Downtown restaurants can thank public sector and plant workers

An aerial photo of downtown Baton Rouge. (Stock photo)

Downtown restaurants and cafes are bouncing back to life, thanks largely to private sector and plant workers flocking for lunchtime meals.

Restaurants across Baton Rouge were hit hard during the height of COVID-19, but downtown establishments are especially reliant on weekday lunch business to make ends meet. Remote and hybrid work remaining a popular option for downtown office workers means restaurant life isn’t yet back to normal.

State and city employees, who have slowly returned to the office, help make up for the lack of private sector employees who would usually frequent The Vintage, says general manager Miranda Church. Downtown is bookended by government workers, the state government complex to the north and the courts and city-parish government to the south.

Since the Fourth of July, Church says, business has been inching closer to normal.

Cafe Mimi is also seeing more life, says staff member Andrea Falcon, but once public sector workers are back downtown five days a week, which should begin in August, the restaurant expects business to pick up even more. 

“The private workforce isn’t back to normal,” Falcon says. “There’s so many people working from home.”

Schlittz and Giggles, however, has seen more construction and plant workers as they return to work, manager Victoria Puccella says, as opposed to white-collar workers.

They used to host more lawyers and courthouse employees when the courthouse was 100% open, she says, but that number has declined.

Church has noticed a lot of empty space, and a lot of smaller business storefronts downtown remain dark, she says.

Cafe Mimi’s building manager has offices upstairs and rents out smaller rooms, Falcon says, but they have not been getting rented out since the pandemic began.

As remote work continues to trend, it’s unclear when the private sector will be back to normal, and until then, downtown businesses will continue to rely more on public sector employees.

“It’s not your typical downtown right now,” Falcon says. “We’re hoping the government workers going back to work increase our traffic.”