Because of the way New Orleans people watch restaurants so closely, because of how we obsessive over them, it can seem like they have their own life spans. We see them arrive. Often, we're there when they say goodbye.
New Orleans has given us two striking examples in close succession: Dick & Jenny’s, the modern uptown bistro that just closed, and the Bon Ton Café, the downtown classic that closes this Friday.
These were very different restaurants, but they share a connection. Both in their time were bridges, connecting then with now.
At the Bon Ton, the owners are retiring. Plans are in the works to open a new Bon Ton here. But regardless, a very long chapter is reaching an end.
The Bon Ton name goes back to 1877, when it opened as a saloon. In the 1950s, the Pierce family took over and brought the cooking of Cajun bayou country to town, especially their crawfish dishes. A generation before Paul Prudhomme gained fame, the Bon Ton was teaching New Orleans about Cajun flavor.
Dick & Jenny’s opened generations later in 1999. The feel was funky, casual, the cooking was Louisiana roots with a modern edge, the result was electric. It helped reveal what the next generation of New Orleans dining would be.
Dick & Jenny’s changed hands through the years, and changed a great deal. In later incarnations, the only connection to its heyday was the name, which really should have been retired years ago. Well, now it’s done.
Restaurants are businesses. They open, they close. They thrive, they decline.
But the ones we care about? Those are the ones we still talk about when they’re gone, like legendary friends we somehow managed to outlive. Maybe we remember certain chapters of their run, and maybe that lines up with chapters of our own life.
I don’t know if that counts as a lifespan. But for a business, for a restaurant, heck, for anyone, it’s a sign that it mattered.