Less than two weeks ago, Miles Tully, Jr.*, former Director of Operations of the Besh Restaurant Group, joined the team at Ste. Marie, the Poydras Street restaurant inspired by the classic champagne houses of France. Though Ste. Marie is still a fairly new restaurant?it opened this past February?Tully was brought in to add a new and fresh perspective and to help shape the restaurant into something accessible and distinctive. This is in conjunction with next week's debut of a new menu featuring "many more items with more accessible price points."
We sat down with Tully to talk about coming to Ste. Marie from the Besh Restaurant Group, the rejuvenation of the Poydras Street corridor and his vision for the restaurant's future.
How long have you been at Ste. Marie?
About a week and a half now.
What brought you here from the Besh Restaurant Group?
Well, I was working for Besh for the better part of five years. I felt that I had done everything I could do with him and I was ready for a new and challenging opportunity. I'd been friends with Robert [Leblanc, partner in Ste. Marie and head honcho of LRG] for about five years, and he presented me with the opportunity to come to Ste. Marie. We kind of talked for a couple weeks about it and about the potential for where he thought Ste. Marie was and where he thought that I could bring it. And it seemed like an awesome fit for me. I could spike my hair up a little bit more, be a little more loose, and join a company that is just as out there as the restaurants are, and I thought it would be an intriguing partnership.
How did you know Robert before coming here?
Through Republic [LRG's music club], through going out and just seeing him. He bought me a shot of Jack Daniel's once and ever since then, it was game over.
That's how all the best things begin, right?
Oh yeah, anything over food and cocktails is the way to go.
Going back to your time with Besh, you started there pretty much at the bottom?
Yeah, I started right after the storm, when they were only two restaurants big, Restaurant August and the Besh Steakhouse. I had known Octavio [Mantilla] through another manager that I used to work for, Gino. Octavio used to come into Bravo when I was a barback and he and Alon Shaya, who's still with the company, had drinks on Wednesday nights and stuff like that. And so when I came back into the city and I got the opportunity to work for Octavio at August, he was like, "I really don't have anything for you, but you can start off as a runner." From there, I was able to really just grab the ball when it was handed off to me and run with it. And I grew with the company as fast as they did. It ended up being lucky and amazing all at the same time.
And you were the GM of three restaurants with the Besh Group?
Yeah, of the steakhouse, August, and La Provence. At La Provence I became the GM after they had opened, we went through the summer, and they had a GM who didn't work out. And another guy, chef Stephen McHugh, who is the executive chef of Lüke in San Antonio right now, we ran it like our own little house. We were the ones serving and cooking in the back. It kind of gave me that experience to know what to do with a restaurant on a smaller scale.
What things did you learn with the Besh Group that have helped you in your short time here?
I think there's a lot of things that the Besh Group does behind the scenes to coordinate, to market, to do that grassroots stuff, and to kind of put systems in place so you can be efficient. But at the end of the day, it's all about the guest that's sitting in the chair. If they're not enjoying their experience, then that's the number one thing. They're going to tell their 10 people about how bad it was, how good it was. And to get that buzz, to get that word created, the Besh Group really showed me how to do that at the beginnings of a restaurant. To get your name out there and just say that, you know, this is a place that you come for oysters and Alsatian wine before a Saints game, come for pizza and Italian beer, and so on. And I think once we figure out the vision of what we want to be as Ste. Marie, it will stand at the forefront of the diner's mind in New Orleans as a place to go for this or that.
And if you look at Besh, he was able to create concepts that diners in New Orleans wanted, and he was able to deliver on his promises. And by doing that, he grew a support base that is amazing. It was an amazing company to work for, it was an amazing experience that molded me into what I hope to be able to help Robert do.
So do you get a lot of people who come here before or after Saints games?
Well, from what I understand, yeah. I haven't actually been here for a Saints game but we're gearing up for the Colts game this Sunday night. It's a night game, we're going to open up early, do brunch all day. But from what I hear, from the two home games we've already had, the foot traffic around here is just amazing. And I think if we continue to pull those people in from Sunday home games, then we'll be a destination for like, "Well I can bring grandma here for brunch for an away game, because of the experience that I had at a Saints home game," and stuff like that.
Given the short time that you've been here, what do you see as your vision for the future of Ste. Marie?
I think a lot of our business that we need to build, especially with all of the offices that you see around here, I want to be more approachable for the New Orleans diner. I want people to understand that they can come for lunch, get in and out in 45 minutes, and they'll still have the nice service and they'll still have what they expect from a white tablecloth restaurant. But they can get quality food at a good price and get back to work.
And I think as we build that and build that client base, around a lunch time business, we'll be able to pull for dinner. It'll be, "Oh, I went with my law partners to Ste. Marie for lunch, I had a good time, the food was good, now I want to bring my wife for our anniversary." And then kind of following that up full circle, making sure they enjoy that time, the second time around, and you never lose that wow factor. Because, you know, people can come in and they can see the champagne tower and the drawings on the walls and the pretty menus. But after they see that once, if it doesn't stand true in their mind that they can get good food and good service, they're not going to come back. And I really think that to build on that is going to be the basis of everything Ste. Marie is.
This whole area, this Poydras Street corridor, is seriously growing, too.
I think one of the good things that you see is that as it grows?and not saying that we're grandfathered in because we were one of the first businesses here?but if we do our job now, the more and more this area continues to grow the more and more the word will get out. Any time a new resident moves in, a new condo building goes up, it'll be like, "Oh, you have to go to Ste. Marie for a cocktail on a Thursday night," or whatever. The center of the city is shifting. The more and more the Saints do well, the more and more the events in New Orleans continue to grow and as this area starts to populate, you'll see that everything won't be as close to the river as it is now, it'll be more spread out. And I think we're going to be a big part of that.
I want Ste. Marie and the surrounding businesses to become a destination, that you're not just coming downtown, that you're coming to what used to be known as the Ste Marie neighborhood back in the day. The, how do you say it in French?
Yeah, the Faubourg Ste Marie.
You're from here, come on.
I had two deaf parents, though, so I grew up in a very quiet household.
That must have been an interesting dynamic.
I think one of the things that helped me be a little more gregarious, or not as shy, was that I had to be very expressive with all of my cues, whether visually or orally, and to understand people's emotions and read into how they're feeling throughout their dinner. The childhood that I had growing up, and having to kind of understand that from my parents really helped me a lot.
Anything else you want to add?
I think what we've done so far, in the last week and a half that I've been here, I've seen the business grow, and I've seen a lot of trends here that we're going to have to work through. But I think this is going to be an institution in New Orleans for a long time to come.
· Ste. Marie [Official Site]
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*CORRECTION: This article originally misspelled Tully's last name.