Fate of Ralph & Kacoo’s property in flux amid MovEBR project

After closing nearly two years ago for an “extensive remodel,” Ralph & Kacoo’s is facing increased pressure to abandon its longtime Baton Rouge location and potentially sell it to the city, which is considering demolishing the building to make room for a new roadway.

A MovEBR project will create a new four-lane roadway from the end of the existing Constantin Drive, near Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, that will intersect Bluebonnet Boulevard between the Hyatt Hotel and Ralph & Kacoo’s. 

However, a revised Environmental Assessment reflecting an alignment shifted more onto the restaurant’s property is currently pending approval from the Federal Highway Administration. It’s not immediately known when the FHWA will respond to the request.

Donnie Davis, vice president of the restaurant’s parent company, Great Texas Foods, says he’s at a crossroads. On one hand, GTF has already spent some $2 million on remodeling the 35-year-old building, which he says the company was planning to reopen under its Tex-Mex concept, Cafe Del Rio. But on the other, he doesn’t want to reopen at all if it’s all for naught.

“We sent [the city] a letter with a proposal, basically saying, ‘let us know what’s going on,’ and we haven’t gotten a response yet,” says Davis, whose company acquired all the Ralph & Kacoo’s restaurants in 2003. “If this road is going to go right through our building, we don’t want to spend a lot of money on reopening.”

Davis says he’s known about the city’s revised plans for the property for the past four or five months, but is still waiting to get more information from officials to determine next steps. If the city goes with its original plan, which would only slightly impact the Ralph & Kacoo’s parking lot, the restaurant would reopen as Cafe Del Rio within the next several months. 

But if the revised plan persists, Davis says he’s open to “hammering out a bill” with the city, declining to say what GTF’s asking price would be, though he notes it would be “substantial” given the costs to renovate the space.

The restaurant has not renewed its alcohol permit with the city for 2021, having missed the Jan. 31 deadline to do so, according to Senior Special Parish Attorney Paolo Messina. Technically, the restaurant or a new entity still has until July 1 to renew its license for this location; otherwise, it will be categorized as a new business and must submit a new application.

Ralph & Kacoo’s has been at its Bluebonnet location across from the Mall of Louisiana since 1986. The chain started when Ralph & Kacoo Olinde opened a fried catfish restaurant on False River in 1969 and eventually sold to Piccadilly Cafeterias in 1988 for $38 million. It later sold to Cobb Investments in 1999 for $21 million before GTF purchased the chain.