For nearly 40 years, Café Degas has been a mainstay of French cuisine in New Orleans. Soon, the Faubourg Saint-Jean restaurant will have a new way to showcase these flavors.
Co-owner Jacques Soulas has confirmed plans to take over the former home of the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse just across the street at 3133 Ponce de Leon St.
The move will serve two purposes. First, it will increase the capacity of the Café Degas kitchen itself, which currently operates from a shoebox-sized kitchen.
The next phase will add a casual cafe with a counter service grocery store. The focus will be on sandwiches and French pastries with coffee drinks.
Soulas said many details of the new concept are still in development, including the name.
Soulas said breakfast is a possibility at the new cafe, depending on the staff. He said the lunch menu would bring sandwiches like pate, French salami, ham and brie (ham and butter, which was a specialty of Mayhew Bakery, a café-bakery in the nearby neighborhood that just closed permanently ).
“We’re thrilled that Café Degas is taking over and can’t wait to see what they’ll do there,” said Wade Rathke, who ran Fair Grinds from 2011 until the cafe closed this spring.
Soulas and his business partner Jerry Edgar opened Café Degas in 1986 in the tiny confines of a former hair salon on Esplanade Avenue. It has grown over time and has become an essential neighborhood restaurant.
But his kitchen space hasn’t grown much. From a seat at the bar or at one of the outdoor tables, it’s common to see cooks carrying supplies across Ponce de Leon Street from a hidden pantry.
The home of the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse had a long history of coffee, dating back to at least the 1970s when it was the original location of True Brew Coffee.
It became Fair Grinds in 2000, originally opened by Robert Thompson and Elizabeth Herod. Rathke, who heads the activist group Acorn International, took over in 2011.
The cafe, and in particular its room on the second floor, had been used for many years for art exhibitions, meditation groups, and other community organizations.
The cafe closed after Jazz Fest, and soon the property was on the market.
A second Fair Grinds location at 2221 Saint-Claude Avenue also closed during the pandemic. Rathke said that second location may return in the future, but he has no immediate plans to reopen.
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