“We Have a Manpower Issue:” Top NOLA Restaurant Group Closes Third Restaurant in Under a Year

© Cavan

For the third time in under a year, New Orleans restaurateur Robért LeBlanc has announced the closure of one of his group’s popular restaurants, citing a calamitous combination of Hurricane Ida damage, a slower-than-ever slow season, and 18 months of an ongoing pandemic that’s left an entire industry “demoralized.”

The latest closure is Cavan, the elegant Magazine Street restaurant LeBlanc opened five years ago with his New Orleans-based hospitality group LeBlanc and Smith. In the last ten months, the group has also shuttered longtime Rampart Street bistro Meauxbar (in October 2020) and one of its newer spots, French Quarter bar Longway Tavern (in February 2021).

Longway, located at 719 Toulouse Street, is set to soon become a new bar and restaurant under the LeBlanc and Smith umbrella, called the Will and the Way. Sylvain, also located in the French Quarter and arguably the group’s pillar restaurant, is still open and thriving, as is seven-year old LGD bar Barrel Proof. The group has opened new spots in the last year as well — boutique St. Charles Avenue hotel the Chloe, along with its restaurant by the same name, and Anna’s, which took over former haunt Mimi’s in the Marigny, although Anna’s has additional outside partners.

While the specific set of circumstances that led to the past year’s three closures varied, LeBlanc told Eater, they can all be tied in some way to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Those are three businesses that were all profitable and stable before the pandemic. I tried to hang on to that reality, but the truth is, COVID changed things,” Leblanc says.

For Meauxbar, which LeBlanc bought in 2014 ten years after it first opened, the issue was seating and space — there were no outdoor seats, and reduced capacity requirements could mean as few as ten people inside (staff included). He says they made the decision to close fairly early on in the pandemic, hoping to give Meauxbar staff the opportunity to relocate to one of the group’s more pandemic-friendly businesses. LeBlanc received a Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant for Longway Tavern (a building the group owns, unlike Meauxbar’s building), which LeBlanc says allowed them to reopen in the space for a short time, but not for any of the group’s other restaurants.

Cavan, set in an 1800s mansion in the Touro neighborhood, received a lot of physical damage during Hurricane Ida, says LeBlanc, and would have taken the most money to get back up and running in its aftermath. That’s not necessarily the primary reason for the closure, however: “The Cavan decision is a lot more driven by the circumstances of the workforce, the morale of people after 18 months of a COVID pandemic. People are just exhausted,” LeBlanc says.

LeBlanc owns Cavan’s building at 3607 Magazine Street by himself, which he says made it the “best option” of all the restaurants to close immediately. “We are understaffed and undercapitalized across the board, and if we tried to reopen everything at once, it wouldn’t work. Closing Cavan, it’s easier to take the hit myself than to ask others to take a hit,” LeBlanc said. The restaurant will continue to host the private events it was previously booked for over the coming months, he says, and he may reassess its future down the line.

Ida exacerbated an already extreme set of challenges regarding staffing, LeBlanc says, because it’s prompted some people to relocate or not come back after evacuating. “Sales were already really down because of the delta spike and it being August. Then Ida hit, and it was just this realization for some people,” he says.

“We’ve had one or two people tell us they’re going to other restaurants,” LeBlanc says. “But more tell us they’re leaving New Orleans, leaving the industry. We — New Orleans, really — has a manpower issue.” LeBlanc and Smith’s full statement regarding the closure is below.

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