A Legacy On The Move

With Tujague’s recent move, Mark Latter is continuing to ensure the success of his family’s restaurant.

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.


 

Mark Latter was just 4 years old when Tujague’s Restaurant became his second home and favorite playground. The bar’s shiny, brass foot rail became his balance beam, when he wasn’t peeking into pots in the kitchen or sneaking down the street for beignets at Café du Monde. Eventually, his dad, Steven Latter, encouraged him to work in the kitchen, bus tables, whatever was needed at the moment. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busiest days of the year, Mark staffed the kitchen while his sister, Shane, greeted guests on the second floor. It was a true family affair.

After college, Mark pursued a career in sports, but after three seasons as the Saints’ operations manager, he said the hospitality industry beckoned. First working as a server at Bacco, and later as floor manager at Redfish Grill, Mark returned to Tujague’s, where he began to learn the wine business. It was something that would become his true passion.

As much as he loved Tujague’s, however, Mark longed to be his own boss. He and his wife, Candace, began to plan a wine shop of their own. They had signed a lease on a Magazine Street storefront when his father passed away suddenly on February 18, 2013.
“That changed everything,” said Mark.

With Tujague’s future uncertain, he said he felt compelled to secure his father’s legacy and ensure his mother’s care so he doggedly pursued financing until he was able to buy out the family and make Tujague’s his own.

Candace stepped in to help and found herself at the helm of Bin 428, the wine store named in a nod to their son Braden’s birthday, April 28. The couple’s expansion continued in 2016, as the Latters became part of Freret Street’s revitalization with the opening of Bar Frances, a wine bistro where 21st century flavors mingled with adventurous and obscure wines by the glass.

After being forced to close Bin 428 due to lease and zoning issues, the Latters found a home for their dream wine bar, becoming the first tenants of Magazine Street’s Framework complex. Custom-built to Mark’s design specifications, the new bar, Claret, brought together all the elements he had craved in previous projects. A huge center bar seats 24, while exterior walls roll up, joining the lush, live landscaping outdoors and the indoors. Small plates featuring house-made charcuterie and cheese compliment a carefully curated wine and beer selection and seasonal craft cocktails.

Soon after Claret’s debut, Mark was approached to consider opening a fine dining restaurant in the same development. Fronting Magazine Street, The Bower expands on the Latters’ love of fine, fresh flavors, something evident both on the plate and in the glass. Sixty-five percent of the menu focuses on vegetables grown specially at Sugar Roots Farms, complimented by house-made pastas and small farm proteins.

In 2019, constant issues with Tujague’s ancient, decaying building combined with what Mark saw as unfeasible lease renewal terms, caused Tujague’s future to again be in question. Rather than close, Mark courageously faced a move, the second in the 164-year-old establishment’s history. (In 1914, Tujague’s moved to the corner of Madison and Decatur Street from its first location, three doors down.)

The new Tujague’s is located three blocks closer to Canal at 429 Decatur Street. Mark said he sees the move as the only way to ensure the survival of a New Orleans culinary treasure.

“Aside from my father’s legacy, the Tujague’s name ties back to the Guichets, the Castets, even Madame Begue.”

The most stalwart Tujague’s patron should feel at home in the new location thanks to trademark elements like Steven Latter’s prized collection of miniature liquor bottles and the bar’s beloved brass foot rail. The restaurant’s three floors encompass balcony and courtyard dining. Mark said he is eager for the day when the restaurant can host happy hours, jazz brunches, wine dinners and weddings.

“Tujague’s can now match the best of any classic New Orleans restaurant,” he said.
Perhaps most excited of all is Mark’s son, Braden. Before closing the old restaurant last July, the Latters hosted a weekend of “last suppers.” On the final evening, 8-year-old Braden could be found refilling water glasses and delivering plates to tables of surprised guests, further proof that in some families, hospitality is in the blood.

 

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.