2018 was a particularly dynamic year for the Baton Rouge restaurant scene, with several new concepts and popular chains popping up the city. But for every opening last year, there seemed to be at least one or two restaurants that closed.
As the trend continues into 2019, the question will be: Has Baton Rouge reached its limit when it comes to dining options?
Some indicators seem to point to yes. In 2018, restaurants that typically do well in Baton Rouge shut their doors.
For instance, the city—which has long had an insatiable appetite for burgers—saw popular burger chains close last year, including Mooyah and Smashburger locations. On the flip side, Baton Rouge also lost a New Orleans fine-dining staple, Galatoire’s Bistro, in July. And after 19 years in business, The Melting Pot closed in 2018 as well, along with both Lava Cantina locations, Pelican House and Breck’s Bistro.
Yet an influx of popular new restaurants opened their doors in the same year, such as Soji, Rocca Pizzeria, Provisions on Perkins, Cecelia Creole Bistro and White Star Market—although some tenants have already changed.
And restaurants owners, both of new concepts and established spots, say they believe 2019 will still be another strong year for the Baton Rouge market, despite an overflow of competition.
“In Baton Rouge, in my opinion, I see a lot of growth in our industry,” says Ruffin Rodrigue, owner of Ruffino’s, a 20-year-old Baton Rouge staple.
Rodrigue describes his establishment as white tablecloth, but also casual and fun, specializing in big dinner celebrations. And he says other local fine dining restaurants like his with strong established cultures will have a solid year in 2019.
Meanwhile, fresh concepts are also thriving. Chef Ryan Andre, co-owner of the new Soji restaurant, says he chose to focus on modern Asian fare, which is key because in Baton Rouge you have to do something different to keep people interested.
“I tell everyone, ‘Yeah, we have a lot of restaurants, but they’re somewhat similar—common southern food people know how to cook,’” Andre says. “The point is to find something they can’t cook at home.”
2019 foodie trends
Poké: The sushi love affair in Baton Rouge may be interrupted in 2019 by a new Asian craze. Following the lead of Southfin Southern Poké (pictured), a handful of poké restaurants have popped up in the city, usually with the word in the name, such as Poké Loa and Poké City.
*Heads up for the next Asian trend on the way: Sushi burritos
Chef-driven restaurants: It’s becoming increasingly common to not just know the restaurant but also its chef in Baton Rouge, such as Andre at Soji, chef Chris Motto at Mansurs on the Boulevard or chef Justin Ferguson at BRQ.
Fighting the food desert
One of the bright spots in 2019 will be the implementation of several initiatives to improve food access in north Baton Rouge, long branded a “food desert” because of its lack of healthy, affordable food options. As part of the city-parish HealthyBR program, made possible by a $1.7 million grant from the Humana Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, several efforts will get under way in the next few months:
• Top Box Foods, a community-based nonprofit organization, will expand into the local market to deliver fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables to centralized locations in north Baton Rouge.
• The Walls Project will develop a local farm and community garden, where residents of all ages can learn how to grow food in their own backyard.
• GROW Baton Rouge will expand its existing mobile food markets to the 70805 community.
Significantly, HealthyBR is also working with Hope Credit Union to identify and incentivize a retailer willing to open a full-service supermarket in the 70805 ZIP code. Perhaps a deal could happen before the end of the year, though it’s unlikely a new store would be open before 2020 at the earliest.