(Photo by Collin Richie: Twine’s ground grass fed sirloin burger served with a fois gras dipping sauce and side of watermelon, radish, cucumber, and feta salad topped with lemon mint vinaigrette.)
One of the most anticipated restaurant openings in Baton Rouge in 2015 is Twine, a boutique butcher shop and eatery expected to open on Government Street sometime in the next few months. The business is run by personal chef Steve Diehl and his wife Kristin Songy Diehl. Like other culinary entrepreneurs in Baton Rouge, the Diehls have experienced the challenges of searching for the perfect location in a city where commercial property rates are rising fast.
“Our first spot in the area did not turn out to be a good fit,” Songy Diehl says. “We were set back pretty significantly on our timeline, but we really wanted to be in Mid City. Now we have a new spot identified we’ll be announcing soon, and we’re actively working on a design and build-out.”
The problem the Diehls faced is a familiar one in the industry. Rental rates for restaurants and related business are priced at about $20 to $25 per square foot, but that doesn’t include the build-out and renovation required by nearly all new tenants in food business, says commercial realtor Jonathan Walker of Maestri-Murrell. Sometimes the cost of rent and anticipated cost of renovation break the budget.
“It’s very likely that you’ll have to build it out in terms of your own specifications,” Walker says. “You can’t just go into a vacant Chili’s and turn it into a City Pork without a lot of work. That’s what makes restaurants different from regular retail.”
Moreover, Baton Rouge’s growing number of trendier concepts are gravitating toward equally trendy neighborhoods where residents have bought into the national culinary scene. These include the Perkins Road Overpass, downtown and Mid City.
“In the areas where we’ve been looking, it’s definitely been competitive,” Songy Diehl says. “You have to be ready to be in a more luxury center and pay more, or you take a chance on something cheaper that might not have as much foot traffic. There’s not as much to choose from as you’d like, so you have to be patient and fluid.”
Parking can also be an issue for new restaurants. City Pork II on Jefferson Highway, whose indoor seating capacity is 75 to 80, has faced issues with having enough parking places. Sales have exceeded expectations since the restaurant opened in January. The lot’s capacity is around 40, but co-owner Stephen Hightower is trying to work out a lease agreement for additional adjacent spots.
Knowing their parking capacity won’t be large, Songy Diehl says she and her husband will assign some spots for takeout. Patrons can park, and staff will bring out orders of fresh meats from the butcher counter, lightly prepared sides that can be finished at home or takeout meals at lunch.
“For moms with kids, it’ll be helpful,” Songy Diehl says. “And it will get people in and out faster.”