The Story Behind Baie Rouge
Magazine Street’s hidden brunch gem is working hard to bring new diners through the doors.
Magazine Street is known for its vast array of funky coffee shops, trendy boutiques, unique restaurants and several hip bars. While most tourists and locals will frequent the areas between Louisiana and Washington Avenues, or Jefferson and Nashville, there is a not-as-highly-trafficked cluster of hidden gems sitting between Napoleon and Antonine Street, and Baie Rouge is one of those hidden gems.
Touted as the best brunch spot you haven’t been to yet, Baie Rouge offers diners unique offerings like Crispy Duck and Waffles, Bacon Beignets and a classic take on Eggs Benedict with brie-fondue. They also have fantastic casual French and Spanish-inspired lunch and dinner faire for any day of the week.
Poppy Tooker of the popular local radio program, Louisiana Eats recently called their Brie Fries some of the best fries in New Orleans!
For owner Kimble Donnington-Smith and Chef Michael Capiton, the process to bring their vision to life required a lot of patience. Formerly a bartender at Balcony Bar, Donnington-Smith – a British expat who came to New Orleans as a twenty-something and decided to stay, was passionate about working for himself and doing something more unique than pouring drinks. And Chef Capiton, his good friend, was eager to stretch his culinary wings.
The idea for their restaurant began just two years after Katrina, but the two food lovers wanted to do it right and didn’t rush the process. To start, they spent many weeks meeting with consultants at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is one of New Orleans’ best resources for aspiring small business owners.
“Everything in the business plan I had written got broken down, reassessed and evaluated,” says Donnington-Smith in regards to his experience with SBDC. “We would have been out of business a long time ago without their help. You have to have a lot of confidence when you open a business, and sometimes optimism isn’t always self-serving. You have the belief that people will come in and your restaurant will be successful, but it’s great to have someone who can offer an objective perspective and catch anything you miss.”
The building they chose was refurbished for them by its previous owner, who had to halt a restaurant venture of his own due to unforeseen circumstances. Next they worked with ASI Credit Union to finance the restaurant with some additional help from family and friends.
After finishing construction, and dealing with a fair amount of bureaucracy and red tape from the state, Baie Rouge finally opened its doors in April 2013. The 2,500-square-foot restaurant with its kitchen visible to diners, has 15 employees and was named for a beach on the French side of the island of St. Martin, where Donnington-Smith and his wife honeymooned years back.
As with any new business venture, Baie Rouge has faced its challenges.
“The biggest single problem we’ve had since we opened was securing the liquor license,” says Donnington-Smith. “We were already committed to the project when we discovered that the liquor license that we thought was in place was not.”
The whole process had moved to a certain point (with the previous owner,) but hadn’t been completed. City Hall delayed their securing the license and never gave a straight answer as to why.
After opening, sans liquor license, the restaurant was told they needed to wait six more months before they could reapply, which they then did successfully, but at a price.
“That was a lot of revenue we lost out on,” says Donnington-Smith. “About 20 percent of our business comes from alcohol, so the first year we lost out on tens of thousands of dollars.”
Still, in spite of the challenges, Baie Rouge doesn’t let anything get them down. They enjoy being part of such a colorful community.
“I pretty much live in the moment,” says Donnington-Smith. “We’re pretty tight – all the businesses around here. I think there’s a perception that restaurant owners see everybody else as competition, but we’re all doing our own thing and we kind of keep tabs on each other and help each other out. The other day I went to the Vietnamese restaurant because I ran out of basil, and they gave me some.”
The team at Baie Rouge is hopeful that their section of Magazine St. will continue to increase in popularity.
“There’s more of a café culture down near Louisiana Ave. We’re hopeful that in time, that will change,” says Donnington-Smith.
For the best Sunday Brunch you haven’t been to yet, check out Baie Rouge. 4128 Magazine St. Open for Brunch: Sundays from 10am-2pm, with normal lunch and dinner hours Tuesday-Saturday. Closed on Mondays.