friends ext.jpg

Site of former Friends restaurant on the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville. 

Two local businessmen have come up with an idea that would breathe new life into the massive three-story building that has sat vacant on Madisonville’s waterfront since Friends Coastal Restaurant closed early last year after the original owners declared bankruptcy.

Greg Lala and Stephen Guidry, who own Dixie RV SuperStores in several states, appeared before the Madisonville Town Council on Wednesday to explain their proposal for the site on the Tchefuncte River.

The plan is to house Dixie RV’s corporate office on the third floor of the building, open a high-end steak restaurant on the second floor and install family-oriented food truck concessions on the ground floor.

A major advantage of the mixed usage is that it would require significantly fewer parking spaces than a three-story restaurant, solving a problem that has thwarted efforts to reopen a large-scale eatery at the site. Lala says a smaller, high-end restaurant on the second floor is a better fit and would expand the fine-dining options for area residents.

The ground-floor food truck concept would be patterned after several popular venues in the Florida panhandle. Permanent food trucks would be located at the rear of the building, and customers could enjoy their purchases at tables in the open ground-floor area. Lala says the low-cost dining option and outdoor setting would be attractive to families and bring additional visitors to the waterfront.

Finally, the building would provide a permanent home for Lala and Guidry’s business office, which has outgrown its original Hammond location. Both men live in St. Tammany Parish. “We live here, we vote here, and we want to be good neighbors," Lala said.

Mayor Jean Pelloat said the proposal would need a conditional use permit to allow offices on the third floor and a variance on the number of required parking spaces, both of which would require approval of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

But, he said, the concept was the best he's seen so far to get the building back in use, and several council members enthusiastically echoed his endorsement.

If all goes according to plan, Lala said, he and Guidry will own the building by the end of the year.