It’s ‘body blow after body blow,’ say local restaurateurs after weather closures

For some Baton Rouge restaurants, Monday’s ice storm was just the latest insult in what has been nearly one year of injuries.

Back in the days before COVID-19, losing a day or two of business because of a weather event wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal. After 11 months of pandemic-related closures, however, it took on a whole new significance for some in an industry that has been particularly battered.  

“This has just been body blow after body blow after body blow,” says Louisiana Lagniappe owner Kevin Ortego. “It is just a matter of survival of the fittest. How much stuff can happen?”

Louisiana Lagniappe was planning to reopen tonight, after being shut down Monday and suffering through a disappointing Valentine’s Day night as a result of the storm.

“We’d been booked for Valentine’s Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, for weeks and then Sunday afternoon the phone started ringing with cancellations because the weather was getting bad,” Ortego says. “I’d say we were down 40 percent from a typical Valentine’s Day.”

Mestizo was open for lunch today, after being shut down Monday, but owner Jim Urdiales didn’t have a phone due to a Cox outage, so the restaurant was having trouble taking to-go orders. He had been counting on Monday and Tuesday being strong days because of Mardi Gras.

“Usually Monday of Mardi Gras is really good for us because a lot of locals have been down to New Orleans over the weekend and are back and kind of hanging out,” he says. “We didn’t know quite what to expect this year but we were expecting two good solid days and then this. It’s like one more thing to deal with. That’s the way a lot of restaurants feel.”

For some, the ice storm’s timing was fortuitous. Brad Watts’ Kalurah Street Grill and Cecelia are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays anyway so he wasn’t out any business.

“I got lucky,” he says. “But I understand how some of the others feel. The hits just keep coming.”

That said, the hit was relatively minor this time, according to Zorba’s Bistro owner Dinos Economides, who says things could have been a lot worse.

“It wasn’t too much a big deal,” says Economides, who lost a day and a half of business. “It was a lot of cold weather and no power at the house but not really a big deal.”