St. Charles Herald-Guide

Rigid criteria keep most chain eateries from settling in SCP

By Kyle Barnett - January 12, 2013

Former sports bar and restaurant owner Corey Savoie knows the difficulty of setting up and running a small family-owned restaurant in St. Charles Parish.

In the late 90s, Savoie owned and operated the Backstop Sports Bar and Grill on Old Spanish Trail in Boutte for three years.

"I didnít make a lot of money," Savoie said. "If I hadnít owned the building I would have closed down a lot sooner than I did."

After shuttering the Backstop, Savoie rented out the building to two other bar and restaurants, both of which shut down within a short period of time. The building has now been converted into apartments.

Savoie said you can see the same phenomena happening with other family-owned restaurants that open in St. Charles Parish.

He points to Zydecoís, which was formerly the site of Salís for a few decades before switching hands.

"Youíve got restaurants that are open in this parish that donít really last," Savoie said. "The only one that really lasted was Salís. Ever since he left, it is Zydecoís now, but it was Highway 90 West and three other things just since Hurricane Katrina. There are just very few restaurants that have made it."

Corey Faucheux, director of economic development and tourism for St. Charles Parish, said he has received numerous inquires as to why there are not more local choices for dining out in the parish.

"Believe me, one of the most common things people want are more places to eat," Faucheux said.

He said sustaining successful small businesses, such as restaurants, in St. Charles is a multi-fold problem.

Faucheux said for larger, more well-known businesses to invest in the parish certain criteria need to be met such as the number of cars driving by the location at certain times of the day and the number of households located within a three to five mile radius.

"Each project is different and each company uses their own method," he said.

Although he experienced the failure of the Backstop, Savoie said he has recently looked into opening a small business in the parish on a piece of property on Highway 90 in the Mimosa Park area.

He said he and his family have looked into placing a fast food franchise such as Dairy Queen, Zaxbyís and Marble Slab Creamery on the lot, but have had a hard time meeting criteria set forth by the companies.

"Itís all in how many customers you can expect, how much foot traffic and how many cars are passing by," Savoie said.

They have decided to leave the spot vacant until they have a business model they are sure will be successful.

Although just over 52,000 live in the parish, the population is spread out.

"We do not have the population density the other areas have," Faucheux said.

Savoie, who was on the parishís comprehensive land use committee, said residents who live in communities on the edge of the parish often travel to bordering parishes to eat and shop rather than traveling within St. Charles Parish.

"The ones that live in St Rose are going to go to Kenner, the ones that live in Montz go to LaPlace and the ones that live in Des Allemands will go to Lafourche," Savoie said. "We are caught in that area...do I spend the 15 minutes it is going to take me to go to Elmwood or go somewhere local? We are just way too close. It is too convenient."

Savoie said one of the things the comprehensive plan committee found, and what also gives him pause to open another business, was that the population growth in the parish has drastically declined since its height in the 60s and 70s.

"I wish there was a way to attract more business to St. Charles Parish, but the sad reality is if there was money to be made here it would have been done a long time ago," he said. "Now is not the time to invest - back then was."

Although Faucheux said Savoieís analysis of the decrease in population growth is accurate, he said sometimes placement of that growth is a factor in driving successeful small business.

Despite the lack of success of some restaurants and other small businesses in the parish, Faucheux said all the factors are in place for those types of operations to prosper, it is just about doing it the correct way.

"We are going to have a healthy jobs market, which is going to attract more residents to the parish that will provide more discretionary spending," Faucheux said. "Year in and year out we are always in the top two or three parishes in the top average wage paid by employers."

Faucheux believes in the upcoming years the vacant land surrounding I-310 will prove ripe for development.

"The geographic center of the parish is I-310. Thatís where we have to look at," Faucheux said. "If you have some development of the land on the West and East banks of the bridge I think that would attract some destination restaurants."

In addition, Faucheux said once the West Bank levee project is complete a large area of the parish will be more open to residential development.

"You canít talk about the development of the West Bank of St. Charles without talking about the essential need of West Bank hurricane protection. Itís going to be important for that to happen because that is going to impact everything," Faucheux said. "When you look at where the majority of large dry vacant lands are available, they are on the West Bank."

In the meantime, there have been some recent additions to the parish with the spread of regional chains into the area. Little Tokyo, which operates four restaurants across the New Orleans metro area, opened their newest location in Boute last year. In Destrehan, El Gato Negro, a Mexican restaurant with locations in Lakeview and the French Quarter in New Orleans, opened their newest location in December.

Faucheux said he thinks such regional chains will likely experience success in opening new locations in the parish because of their familiarity with the territory.

"Itís going to take someone with a really in-depth knowledge of the local market to take that next step and to dive into the local market," Faucheux said.

For those who are interested in opening small restaurants and retail operations, Faucheux said the resources are out there, especially in the form of small business loans provided by the South Central Planning and Development Commission.

The commission was set up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to help small businesses in St. Charles, St. James, St. John, Terrebonne, Assumption and Lafourche parishes.

Faucheux said the commission is unique in that it offers small loans directly to would be small business owners.

"Through them we have a couple of loan funds for small businesses. It would be a low interest loan to help small business to either locate in or plan to open within the district," Faucheux said. "The revolving loan we have right now, the rule of thumb is they can go up to $250,000."

Rigid criteria keep most chain eateries from settling in SCP