For plenty of bartenders, fielding visitor questions about what else to check out in the neighborhood is part of the job. When Jon Moore is working the taps at his Broad Street Cider & Ale, he can answer by pointing.
“When I tell people to visit the rum distillery around the corner, they think I mean down the street, a few blocks away,” said Moore, who makes a range of hard ciders on site. “But then I just open the door and show them. It’s right there.”
Roulaison Distilling Co., which produces a fine, pot still rum, shares a parking lot with the cidery. A wide alley in between seems to connect more than separate them.
As it happens, craft cider and rum are only the beginning of a tasting tour here.
Two doors away, Piety & Desire Chocolate opened just this week with a petite counter filled with confections and a view of the entire bean-to-bar chocolate making process beyond it. The chocolatier shares the 2700 block of South Broad Street with its beverage-based neighbors and the longer-running Laurel Street Bakery, known for its bagels and pastry, quiche and sandwiches.
Across the street and just past a pumping station, there’s a vintage movie house that has been recast as Wayward Owl Brewing, part of the city’s wave of new beermakers.
Each was developed independently. But they’re all naturally linked by proximity and their craft approach, part of the bigger trend for new local brands and small-batch production in the food and drink business. Each is a production facility with, to vary degrees, storefront components open to the public, be it bar, tasting room or retail counter.
“It’s inspiring,” said Chris Nobles, the New Orleans native behind Piety & Desire Chocolate. “I’ve always been part of creative communities, and this is the same. While I’m in here doing my artisan thing, there’s another creative community all around.”
From hub to cluster
This stretch of South Broad Street runs through a crossroads neighborhood, an area dubbed “downtown Broadmoor” by some hopeful developers. On the map, it looks like the center of an irregular wheel, where streets that start along the curve of the river finally converge and shoot back out on new trajectories toward Mid-City, Gert Town and Metairie.
The area has struggled with blight, though efforts at business development have been underway here for years. Propeller, a business incubator, set up shop in the middle of the commercial area, and it has a program to help minorities build their own businesses. It’s also working with the South Broad Business Coalition to improve coordination between different operators in the area, said Trace Allen, neighborhood business coordinator with Propeller.
The collection of craft producers to emerge here wasn’t the result of an overriding plan but rather the confluence of available property with the right zoning and the right lease rates for start-up businesses.
Green Coast Enterprises, a developer based in the neighborhood, redeveloped the complex of old buildings that are now home to the bakery, cidery, distillery and chocolatier, along with others nearby.
“You have this old commercial and industrial node that’s exceedingly well-located that no one paid any attention to in 50 years,” said Will Bradshaw, founder of Green Coast, which is based on South Broad. “Now that people are paying attention, it’s become this place where the economics and the properties and the need match up for these producers to come in here.”
Those same dynamics have made other areas in this part of town attractive to similar businesses.
Jump across the interstate and, in the industrial area branching off from Earhart Boulevard, there’s Big Easy Bucha, a brewery and taproom for the fizzy, fermented (and nonalcoholic) kombucha tea. Next door is the production facility for Sucre, where the chocolate-filled, sugar-glazed magic happens for the local brand of sweet shops (it is not open to the public).
Local distiller Atelier Vie, known for its absinthe, operates from the ArtEgg Studios building just down the street. Gracious Bakery + Cafe, which recently opened a new Uptown location, runs its own production bakery nearby on Earhart Boulevard.
Key ingredients, shared ingredients
For the new cluster around South Broad Street, proximity has been a key in more than one way.
It’s easy to direct a self-guided tour. Wayward Owl brewery qualifies as the long stretch at about three blocks from the others. The craftsmen themselves shuttle between the shops as well. Practically from the start, they have been using their neighbors’ ingredients in their own products.
“You get a collaborative air about it; it’s so easy to work together when we’re all right here,” said Patrick Hernandez, co-founder of Roulaison Distilling.
For instance, Nobles, at Piety & Desire Chocolate, uses some of his neighbor's hard cider to make his caramels, and cross-brands it by etching the Broad Street Cider & Ale logo in sugar over their tops. He also uses Roulaison rum in his “Tiki bar” bonbons.
“I just love the character of it, and it comes through in the confection too,” he said.
The distillers, in turn, are now making a rum with the roasted cocoa bean husks from Nobles’ chocolate-making operation. There are plans in the works for some of his chocolate to go into a Wayward Owl beer. And when the temperature dips just a bit, Moore, at the cidery, starts serving hot cider and hot toddies with Roulaison rum.
For a collection of start-ups with different niches in the same craft realm, the benefits of their new cluster go beyond the pragmatic.
“You don’t feel like you’re on your own as much,” said Moore. “You can get advice by sticking your head out the door. It’s someone right there to ask when you think you’ve broken something or you don’t know if you’re doing it right. It’s like we have our own consiglieres here.”
The curtains in front of Christopher Nobles’ shop windows are long, rectangular and the color of chocolate.
The growth of craft breweries makes this a great time for beer lovers in New Orleans. With the addition of Broad Street Cider & Ale, there…
Roulaison is a very new distillery dialing back to a very old style of rum making.
The old Gem movie house has been shuttered for so long that a generation of New Orleans people may have never even known it was there. It was …