The brunch concept believes it can double in size over the next five years. 

If you could create a restaurant built from the spirit of New Orleans, using all of its unique charm, grit, and beauty, you’d have something that looked a lot like the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Originating in the mid-city neighborhood post-Hurricane Katrina, the brunch concept is battle-tested and entering a growth mode that should see it double its 21-restaurant footprint within five years. 

While its first 12 restaurants remain under the Ruby Slipper Cafe label, the concept is now growing under the alias Ruby Sunshine in order to separate itself from any Wizard of Oz associations. Both brands are owned by Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group and otherwise have the same branding, menu, and atmosphere. That atmosphere is centered around what CEO Peter Gaudreau refers to as “brunch life,” with scratch cooking, and New Orleans-inspired cocktails to go around. 

“This concept has been growing for 14 years now,” Gaudreau says. “We have an incredibly dedicated following who seem to agree with our core philosophy, which is that we think brunch is something that doesn’t only have to happen on the weekends. It can happen seven days a week, and I think our menu embraces that notion, too, and exudes the spirit of New Orleans—it’s made up of cocktails and food that are high quality and made with passion.” 

Gaudreau—a veteran of brands such as Freebirds World Burrito, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and Snooze an A.M. Eatery—came on board in early 2020, just weeks before the pandemic swept across the country. He wanted to be a part of the brand because he believed its authentic food, cocktails, and atmosphere are wholly unique. 

The essence of New Orleans begins with the menu. Cocktails include everything from standard bellinis and bloody mary offerings, to a Lavender Paloma and a Big Easy Mimosa—featuring a “generous” pour of champagne paired with grapefruit, cranberry, or a seasonal purée. On the food side of things, the menu features a southern breakfast, with two eggs any style, applewood-smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes, stone-ground grits, with a buttermilk biscuit. But where the brands really take on a New Orleans image is with items like seasonal beignets, a Gulf Shrimp Omelet, Pork Cochon Buttermilk Biscuit Sliders, or a Crawfish & Grit Cake Eggs Benedict. The latter is one of six staple “bennies” on the menu. 

“We feel like we own the eggs benedict category,” Gaudreau says. “We have all these incredible flavor combinations that are nods to the southern flavor that delivers what people are looking for when they come to Ruby Slipper or Ruby Sunshine restaurants. One of my favorite things that we do, actually, is what we call the Peacemaker, where people can mix and match two ‘bennies,’ where one egg is over one menu item and the other is over a different menu item.” 

Ruby Slipper Cafe's Dining RoomRuby Slipper Cafe Employees

Being able to execute dishes like these—mixing and matching eggs benedict selections, and creating various cocktails, recipes, and sauces from scratch—is a testament to the vibe Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group has built up over the past 14 years. With restaurants open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, and 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends at most locations, team members get to enjoy being home with family by at least 5 p.m. every day. It’s a culture that the brand takes a lot of pride in, and it’s a big part of the formula that has helped accelerate its corporately driven growth (the brand says it has no plans to begin franchising). Gaudreau says a huge priority in selecting a location is first getting to know an area and the people in it. The brand considers the people who will run the restaurant before even looking at real estate locations. 

“We always start with building a management team that’s local to that area,” Gaudreau says. “We want people who are familiar with the inner workings of the city and the nuance that goes with it. Once we’ve found those people we bring them to New Orleans and inculcate them in how we’re doing this ‘brunch life’ theme we always talk about. So we’re not just teaching them the recipes and the technicalities of running one of our restaurants, but we’re telling them the story of the brand and how it came to be—it originated as a neighborhood concept and we want it to grow that way, too.” 

Gaudreau reports that the brand plans to double within the next five years, and may have as many as 100 restaurants in the coming years. He makes a point of using the word “restaurants” instead of stores, or units, and says it’s emblematic of the way the brand wants to grow: responsibly, intentionally. 

“Stores are different,” Gaudreau says. “Restaurants are hard. We feel like with our current infrastructure, in order to share this brand and the experience we want every diner to have, we have to do it in a smart, calculated way. Again, that goes back to the people—I can’t tell you how often fans of our concept tell us, ‘we want this restaurant in our city.’ As many great crew leaders and team members there are in this industry, that’s the true governor of how many restaurants we can open. But we are really on a great course to be opening somewhere in that six-to-eight restaurants a year. That puts us at 30 a year from now, and the math just continues to grow from there.” 

The New Orleans brunch life: coming soon to a (southeastern) city near you. 

Chain Restaurants, Feature