Old World Charm, Modern Glitz
Antebellum grace meets top-rate amenities at Southern Oaks Plantation
Written by Frank Etheridge
Built in 1965, Bobby Asaro, a New Orleans-native and owner and operator of Southern Oaks Plantation, explains the three-acre property shaded beneath Spanish moss along Hayne Boulevard has been a fixture in East New Orleans for more than 50 years.
Seated just off the main ballroom at an eloquently decorated table for two, Asaro offers (with no shortage of charm and detailed knowledge) a recap of Southern Oaks’ succession of owners and uses over the last half-century:
William “Bill” LeBouef had the 10,000-square-foot-home designed for his private residence in the style of old Southern plantation homes. Fronted by a circular drive around a lawn of graceful live oaks and magnolias, with a row of stately columns grounds serving as the support and the façade of the two-story brick structure. LeBouef was able to finance luxurious surroundings, such as a courtyard with a pool and a carriage house. LeBouef sold the property in the 1970s.
From there, Southern Oaks Plantation became a destination marketed toward bus tours. Then an Italian restaurant called Spinelli’s, opened by a former Antoine’s waiter, was situated in the home for a couple of years before it was shut down for illegal gambling activity.
Asaro negotiated his purchase of the property from owners of a nightclub-meets-dining experience called Paradise Plantation in 1987. He had been working as a radiologic technician at Methodist Hospital in the East since 1977, when Southern Oaks came up for sale.
“Little by little, we’ve expanded it and refined it,” Asaro says of the approach taken by him and wife Sue. Asaro’s daughter Stacey also works at Southern Oaks, in addition to a staff of 50 employees.
“We do weddings primarily. Our business has changed a lot because the wedding market has changed a lot. It’s now very glamorous, very high-end. Brides and their families expect a lot for their money. They’ve always expected a lot, but it seems today there’s a bit more glamor involved in these events. They’re a lot more glitzy than they used to be.”
No appointment is necessary for prospective customers scouting the 400-guest capacity space weddings and events venue visiting the during regular business hours.
“‘Wow!’ is the typical reaction we get from folks stepping in here for the first time,” Asaro says. “A majority of the people that come in really love it.
“Our interior decorations are in the modern style,” he continues following a quick tour, with stops including a lavishly luxurious ladies room. “The brides of today, and the professional event planners of today, demand it. A lot of the plantation-style special event rental spaces have to keep their amenities faithful to the era in which they were built. We don’t. We’re able to decorate it with a lot of pizzazz and install the latest technologies and trends.”
Noting the under-construction outdoor lakefront amphitheater nearby, Asaso says “there’s a lot of things moving in out here. We’re proud of what we’ve done and new things we’ve brought to the table, like firework shows and our own parade. Plus there’s a longevity here we feel is special.”
Southern Oaks Plantation
7816 Hayne Blvd, New Orleans, La., 70126