According to an oft-cited qualitative and longitudinal data hospitality study by Ohio State University, 60 percent of restaurants don’t make it to their first anniversary, and 80 percent don’t last five years. Care to guess what percentage last a century? How about more than 150 years? Needless to say, it’s a minuscule amount.
Given the odds, it’s entirely appropriate that proprietor Mark Latter celebrates every day that Tujague’s, located in New Orleans, is open for business. But 2016 marks the venerated restaurant’s 160th year in business, so the second-generation proprietor, who took over running the establishment from his father, has months of celebrations planned, and they began in May.
For starters, a three-course lunch is being offered for $18.56, a throwback price that references the year when the venue, the second oldest in the city, debuted in the French Quarter. A Tujague’s exhibit, called “Tujague’s: 160 Years of Tradition,” debuted simultaneously at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). It includes artifacts and memorabilia, including recipes and menus, from the restaurant that is known to have launched brunch—originally alluded to as “butcher’s breakfast” because of the seven-course meal that the butchers from the adjacent French market would indulge in at mid-morning. SoFAB is also selling the restaurant’s cookbook, Tujague’s Cookbook: Creole Recipes and Lore in the New Orleans Grand Tradition (available at book retailers as well).
Just walking into the establishment is a lesson in American history. “Patrons come into the bar and take pictures almost as if we were a museum,” Latter says. Indeed, Tujague’s has been added to the National Culinary Heritage Register, a listing that honors those epicurean landmarks that are at a half-century old.
Other events and promotions will include guest chefs, contests, special brunches and more. In fact, Latter is just as intent on creating new traditions as he is in venerating the past. “We did a small renovation a few years ago just to refresh the space a little,” he says. “The biggest transformation was the menu, which in 2013 went from a set five-course meal to the first á la carte menu in 157 years. We have kept many of the classic dishes that some of the old-timer customers [have] come to expect, but the restaurant needed an upgrade in [creative] food to compete with the other great restaurants in New Orleans.” To that end, gnocchi with crabmeat and wild mushrooms has become the eatery’s best-selling dish, which certainly exists far from the expected Creole parameters. Still, he is quick to add that not everything is up for revision, especially the stand-up bar, which is the oldest in America. While Latter is eager to please all guests, no one has a choice in gainsaying this particular convention.