A restaurant that helped put Frenchmen Street on the map as an entertainment destination will soon move to the French Quarter.
The Praline Connection will relocate to 301 Decatur St. It’s slated to open Nov. 30 with its menu of beans and greens, chicken and ribs, po-boys and, of course, pralines.
In the process, the longtime Creole eatery is saying goodbye to the street it called home for close to 30 years, a street that at first evolved slowly but has more recently seen a rapid acceleration as a tourist hub.
The move comes after the Praline Connection’s founders sold the business to a new owner. Aaron Motwani took over the restaurant recently. Co-founders Curtis Moore and Cecil Kaigler remain on board as consultants, and much of the restaurant's staff will make the move to Decatur Street.
The original location is scheduled to serve its last meal on Nov. 26. Motwani said future plans that address are not yet confirmed.
Motwani sees potential to develop the Praline Connection brand with more locations in Louisiana and out of state. But his first move, relocating to Decatur Street, is meant to reintroduce the restaurant.
“Frenchmen Street has changed so much since they started there,” Motwani said. “The first thing we want to do is get back to the roots of the concept.”
Moore said he thinks relocating is a good move given the changing texture of the restaurant’s original neighborhood.
“Frenchmen Street was once filled with locals, it was actually kind of serene, but I guess someone let the cat out bag,” he said. “Locals couldn’t really get down here anymore. I think they’ll do very well where they’re going.”
Motwani runs a number of restaurants, including Willie’s Chicken Shack, a local chain for fried chicken and daiquiris. He’s also part of the company behind franchises of the New York-based Middle Eastern chain Halal Guys in Louisiana and Florida.
His father, Kishore “Mike” Motwani, owns a great deal of property in downtown New Orleans. Aaron Motwani said his father was not involved in the Praline Connection deal. Government records show the Decatur Street property is held by a company owned by Aaron Motwani.
The Decatur Street address was previously a Willie’s Chicken Shack location. It is located on a stretch that has seen more restaurant development lately, with a relocated Irene’s Cuisine, a location of Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Seafood House and a new Ruby Slipper Café all within a block. The large, ambitious Ted Brennan’s Decatur opened just a few doors away last year, but closed in 2018.
Moore and Kaigler started the Praline Connection in 1990, opening in the former Home Seekers Savings and Loan (the old bank vault is still in the building). Originally, they devised the concept primarily to serve prepared meals to go, aimed at busy families.
However, Moore said the eatery took off faster than expected (he still credits an early review from former Times-Picayune critic Gene Bourg), and the meals to go idea fell by the wayside.
“Frenchmen Street was a ghost town back then, very few people walking around,” said Moore. “It was a big gamble, but then down-home cooking was something not a lot of people were doing then.”
The menu's specialties run through beans (red, white and lima), greens, smothered pork chop sand turkey necks, chicken (baked, fried or stewed), po-boys, stuffed peppers and barbecue ribs, with an attached candy shop for pralines.
After Moore’s wife, Gloria Moore, died late last year, the restaurateur said he began reevaluating his priorities. He and his partner decided to sell the business.
“Hopefully, the name and the brand we created will live on,” Moore said.
Earlier this year, the restaurant opened a spinoff called Praline Connection Express at 2323 Canal St., across from the VA hospital. This location is continuing with business as usual.
The Praline Connection also operates a concourse stand at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Moore said that concession is slated to end when the airport opens its new terminal in the spring.
The restaurant is also a popular food vendor at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and French Quarter Fest, known for its wings and chicken livers with pepper jelly.
542 Frenchmen St., until Nov. 26
301 Decatur St., starting Nov. 30
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