Dealing with balcony railing woes, juggling contractors and subcontractors, and trying not to offend hipsters or architects... Welcome to the world of Dat Dog owner Constantine Georges, a former federal prosecutor, olive oil purveyor, and co-owner of a New Orleans weenie empire. Dat Dog's third location aims to be a central part of Frenchmen Street, both at lunchtime and as a potential nightlife stop boasting 2 bars and residing nextdoor to Apple Barrel but a week out from a potential opening, and the building's finishing touches are down to the wire with some last minute drama with the Historic District Landmarks Commission thrown in for good measure. Here now, Georges dishes on Dat Dog Frenchmen, a potential Mardi Gras opening, possible future expansions, and more.
How did you decide on Frenchmen?
I've lived in the Quarter since '82. I'd been going to that actual location on Frenchmen since the late 70's. There used to be a bar there called Cords Underground. My friend was actually the architect who designed it, and it was subsequently torched by people, we won't say who though some people have a suspicion as to who it was and after it got torched it lay vacant for a while. It was eventually sold to Sean Cummings, who held onto it for a while and was nice enough to sell it to us. The reason I like that place, not for the obvious reason that it's a happening place, but it's also an area that Dat Dog doesn't service.
Most people I know who live in the Bywater and Marigny rarely cross Canal Street, so they don't get a chance to come enjoy Freret or Magazine, so we thought let us bring what we do to that neighborhood.
How are things going with the building?
Occasionally, we have aesthetic-appropriate issues that come up with the HDLC [Historic District Landmarks Commission]. but we've got crews out there 7 days a week trying to make it happen. We've got management working diligently to get the staff hired. Rome was not built in a day, but I try to remind my contractors that the Empire State Building was built in 13 months. It doesn't seem to resonate very well.
Who actually designed the building? What architecture firm?
[Georges declines to name the architect]. It's fare to say that I told the architect what I wanted. I said let's do a traditional two-storied with a wrap around balcony that meets the approval of the HDLC, so he drew it basically that way.
Does the HDLC have any problems with it?
There was some issues with balcony railing design. We've come to the conclusion that we might have to tweak what we have now. We're hoping to have it fixed, and ready to open for Mardi Gras weekend. If not, we can always rope off the second floor and still operate. According to wiser heads than mine, there are two different styles going on in the railings, and they're not appropriate for the building. Having said that, New Orleans is not Las Vegas. There's a lot of imperfections in the buildings, and that's what makes us unique and special. I like to think Dat Dog is part of that imperfection in a good way.
Are there any big differences between the upcoming location and the Magazine and Freret Dat Dogs?
I expect we'll be open later due to the nature of Frenchmen, and the neighborhood. We're there for the neighborhood first, and that particular neighborhood, the out of towners also count. At the same time, we don't want to just cater to the tourists. We want to be a neighborhood mainstay.
We'll have a sign on Frenchmen that will say Bienvenue, as promised. We have murals and paintings on the wall that hopefully people will find fun. We've commissioned one that will be a nightscape of the roof tops of Frenchmen Street in a triptych. The artist is a woman named Sarah Nelson. Our very beloved artist Ashlee Arceneaux who does our menu board, will be doing two things, including a mural of the empty lot on Frenchmen before we built this, and how it was looking then...the firebreathers, the hoop people, the brass bands. This woman Ashlee Arceneaux I would call our design team. She gets us really well.
We'll be serving food on two floors, so we won't have the exact same system as the other locations. On Frenchman, you'll be able to sit down at a table and somebody will come to the table and take your order. Otherwise it would be very difficult to scream out your name.
So both floors will have tableservice?
Yes. We've never done this before so we're going to try it out. We also like having outdoor seating. It's hard to have that size of a lot, and have outdoor seating, so the balcony was the next best solution. It also fits in with the quirkiness of our restaurants.
There's no outdoor seating downstairs?
That might come. That's a permit we haven't gotten yet. We plan on more than likely getting a sidewalk permit and putting something out there. There's 10 feet, I believe, between our building and the curb, and you have to leave four feet to pass by. We really want the seating to be for the customers though, so we'll have to play that one by ear. We do hope to put bicycle racks on the street itself though. We believe in the bike people.
How much balcony seating will be available?
The total amount that we're allowed is a certain number, and we're within that number, let me put it that way. We don't know the total seating yet. Because there's two bars upstairs and downstairs there will be about 20 seats total in the bar space alone. It's a narrow building, so there's not a lot of seating. Freret on the inside is a bit small, but Frenchmen is even smaller on the downstairs, but when you throw the balcony in it evens it out.
The kitchen is designed to serve more people though. You have to beef up the kitchen a little bit to serve people in a timely fashion.
That being said, you've seen Frenchmen on Mardi Gras day, right? What's your plan of attack if you open?
We wouldn't open the balcony, because we really don't want that kind of a scene. Will we even have both floors open? It's hard to know yet. We probably will reduce the menu, serve people outside through a window. We're all venturing into the unknown. We don't know what's going to happen until we do it. I will say this: Freret opened during an Freret Fest, and Magazine opened on St. Patty's Day, so it's only fitting that Frenchmen should open on Mardi Gras.
What's in store for the future of Dat Dog?
We do get solicitations from all over the country, and other countries as well, to open there. I've been approached to open one in Australia, Spain, England. But I mean, as much as I'd like to and I have pushed my partners to consider opening one in London just for the fun of it I don't know if that will happen before we open another one somewhere else in Louisiana. I think that if we're going to grow the company, we'd like to do it in house, at this time. Franchising is always an option, but it's not on the table now. Skip [Skip Murray, co-owner of Dat Dog] and I say we should only do this if we're having fun, or else it will translate down below and nobody will have fun. All of our employees are like the children Skip and I never had. Don't ask me who the father is.
How many employees do you have?
Over a hundred. Most are part-timers, students. There are employees that could probably make better money elsewhere but they come here because they like the environment. Obviously, it's important to take care of your people.
How many do you expect to add on Frenchmen?
Another forty or so.
Do you have any plans for live music?
It's not exactly what we do, but if we have a good reason to do it, and the ability to do it, we will. The upstairs is a great place to have a private party.
Have you seen any opposition from neighbors or business owners?
I think the business owners on the street view us as a positive. One police man called the lot a dead zone. There was no security there. But we'll have security cameras, and make the block safer. With Cafe Brazil being vacant right now, we'll fill in the gap on that side of the street.
Even though we'll have three locations, we like it to be three fun local places that cater to locals. There should be nothing chain-like about us. That's not our aim, other than putting smiles on people's faces.