Bernard Stolberg knows all about best-laid plans.
His went off the rails when Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the stay-at-home order to contain the coronavirus.
Stolberg’s new downtown eatery, The Vintage, had been set to open the next day.
Now, as the state slowly begins lifting the restrictions, Stolbert knows the restaurant world must face stark new realities.
“I would love to return to how things were before all of this, but I know it’s going to be different,” Stolberg said. “People will still be conscious of social distancing, and sanitizer is not going away.”
But none of that deterred customers when the restaurant finally opened on May 18, two months later than planned.
Business has been great, Stolberg reported, “and everyone is observing the safety precautions.”
Atmosphere and experience
The new Vintage is a second location of the long-established coffee shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where the space is smaller with a decor described as “Parisian cafe.”
Stolberg and his business partner began thinking about expansion about a year ago, settling on the 333 Laurel St. location because of its mix of downtown businesses and the neighborhood atmosphere.
At 2,000 square feet, the larger space still lends itself to Stolberg’s focus — atmosphere and customer experience.
“That’s the thing we’re trying to appeal for,” Stolberg said. “We found, especially on Magazine Street, if you want to go for a coffee and hang out, it’s about the environment. If you need a lunch spot or you’re looking for a cool place to have a quick business meeting, The Vintage was filling that niche. And people who are studying or using the shop as a home office scenario, we became more about being the convenient place to be.”
And it all happens over coffee, about which the cafe is very serious, serving up a proprietary blend created by Orleans Coffee, owned and operated by Bob Martineau.
“Our house blend is very smooth and not dark,” Stolberg said. “I would say it’s well rounded. It’s not bold or bitter. It’s got a smooth finish, and it’s got a slight little fruity, nutty flavor. But it’s very mild. However, we also have our iced coffee with a chicory blend base, but it’s not overpowering because of the formula that we use. It comes out in a full, well rounded coffee.”
Beignets star on the menu for breakfast and late night.
The Vintage serves up a variety from the traditional fried dough sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar to a cinnamon and sugar variety to stuffed “fancy beignets.”
“We have a matcha beignet that’s filled with Bavarian cream and matcha (powdered green tea leaves), which is a big customer favorite,” Stolberg said. “We also have a raspberry beignet and a s’mores beignet, which is also a big customer favorite.”
Among the other breakfast offerings are smothered shrimp and grits, a breakfast biscuit, a healthy parfait and avocado toast.
Because there are so many offices and state workers in the vicinity, Stolberg said the menu was fleshed out to “put a little bit more lunch focus together, a couple more salads, a couple more sandwiches, so you can get a full lunch. And even for dinner, you still can fill up.”
The bites menu includes such south Louisiana favorites as crawfish queso, alligator poppers and pimento cheese dip, to name a few. Rounding out the menu are flatbreads (like apple brie and chicken BLT) and pressed sandwiches, including the Italian, the veggie and the interesting-sounding 3 Sisters, which is filled with fig spread, brie, ham and arugula.
Then there are the Champagnes and wines, vintage cocktails with a twist (a la the “Not Too Old Fashioned”) and craft cocktails.
“When we opened at Magazine, we put both coffee and wine there at the same time,” Stolberg said. “The atmosphere changes with the time, and it’s gradual. Even at Magazine, we’ll have kids come in at night to get beignets with their parents. They’re just not sitting at the bar.”
For almost three decades now, Stephanie Phares has been preparing fresh, healthy meals at Zeeland Street Market on Perkins Road.
The decor leans on The Vintage name, with tall, curved booths, reclaimed wood nailed to the walls, antique photos, signs and instruments, including a Beckwith piano, a brand once sold by Sears.
At full capacity, the restaurant will be able to seat up to 70 diners. Sections can be cordoned off for meetings, and comfortable chairs have been placed in corners and vestibules for those who want to work, read or just visit.
Stolberg’s team began working in July on the location, previously home to the Magpie Cafe Downtown and many years before that to the Three Sisters clothing store. Work stopped in October and began again in January.
Meanwhile, some 20 staff members were receiving training in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Stolberg hopes to increase that number to 30.