Yesterday the Times Picayune ran an article entitled Gabrielle Gives Up, which discussed the Sonnier's decision to give up on opening a restaurant at 438 Henry Clay Ave. Food writer Brett Anderson has written about the Sonnier's plight before, and always taken the view that the Sonnier's are victims of both unreasonable bureaucracy and reflexive neighborhood opposition. Even Chris Rose has taken the view that everything would be fine if the neighbors just accepted the Sonnier's decision to open a new restaurant.
Obviously, there is neighborhood opposition to opening a full scale
restaurant where previously there was none. And of course navigating
the sinews of City Hall is exasperating. But that's a 'dog bites man'
story. There is 'man bites dog' story that Anderson and Rose have not
zeroed in on; here is my limited (but direct) perspective on that
First of all, I was open-minded about having the Sonnier's open a restaurant
even though it would have been literally right next to my house. I
spent a lot of time talking to ARNA, the neighborhood association,
about Sonnier's plans. The president of ARNA worked out a deal that
was designed to address issues that most of the people in the
neighborhood were concerned about. I had a chance to see the proposal
and comment on it. I thought everything was fine and that Greg Sonnier
had addressed issues that concerned the neighborhood, but then about a
month ago I saw the 'For Sale' signs appear on his building.
The next time I saw Greg I asked him what the problem was and he
said there was just too much red-tape. He told me that the
neighborhood wasn't able to support restaurants anyway. I asked him
what he meant by that. He told me that Civiellos had closed and that
Nardo's was getting ready to close. He said that some people had asked
him to talk to the Nardo's folks about opening there. He said the
Nardo's owners approached him about buying the restaurant but he wasn't
interested. A few nights later I went to Nardo's and asked the owner
if she was planning to close and she said absolutely not and that
business was fine. I noticed that Nardo's was as crowded as it always
Okay, fine. Greg Sonnier is bitter and he is distorting things.
Maybe there is a lot of distortion going on, but I don't think it was
fair of him to say that Nardo's is going out of business when it isn't.
[Apparently, Nardo's is in fact out of business, as the commenter
'TheDude' noted below]
Last Monday night I came home from my trip to Panama. I got home
about 9 pm and noticed that there was a party at 438 Henry Clay. That
seemed strange since there hadn't been any functions there since
Katrina, and now after the Sonnier's had 'given up,' there was a party
in the courtyard. Music was playing and it was not obnoxiously loud
(at least not for a place that is supposed to be a reception hall), but
I could definitely hear it in my house. I was worried that they would
play the music late, but right at 10:30 they stopped playing music.
Last night there was another party, which started at about 7:30 or
so. The music was playing and this time it was just a little louder.
And it played until past 11:00 pm. In the proposed deal that Sonnier
worked out with the neighborhood association he had agreed to limits on
the playing of music in the courtyard. I don't remember if he was
allowed to play until 11:00 pm, but it doesn't matter because he didn't
sign the agreement.
This morning I walked out of my door and found two large boxes
filled with crawfish shells and empty beer cans on my porch. They
weren't there when I went to bed, so someone clearly put them in front
of my door in a mean-spirited gesture. I doubt it was Greg Sonnier,
since he and I have (up until now) gotten along fine. But, when I
looked in front of his property I saw several other boxes of crawfish
and beer cans (click on accompanying picture to enlarge). Obviously, after the party,
his workers put the trash out in front. And the crawfish weren't in
sealed garbage bags (which would inhibit the smell). Also, the pickup
day for garbage is Friday, not Thursday. Greg Sonnier lives in two
blocks down the street so he would know what days are pickup days.
Also, his facility has a large storage area on Laurel street that is
fenced in, and this is where the garbage should be stored until pickup
So, is this the way Greg was planning to run things if he opened a
full-scale restaurant? Or is this his way of flipping the finger at
the neighborhood? I don't know, but either way I'm no longer so
open-minded about having him run a business next to my house. Maybe
that's unfair of me. Maybe there is another side of this story.
I doubt it, but if there is you can be sure that it won't be
uncovered by the mainstream media. When it comes to writing stories
about restaurants vs. neighborhoods they have a formula they use. I
can totally understand that too. It makes their job a whole lot easier.
Update from 11:00 am this morning: I returned from a
meeting to find that the trash outside of Gabrielle (or whatever it
should be called) was gone. It had been hauled into the courtyard
where rock & roll music was blaring louder than is appropriate at
this time of the day. I went into the courtyard and found a solitary
young guy reading a book and listening to music. I told him it was too
loud and so he agreed to turn it down. Apparently, Greg Sonnier
allowed one of his young relatives to have a party at the location and
that's how things got into disarray. I will say that the party last
night was attended by many adults, and I saw Greg walking to the party
at one point so I know he was around. I'm surprised that he wouldn't
have given his young relative better instruction about how to clean up
and act at the proposed restaurant location.
as I noted above, it appears that Nardo's has closed and the owners are
now involved with Asian Cajun Cafe on Oak Street. I'm sorry that
Nardo's closed, and I hope the owners do well at their new location
(I'm not sure how they got involved because Asian Cajun has been
operating for awhile now). So, maybe Greg was right about that one.
But, he's not right about letting his young relatives act irresponsibly
(if that's what happened) and leave trash outside the building and play
music too loudly and at inappropriate times.