Morning Call will continue to serve its beignets and café au lait in City Park, at least for now.
A Civil District Court judge Wednesday ruled in Morning Call's favor in a lawsuit the famous local brand brought against City Park and longtime competitor Cafe du Monde, challenging the results of a contentious public bid process that had awarded a lease at the park to Café du Monde.
In a written decision, Judge Christopher Bruno nullified the new lease. Bruno heard hours of testimony last week about the process that led to the selection of Café du Monde in June.
Morning Call has operated in City Park's Casino Building since 2012, but earlier this year the park issued a request for bids for a new, 10-year lease on the space. Morning Call turned in the high bid out of three proposals, narrowly beating out those from Café du Monde and another company, Café Beignet.
However, City Park's management and legal counsel advised its board that they had to disqualify Morning Call's proposal because the company had missed a mandatory pre-bid meeting. As a result, the board awarded the lease to the next highest bidder, which was Café du Monde.
However, Bruno ruled that none of the bids City Park received entirely complied with all the bid specifications, and he called the park's basis for disqualifying only Morning Call "arbitrary and capricious." He wrote that missing the meeting was not reason enough to throw out its bid.
The stakes in the dispute are high. Losing the City Park lease would mean Morning Call would face the prospect of being at least temporarily homeless. Earlier this spring, it closed its longtime location in Metairie, near Lakeside Mall.
The ruling still leaves open the question of what City Park will do with the Casino Building. Morning Call has been operating there on a month-to-month basis since last summer.
"We feel like we won this battle, though this isn't the 10-year lease we wanted, what we were bidding for," said Morning Call co-owner Bob Hennessy. "We want to stay here and hope we'll be able to."
City Park declined to comment.
Jay Roman, co-owner of Café du Monde, said his company is waiting to see what happens next. “While we are disappointed in the judge’s decision, he made it clear that this case was between City Park and Morning Call,” Roman said. “Now, all we can do is wait and see what the future brings.”
The Casino Building, a Mission Revival-style structure situated between a lagoon and the park's Botanical Garden, has been used by various concessions operators for many years. Before Morning Call moved in, it was operated by City Park itself.
Café du Monde has nine locations, including its famous stand in the French Market.
Morning Call also got its start in the French Market, and for many decades New Orleanians and visitors had their pick between the two highly similar operations, developing their own loyalties.
In 1974, as the city was undertaking an overhaul of the French Market area, Morning Call relocated to Metairie. It was a fixture in Fat City until closing this spring because of what Hennessey said were rising rents and a changing competitive landscape for cafés in the area.
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