Surviving in New Orleans: What it takes to be a restaurant in the Big Easy

00:00 November 30, -0001
By: Justin Walton

If anything, New Orleans is known for its food. Whenever someone visits New Orleans they want to try plates of gumbo, oysters, crawfish, poboys, and beignets. From small, family restaurants that have been in the city for generations to famous, five-star seafood restaurants, the unique and varied culinary styles label New Orleans as one of the top food cities in America. Glance at any article titled, "the ten best food cities in America," and NOLA is almost definitely in the top five.

"Plenty of American cities pride themselves on their fine food and drink. None of them relish where they've been and what they have as much as New Orleans," Tom Sietsema wrote in a Washington Post article about his culinary experience in New Orleans. Indeed, the seemingly endless number of options makes the city a paradise for food aficionados.

The only thing to match the quality of food is the sheer number of restaurants packed into such a small city. In 2018, The Advocate found there were 1,216 eateries in the New Orleans area. The city appears to have reached, or even exceeded, its capacity for dining options. However, in spite of the massive amount of competition, both restaurant industry veterans and novices keep opening new places. Everyone wants to be part of NOLA food culture.

On March 28, 2017 co-owner Jacob Naquin opened DTB (Down The Bayou) with chef/ co-owner Carl Schaubhut on the corner of Oak Street and Dublin Street, right in the heart of NOLA's Uptown district. With the goal of "reinterpreting" Louisiana's classic, Cajun cuisine and "vibrant cocktail scene," DTB offers a modern twist on some of New Orleans' most famous dishes. The two owners are respected veterans of the New Orleans restaurant industry. Schaubhut previously worked as sous chef at the award winning Commander's Palace and as executive chef at Café Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar down in the French Quarter. The two opened their first restaurant, Bacobar, in Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain, back in February of 2016.

In contrast to the New Orleans area, Covington has a relatively small number of restaurants. According to Naquin, "there's only about 180 restaurants on the North Shore." That lack of extensive competition mixed with Bacobar's quality "Asian, Latin cuisine" made the restaurant an instant success. "When we opened Bacobar, it was slammed packed," Naquin said. "The North Shore couldn't wait for it...We were doing max days in our first week or two...we couldn't make the food production fast enough to keep up." The two co-owners used the momentum from their explosive start at Bacobar to open DTB in the much more competitive Uptown area. Their goal with DTB was to become "the number one brunch spot of the river bend." Whether you're a nationally renowned chef or a newcomer to the restaurant industry, becoming the premiere brunch spot on the river bend is an ambitious goal, but Naquin and Schaubhut's success at Bacobar gave them every reason to believe it was possible. However, Naquin and Schaubhut found Uptown's competitive environment to be much more arduous. "DTB started out very slow," Naquin said, "the day we opened our doors at [Bacobar], we were serving 300 people. At [DTB] we probably served 50."

With so many classics in Uptown-Casamento's, Gautreau's Restaurant, Atchafalaya, Commander's Palace, the list goes on-is there any space for new blood in the food lover's paradise? Naquin and Schaubhut certainly thought so. In the shadow of so many giants, how did they gain any traction? In order to overcome the sluggish opening, Naquin and Schaubhut had to constantly adjust their experience to fit the customer. "We've kept up with our audience...and we're constantly evolving our dishes," Naquin said.

DTB uses "comment cards" to know which dishes are popular, which dishes need to be "tweaked," and which dishes need to be discarded. "We don't do the menu we want, we let the guests write the menu," Naquin explained. "If you look at our menu from when we first opened until now...today's menu is better than any we've ever had." While some restaurants may insist on serving food their way, DTB is willing to adapt to the customer's shifting desires.

By listening to their customers, DTB has crafted a menu, and atmosphere, that offers a unique culinary experience. "We have everything: great food and great service," Naquin says. "We're trying to be as authentic as possible and not be 'knockoff cajun.' I want to offer a modern interpretation of the food I grew up eating." The owners are able to give a fresh, interesting take on traditional cajun food without ever losing sight of their inspirations. They're neither too repetitive, nor needlessly inventive. They've taken classic New Orleans food and shaped it to match the appetite of their audience.

Through all the struggles of running a restaurant in this city, DTB has become a staple of the New Orleans restaurant scene. With this continued success, Naquin plans to open more restaurants in the surrounding area. "There will be only one DTB, but there will be other restaurants and bars spawned off of this one." If you want to treat yourself to exceptional, authentic cajun food and support two hard working New Orleans natives, then you should visit DTB.

DTB offers dinner seven nights a week and brunch on the weekends. To see their menu/ cocktail offerings click here.


Photos courtesy of DTB Nola

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