Friday, October 30, 2009

Geaux local

If I had a nickel for every time a shopping-center developer told me that homegrown concepts are now on the hot tenant radar list, I’d be a very wealthy woman.

With the stalled expansion plans of the nationals, and the increasing vacancies in malls around the country, I can see why local retail tenants have emerged as the new black in leasing prospects.

Recently, I visited one homegrown Baton Rouge, La., restaurant concept that is bound to grab some attention from the likes of Stirling Properties, General Growth Properties, JWA and the other property owners that are busy Louisiana players.

Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar has two locations in the Baton Rouge area. (Note the spelling of bistreaux? If you’re from Louisiana -- and I am originally -- you know the ‘eaux’ drill. If you’re not? Just remember that anything that ends with a long ‘oh’ sound is spelled ‘eaux.’ Think geaux instead of go, bistreaux instead of bistro.)

The bar and grill concept was started by two Louisiana State University walk-on basketball players who met on the hardwood in 1997. Jack Warner and Brandon Landry’s boyhood dreams of playing for the LSU Tigers were realized not with coveted basketball scholarships, but as ‘walk-ons’ to the program.

The Walk-On’s story goes something like this: Warner and Landry conceptualized the restaurant while on a road trip to play the University of Tennessee basketball game. Increasingly intrigued by the variety of restaurants and bars the team routinely encountered on its away games, the two decided to flesh out their own concept -- and did so on an airplane napkin during the flight home from the Tennessee matchup.

A decade or so later, Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar was born, and I had the occasion to eat there a few nights ago. My friend Bob and I watched the New Orleans Saints football game on one of many flat-panel television screens, while eating wings and drinking beer.

The food was great. The Abita beer was too. But what was even better was the feeling of being inside a successful concept that needs to spread its wings into other college-town marketplaces. I can see the Baton Rouge menu of high-end pub grub augmented by south Louisiana specialties being customized to regional fare in other towns. And the LSU decor could easily give way to another team’s colors.

Walk-On’s was packed the afternoon we were there. And Bob tells me the weekend evenings can be standing-room-only. Perhaps Stirling and GGP might want to take a gander at this homegrown concept. Looks to me like it has plenty of room to greaux.

-- Katherine Field

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