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New owners for N'Orleans
Brandon Ray has been asked this question quite a bit lately: "You're kind of young to be a restaurant owner, aren't you?"
But the 23-year-old Portageville, Mo., native -- along with his business partner, 29-year-old Brad Robey -- are now co-owners of the Royal N'Orleans, a fine dining staple in Cape Girardeau that was established decades before either was born.
"I hear that, about my age, but it makes me want to work even harder," Ray said. "We plan to be here a long time. We're confident this is going to work."
When the two heard that previous N'Orleans owner Ed Radetic was "pursing other business interests," they approached John and Jerri Wyman, who own the building at 300 Broadway that was built in 1868. The Wymans were owners and operators of the N'Orleans for 10 years before selling it.
On Oct. 17, Ray and Robey -- also partners at the new 2 North Bistro on Main Street -- inked a deal with the Wymans to lease the building and run the restaurant, which was first established in 1954.
And the two said they take the responsibility of such a historic restaurant seriously.
"We know that people are not just coming here to eat," Robey said. "They are coming to view some of the history. It is history. Some of the people probably don't even know how much history is in that building."
John Wyman said it's important for Robey and Ray to keep that in mind.
"People have an expectation of what the N'Orleans is, and it better be that," he said. "The N'Orleans is unlike any other restaurant in town. With it comes a responsibility to the community that supersedes anything else, even more so than the interest of the business."
With most eateries, the restaurant will take on the personality of the owners. That won't be the case with the N'Orleans.
"It already has its own personality and the owners become the caretakers of that personality," he said. "The N'Orleans has been developed over 52 years of business. You cannot make major changes there."
And Wyman said he wasn't worried about the men's ages. He found it to be a plus.
"They're young; they've got a lot of energy," he said. "The restaurant business isn't rocket science. It's attitude and aptitude, and everything else is learnable."
Both have some experience with the newly opened 2 North. Ray has worked at N'Orleans, most recently as a bartender and night manager. Plus, his great-grandfather operated a small restaurant in Portageville.
'Keep the customer happy'
And his great-grandfather gave him some advice.
"He just told me that if I want to make it work, adapt to the hours and keep the customer happy," Ray said.
Both also said they welcomed input from the Wymans, who have agreed to be mentors. Those two ran the N'Orleans as well as starting downtown mainstays such as Mollie's and Bella Italia before selling them.
"They said they are completely open to me and Brad asking questions," Ray said. "We are going to be getting suggestions from them."
But he does have his own ideas. One is that they don't plan to make major changes.
"Obviously, it's been a successful restaurant," Ray said. "It's been here 52 years. We know that this is a special occasions restaurant, and we welcome that."
335-6611, extension 137
* 1868: Newspaper archives say work was begun on Turner Hall, later to become the Royal N'Orleans. According to a list of contributors, the building cost $8,800 to build. It was originally a meeting place for the German Turner Society, but over the years became a center of culture and recreation for the community.
* 1888: The Masonic Lodge bought Turner Hall for $3,000, and the name was changed to the Opera House and Masonic Hall, an elegant theater. Cole Younger once lectured there on his 14 years as an outlaw.
* 1904: The first issues of the Daily Republican newspaper were produced in the southwest corner rooms. Wah Lee's Chinese laundry was operated in the building from 1906 to 1927, and almost continuously there has been an eating place of some sort.
* 1912-1921: In the years when Dr. C.E. Schuchert owned it, there were concerts performed by his band, which served as the Sixth Regiment Band during World War I. Boxing matches were held there as well.
* 1954: Dick Barnhouse established his restaurant, saying he wanted a restaurant with a New Orleans atmosphere -- fine food and a great wine list. He also converted part of the upper floor into elegant living quarters.
* 1970: Barnhouse died. The restaurant passed into the hands of their children, Jerry and Judy Davis.
* 1987: The building was sold to area businessman Dennis Stockard.
* 1990: The building burned almost to the ground. Architects flew in from all over the country to see if the historic landmark could be saved. They agreed it could and post-fire renovation began with local architect, Tom Phillips, overseeing the project. The restaurant opened its doors the next day.