Three pioneers

Ruffino’s co-owners Ruffin Rodrigue and Peter Sclafani have spent more than $250,000 over the past three months renovating De La Ronde Hall on Third Street downtown and making it ready to serve as their new corporate offices and catering facility.

Next door, on the ground floor of the historic Richoux Building, Raising Cane’s has spent more than $1 million on the 3,000-square-foot space that is now Cane’s first downtown restaurant.

The investments are nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that neither Ruffino’s nor Cane’s owns the building in which it has just completed pricey renovations. But that does not matter to Rodrigue, Sclafani or Cane’s owner, Todd Graves. They want to be in the heart of downtown and believe the time to pony up is now.

“Now is the time to grasp this,” Graves says. “Now, while we can.”

For Cane’s, moving downtown was always on the bucket list. It was just a matter of waiting until the neighborhood stopped rolling up the sidewalks at sundown. Though there’s still a long way to go until the magic 10,000—or even 5,000—full-time residents live within the boundaries of the Downtown Development District, Graves believes there are enough people downtown now to sustain the restaurant.

“My goal was, as soon as we could break even, we’d come,” he says. “I think we’re there now.”

For Ruffino’s the move to downtown serves a dual purpose. It enables the growing restaurant company to expand its banquet and catering operation. Ruffino’s flagship establishment on Highland Road could only accommodate 250 or so patrons in its private dining room. Its newly renovated De La Ronde Hall can serve more than 500 in three different dining rooms.

Perhaps more importantly, by relocating its headquarters to the catering facility on Third Street, Ruffino’s is able to establish a downtown presence that it hopes to grow into a full-service restaurant.

“We’re still about two years away from a full-service restaurant,” says Peter Sclafani. “But this gives us a great foothold. We’re able to put our flag here.”

Beyond an eventual restaurant, Sclafani and Rodrigue have other plans for downtown as well: developing high-end entertainment venues targeting well-heeled professionals. Whether that vision includes a theater, jazz club, art gallery or all of the above, Rodrigue says he looks forward to “an adult downtown with nightlife for professional people, not just the 11 p.m. college kids.”

“There is so much potential, and it’s just going to get better,” he says. “We want to be in the middle of it, and this location is the 50-yard line of Baton Rouge.”

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