, you have to diversify and you have to be innovative in what you're doing," Mangham said. "And you have to know when you need to change and when to stop. So when we started the quarantine, about a week into it, I realized what the need was."
The $70 meals for four kept the business, which has four employees, going.
"We didn't get PPP (Paycheck Protection Plan loan), so it was up to me to make it work without that," Mangham said. "And more than anything, we're just grateful for the shopping local support. I never really felt it so much before, but at this time, I felt it more than ever. There were people who were ordering dinners for other people, and we had one gentleman who owns a large business in town who ordered five dinners for his people every day."
When the state allowed restaurants to begin to reopen, the dinner business dwindled and Mangham had to pivot again.
"So we went to a different shift," Mangham said. "We're doing smaller platters. It's much smaller, so if you want to have a gathering with your family, 10 or 15 people or whatnot, there are enough items on there that you could put something together, and where it's cost effective for us to make in that quantity."
She has seen a small uptick in catering from graduation parties in May.
"My niche is more a cocktail party for 100 or 200 people or less — baby showers and smaller gatherings that are special," Mangham said. "I feel that because of that it might come back sooner for me than it would for a larger business."
She also has put a greater emphasis on lunch service.
"The lunch is where I feel where we have room to grow," Mangham said. "We have room to grow everywhere, but that's where I'd really like to focus on right now. There are some things that we never move, but for the most part, we have something new every week."
At Gourmet Girls, everything is made in house — nothing is ever frozen of pre-made — and presented beautifully.
On the lunch menu, produce from local farmers goes into the caprese sandwich ($13), a fresh combination of summer tomatoes, basil pesto mayo, avocado, melted freshwater mozzarella and fresh basil on grilled brioche bread. And the citrus shrimp salad ($16) is a mix of citrus-marinated boiled shrimp, petite greens, winter citrus, avocado, toasted almonds and citrus herb vinaigrette.
Last week, the heirloom tomato tartine with house-made basil ricotta and herbs was the lunch special, but that changes each week.
Gourmet Girls' pastries, chocolates and jellies also are made in-house, and along with all kinds of entertaining pieces and gifts, they fill the brightly lit retail space in the chic gray brick building.
In another pivot, Gourmet Girls shifted how it offers its cakes, which are hand-painted and garnished with fresh flowers. They now come in smaller sizes to serve six to eight people.
For almost three decades now, Stephanie Phares has been preparing fresh, healthy meals at Zeeland Street Market on Perkins Road.
From the beginning
Mangham is involved in every facet of the operation.
That's how it's been since she started her own gift basket business after graduating from LSU.
"I'm self-taught," Mangham said. "I went to school in art. I went to LSU in painting and drawing, and then I had a gift basket company. I opened the Silver Spoon on the corner of Thibodeaux Avenue and Jefferson Highway. I had a tea room there for three years, and then we moved to Bocage and opened a larger operation."
The Silver Spoon was a very popular lunch spot for a dozen years. Mangham remembers lines forming before the restaurant opened at 11:30 a.m. By 11:45 a.m., the place would be full.
"It was fun, and I was younger then and had more energy," she said. "I'm 50 now, and I don't think I would have that kind of energy. When you open a restaurant, you have to give your life to it, and I'm not willing do to that now. Having a balance in life is more important to me."
She found that balance in Gourmet Girls, which she opened under the Perkins Road underpass in 2009. She briefly operated a parked lunch truck called Pronto in the space's parking lot, but catering was her priority.
Gourmet Girls moved into its present location, 1660 Lobdell Ave., in 2018. Its 2,000 square feet includes an open kitchen, where cooking classes for 12 often are scheduled around its center island.
Those classes are on hold for now, but lunches are being offered inside and in the courtyard, where Mangham stages her Sunday Suppers, on hold for now.
"People will purchase their wine, bring it and drink it while we serve their dinner," Mangham said. "The idea is to bring all types of people together. You buy tickets, and it's a communal table, so you don't know who you're going to be sitting next to. It created a fun environment, and I think we can still achieve that, but I understand that during this time, you may not want to be so close to a person you don't know."
Mangham would like to restart the Sunday Suppers at the end of June with social distancing rules in place.
"I love what I do, and it makes me happy to do it," said Mangham. "So, being a woman-owned business, and being so small, just gives me the ability to mold and shape this in whatever way I need. This is my baby."