A real estate ad posted this week has put a question mark over another beloved New Orleans restaurant.
Liuzza’s Restaurant & Bar at 3636 Bienville St. is for sale. Speculation instantly swirled as to the reasons behind the move for the historic restaurant, as other local institutions have been roiled by change during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview Tuesday, proprietors Lori and Frank Bordelon said they are selling the restaurant to retire. At 61 and 73, respectively, they feel the time is right to pass the business on to a new owner and begin a new chapter of life with more time for family.
“It’s been a lot of fun, the restaurant has kept life very interesting, but it’s time to move on,” Frank Bordelon said.
They confirmed that the restaurant will remain open for business as usual while they own it, at least under the terms of whatever coronavirus restrictions are in effect. They hope a future buyer will keep the restaurant open as Liuzza’s and maintain its traditions.
“I feel strongly that Liuzza’s will be around for many years to come,” said Lori Bordelon.
The sale offer includes the restaurant, its name and the real estate, which encompasses a succession of adjacent empty lots fronting Bienville and North Telemachus streets. Local real estate firm the McEnery Co. has it advertised at $2.4 million.
The Bordelons know some think the sale is a response to the pandemic. But they say their plans to sell pre-date the crisis.
“What COVID did was actually delay those plans,” Lori Bordelon said. “The business is down some like for everyone through this, but we’ve been able to stay open and pay our employees, so we’ve been fortunate. This is more about our personal decision to move on.”
An Italian classic, on French
In business since 1947, Liuzza’s helps define the idea of the New Orleans neighborhood restaurant. Some regulars trace their relationship with the place by decades.
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It’s one of the city’s classic Creole-Italian spots, where red gravy and seafood gumbo share the menu with shrimp remoulade and seafood lasagna.
The house sandwich is the Frenchuletta, a hot muffuletta built on a long run of French bread. With a towering stack of thin-cut onion rings on the side and an icy, fish bowl-sized schooner of draft beer within reach, Liuzza’s can present one particular interpretation of heaven.
Ripples of change
While the Bordelons said selling the business is unrelated to the pandemic, the news arrives amid high anxiety for the future of the city’s bedrock hospitality industry. Facing restrictions and a withered tourism economy, some restaurants and bars have outright closed, while other local institutions have gone up for sale.
For instance, Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe in Treme will not reopen, and proprietor Wayne Baquet has put the business up for sale, marking the end of the line for a family history in New Orleans restaurants dating to the 1940s.
The Saturn Bar, a stalwart of the Ninth Ward, is up for sale with a deal pending after its family owners decided to leave the business.
Liuzza’s restaurant runs deep in Mid-City (and should not to be confused with the unrelated Liuzza’s by the Track, a similarly-enshrined local restaurant and bar in Faubourg St. John).
Vincent Liuzza opened the restaurant in 1947, though its story actually begins a few blocks up North Telemachus Street were Liuzza ran a barroom serving workers from the nearby factories, when the area was an industrial hub. He fed customers dishes that his wife sent along from home, and their popularity sparked the idea for a restaurant.
Liuzza built his own restaurant at North Telemachus and Bienville streets from the ground up, a durable, two-story structure of stucco, terrazzo floors and mid-century curves.
The restaurant has had a few owners through the years since. The Bordelon family has particularly long ties to the place.
Frank Bordelon’s mother, the late Theresa Galbo, worked at Liuzza’s as a waitress starting in 1955. By 1981, she bought the restaurant, setting up the next chapter for her family as proprietors. Galbo is credited with creating the Liuzza’s Frenchuletta, recasting a muffuletta on a po-boy loaf.
Today, pondering the prospect of selling Liuzza’s, Frank Bordelon said he’s grateful for the memories made under its roof. But he’s also eager to make some new ones on different terms once he can retire.
“Some day I’ll be sitting at the bar having a beer at Liuzza’s,” he said. “That will be a good day.”
With the fate of bars across New Orleans a vexing question through the pandemic, there’s change ahead for one of the city’s old greats.
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