Historic St. Rose Tavern will be forced to shut doors
Granted extension, but eviction slated for April
By Kyle Barnett - Nov 21, 2013
After operating in the same spot for the past 91 years, it looks like the lights may be going out on a historic local eatery.
The St. Rose Tavern has been given an eviction notice by their landlord, Thomas Coleman, who is the CEO of neighboring International-Matex Tank Terminals.
Pat Elfer has lived and worked in the building housing the St. Rose Tavern on River Road in St. Rose her entire life.In fact, she just narrowly missed being born in the building. Her mother was cooking in the restaurant when she went into labor.
“My mother was cooking and she told my dad ‘time to take me to the hospital!’ I was ready to come,” Elfer said.
Elfer points to a spot on the bar.
“I took my first steps right there,” she said.
Now 60, Elfer makes her way around the restaurant with a well-worn pair of crutches. Due to degenerative arthritis, she has had a knee replacement and two hip replacements. Since the age of nine she has struggled with issues related to her bones and joints, but she has not let her health problems get her down.
“I was the wobbled duck. I still wobble, but I don’t wobble alone. I wobble with my canes now,” she said.
Elfer’s whole family history is wrapped up in the establishment that was built by her great-grandfather Charles Elfer in 1922. At one time the building housed a hotel and barber shop in addition to the tavern. Over the years, the restaurant has gone through many changes and the tavern is currently the only remaining part of the original business that is still in operation.
At 16 years old, Elfer began working at St. Rose Tavern. After her mother died in 1985, she took over the business with the goal of purchasing the property over time. However, Coleman made a cash offer on the property and the family sold out to him soon after Elfer took control.
Elfer said the property was purchased to serve as part of a buffer zone for IMTT. Coleman did allow her to continue operating in the location in exchange for $400 in rent per month and with the stipulation that she make any necessary improvements to the property. Elfer said it was her understanding that the lease was supposed to be good in perpetuity.
“I thought, $400? I can live with that,” Elfer said. Over the next two decades Elfer and her growing family, which now includes three daughters and a grandson, have run the restaurant that has served as a hub for the community.
Elfer’s daughter, Elizabeth, said she has seen generations come through the tavern’s doors as kids grow up and come back as adults.
“When people who grew up here come in from out of town, the first place they come is here,” she said.
After Elfer’s husband passed away in 2007, she took $34,000 she received from his life insurance policy and used it to make improvements to the building.
“I could have used it to pay off our bills, but instead I upgraded the air conditioning and heating,” Elfer said. “I figured we could work on the bills, but if we were going to stay here we may as well be comfortable.”
Around the time of her husband’s death, Coleman notified Elfer that he was raising the rent to $625.
“I had been paying $400 for 20 years so I figured it wasn’t a problem,” she said.
The next year Coleman came back and asked for $825, which Elfer also agreed to. Then he made what she considered an unreasonable request by asking to raise the rent by $500 more per month.
“I said $500 to you is nothing, but $500 to me is a lot. I just can’t do it,” Elfer said.
St. Rose Tavern experienced a huge spike in popularity after a column by Times-Picayune food editor Brett Anderson in December of 2011. At the time, Anderson was trying to find the best roast beef po-boy in New Orleans.
“He came in anonymously and had one of our po-boys and about a week later called and said he wanted to interview us,” Elfer said.
Out of a metro-wide competition, the roast beef po-boy at St. Rose Tavern was named one of the 10 best in the New Orleans area. After that, business started to pick up.
“My mother started the roast beefs in 1950. I have no clue where she learned to make them, but we use the same roasting pan and it’s done the same way and hasn’t changed,” Elfer said.
Houma attorney Joseph Kopfler had lunch at St. Rose Tavern last week. He said ever since he read Anderson’s article, he has stopped by almost every time he passes through the area.
“It is one of the best, that is for sure. It’s not a bad price either,” he said. “So it is pretty quaint and colorful, and I like it,” Kopfler said.
Kopfler said it was unfortunate that the Elfers are being forced out.
“I am sorry to hear they are being evicted. If they do get evicted, I hope they have a new location,” Kopfler said. “It is kind of hard to believe someone has been here that long and they are getting evicted.”
At a table next to Kopfler, a group visiting from Sweet Tooth Dental in Destrehan were dining together. Dentist Gretchen Juncker said they had heard the praise surrounding the po-boys, but only made the trip after hearing that eviction was looming.
“Our patients talk about it all of the time and we’ve always wanted to come here, so I told them I saw on Facebook they are closing and said we’ve got to go today,” Juncker said.
In addition to the attention Anderson brought to the establishment, the site has been the scene of numerous movie shoots over the years including the Academy Award-nominated “Monster’s Ball” and the upcoming film “Hot Flashes.”
Because of the history surrounding the tavern, Elfer was surprised when Coleman came to visit her two weeks ago.
“He walked in with a piece of paper folded in his hand during lunch hour. He walked right into the kitchen,” she said.
The paper was an eviction notice from Coleman’s attorney.Elfer said she had no idea why she was facing eviction or why Coleman would try to force her out after so long.
“All of these years I’ve never been missed a rent payment. I’ve never even been late on a rent payment,” she said.
When she asked what it would cost for her to buy the property, she said Coleman would not give her a price.
“So I asked him what if I got someone really rich to come in here and buy it from him and they could lease it to me?” she said.
Again she said Coleman told her he was not planning on selling the land and would not tell her what his intentions were for the building.
Shortly after the incident, Elfer discovered that someone had applied for registration of the name “St. Rose Tavern” with the Louisiana Secretary of State.
She is now trying to fight the eviction notice, but it appears to be a losing battle although Coleman recently extended the eviction from January to April.
Given that she doesn’t have a legal right to remain in the building that has housed six generations of her family, Elfer doesn’t feel there is much of a chance of keeping the doors to the tavern open after April.
“It feels like you are going to your own funeral,” she said. “It hurts. We are at a crossroads now. We don’t know what to do.”
Coleman did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.
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