Skip to main content

Gabrielle restaurant gives up

By May 31, 2007new orleans

Gabrielle
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
story.

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
was.

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
day.

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.

Also,
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.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to join my inner circle.

9 Comments

  • rob clemenz says:

    Hey Mr. Hebert –

    You are too funny. “For the record,” I would not know the Sonniers if I saw them as I have never met them so that would be a “no” as to whether I represent them.

    I have come to this blog or web site because it seems to be put together pretty well and I know ES to be pretty bookish and a good writer ( he’s not Charlie Hebert but then again, who really can rise to that caliber? Few, if any… )

    I feel folks defeated Mr. Sonnier and that was their right. What dismayed was the “piling on” and “let’s kick a man while he’s down” behavior. I’m sorry he lost Gabrielle’s and is struggling now. Do you think the folks who had little damage have been kind, compassionate, sympathetic? I’ll tell you some stories if you do.

    Please tell your lovely wife Lisa I love her and say hi …

    Mr. Look lost his Mom yesterday – call me for the 411 or send a note via my web site. Amazing to hear from you here. But I am not complaining. I miss you.

    rob c. :o)

  • Ernie says:

    Charlie:

    Yeah, there has been miscommunication and misunderstanding. I’m sorry to have contributed to it. As for the “Nardo’s woman” I think that, in retrospect, she probably couldn’t have said that she was planning to close. Often, that kind of decision is tricky because of when you have to inform staff and customers etc. I’m guessing that there were factors there that we don’t know about.

    Perhaps there are factors that we don’t know about with the Sonniers. One thing, though, we know that there is litigation going on. And that tends to influence what people can, or do, say. Maybe the city permitting process is the problem. Maybe it was the prior owners. Maybe the Sonniers are 100% victims of bureaucracy and neighborhood ill-will. Maybe my sense of when and how loud music should be played is too sensitive.

    I doubt that any one person really has the whole story. All I am doing is offering my perspective. I apologize for the errors inherent in that perspective. ‘Nough said.

  • Charlie Hebert says:

    What a comedy of errors. Perhaps an edit button would come in handy. It does appear that a few guns have been jumped, but many points well made. What about the woman at Nardo’s who lied right to your face? Tough trusting people these days.Hey, Mr. Clemenz:1. Long time no see, howya been?2. You represent Sonnier?3. It’s the woman at Nardo’s fault if you ask me. Why can’t people just tell the truth?

  • rob clemenz says:

    1. When you treat hearsay as Gospel you often get caught with your pants down, which is what happened to you reagrding the comments Mr. Greg Sonnier made. Did Greg accept your apology about misrepsenting him to whole internet population?

    2. You are not the arbiter of noise decibels, Ernie. If you thought the music was too loud you should have pursued legitimate channels. You can’t speak for your whole block.

    3. It really seems obvious you have a giant boulder on your shoulder about Greg Sonnier. It’s sad.

    4. “NIMBY” is wrong, especially during these trying times.

  • bobbie brown says:

    Ernie,Why do you ignore the fact that the Uptowner was sold as a business with an occupational license that clearly stated “Restaurant-with table service”. This description is not vague at all.The Uptowner had been up “For Sale” for several years prior to the Sonniers purchasing it. Ironically, at one point we had looked at it to purchase to use as it was, a “Reception Hall” but were scared away by the occupational license it held for a “restaurant”. It seemed crazy that it would be a problem since it had operated as a reception hall for so long, but we have done business in New Orleans for a while and decided that what is not clear in this town can only be trouble. The non-conforming zoning held by the location does not clarify anything. If the structure doesn’t change and the business doesn’t intensify than there is no need for a zoning variance. But who decides if the Restaurant business is more intense than a full time catering and reception hall facility? It could go either way.I suppose the neighbors concerns could have been remedied for good had all of you pooled your resources and purchased the property. Then all of you could decide the future of the site once and for all. It’s been done in other locations in the city.I am a small business owner, and it’s a tough thing to be in this place, it was pre-K and it’s not gotten an easier. I just don’t see how New Orleans can continue to claim to want business, and boast a “business friendly” environment when the city can’t properly permit a business.

  • Ernie says:

    Robert:

    Thanks for the update; I’m glad you clarified what happened. The boxes on the porch were not from my daughter or her friend. But, even if they had been, I never thought that Greg or anyone from the party put them there. I assumed that this morning someone put them there as a prank or whatever.

    My complaint was that they were out on the curb before the scheduled pickup date, which is especially problematic when you are talking about crawfish remains (since they attract animals and generally smell bad). But, I understand that it was your mistake and not Greg’s, and I accept that it was a reasonable mistake. Your son, or whoever I talked to this morning, was polite when I told him (quite pointedly) that it was inappropriate to blare music at that time of the day. So I want to make sure that I don’t give any impression that he was anything less than polite and responsive once I made clear to him something that I think should be fairly obvious. But, since it’s not his house maybe he got the impression that music could be played loud in the daytime too.

    I hope that in the future that the music levels are regulated in an appropriate way, but obviously that’s not going to be your responsibility in the future, unless your family has more parties there. Thanks again for your nice comment.

    Ernie

  • Robert Stickney says:

    Ernie:

    We were the ones who had the party last night and I was the one who put mistakenly put the trash out last night – I thought the pickup was this morning. As soon as we found out that the pickup was on Friday, I had my son go over and move the trash off the street.

    The boxes that you found outside of your door were apparently from your daughter and her boyfriend. She is a friend of my youngest son’s and had come over to the party last night and brought trays of crawfish back to your house to eat for dinner. As for the empty beer cans that you mentioned, I can assure you that those didn’t come from the party since I was behind the bar the entire night to make sure that none of the under-age kids that were there had any beer or alcohol to drink. I suspect that what you referred to were actually empty soda cans.

    Not sure how all of this adds up to things getting “…into disarray” or “…acting irresponsibly”, but hopefully this clarifies things for you.

    Robert Stickney

  • Ernie says:

    I didn’t know that Nardo’s was gone, but I strolled over as you suggested and sure enough you’re right. I also know that there are people in the neighborhood who believe that ARNA doesn’t represent the neighborhood. Still, ARNA is a neighborhood association and they did try to broker a deal that would make it easier for Greg Sonnier to get his restaurant approved. Why he didn’t sign the deal I don’t know, and I guess now it doesn’t matter. I think that ARNA and its president, Andrew Pilant, should be applauded for trying to help Mr. Sonnier.

    Certainly, there are people who are against the Sonniers. That is always true when someone proposes to do something new in a neighborhood. The question I have is: how much of the mess is the result of Mr. Sonnier’s actions? I don’t think he is wholly responsible for the situation he is in, but he definitely has done some things that hurt his cause. I’m sure his supporters will say “oh, well, he’s just frustrated with how he’s been treated.” I think that’s great if you are comforting a friend, but if you are speaking in public about what is reasonable and who bears fault then it’s not a meaningful statement.

    This is a public debate about whether a restaurant should open in a place that has never had one. Are people saying that no debate should take place? Are Chris Rose and Brett Anderson saying that the City Council should just rubber-stamp Mr. Sonnier’s request, and ignore everyone in the neighborhood who might have concerns, even if some of the concerns are reasonable?

    I’m glad Whole Foods is located where it is, and I think that has been a great benefit to the neighborhood. But I would never suggest that people should be able to build new structures and change neighborhoods without some chance for the people in the neighborhood to at least voice their opinion. Since when has this country become a place where people aren’t allowed to voice an opinion? Greg Sonnier could not have bought that location without knowing that he needed to have a ‘change of use’ approval. But if he did then he bears most of the responsibility. Maybe he didn’t consult a lawyer before he bought the property.

    Now he’s having to pay a lot more in legal fees because he didn’t understand what he was getting into. Then again maybe he did know and was hoping to take advantage of the post-Katrina confusion. Some people offer up rumors of a deal he had with Jay Batt, but that’s just rumor to me. What I know is that he hasn’t helped his cause with the neighborhood very much, and I’m not talking about formal associations.

    This morning I saw the nice lady (whose name I won’t mention) who lives a few houses down from the proposed restaurant site. She walks on Henry Clay every day to and from church. She’s lived in the same house for years. Her husband passsed away, but she stayed in that house. Katrina popped the city, but she came back and she still lives in that house. If Greg Sonnier opens a restaurant and plays music all day long and shoots fireworks from the porch every day, she’ll stay in her house. She is not a member of ARNA or Burtheville. She’s just a nice lady who has lived in this neighborhood as long as anyone.

    If Greg Sonnier, who lives about two blocks away from her, stopped by her house and explained to her what he was planning to do then she’d probably feel a lot more comfortable about having a significant change to her neighborhood. The City Council approval process, for all of its bureaucratic pomp, is one way that our government guarantees that people like her have the chance, if they want to take advantage of it, to voice their concerns. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one we have in place. If Greg Sonnier doesn’t want to stop by and chat with his neighbors one-by-one (and who can blame him if he doesn’t), then he should at least respect the process that gives those folks the chance to voice their concerns to their elected officials.

    Sonnier has lawyers and access to sympathetic ears in the media. But what he doesn’t have enough of, unfortunately for him and for the neighborhood, is common sense. Treat people right. Don’t assume that everyone is out to get you, and find the friendly faces and help people trust you. Don’t create more negativity. Find the positive and work with it. Isn’t this kind of stuff obvious to someone who works in a ‘people business’?

    I’m sorry that this situation has escalated to this point, and I’m sorry that everyone has been agitated. It would have been nice if Greg Sonnier could have opened a nice restaurant in the neighborhood, but if he doesn’t it won’t because he was a 100% victim of events beyond his control.

    I’m not going to comment anymore on this problem. But feel free to leave as many provocative comments as you want. From now on out, though, I’m not allowing anonymous comments. If you have something to say on this weblog than you’ll have to take ownership of it.

  • TheDude says:

    Take a little stroll over to Nardo’s. It’s gone.

    And don’t you know that the ARNA doesn’t represent your neighborhood? The Burthville neighborhood association does, and they had no interest in a compromise and don’t recognize the ARNA as representing the interests of your neighborhood. Just ask Mike Sherman, he’s the president of that group.

Skip to content