Willa Jean, the bakery, restaurant, coffee shop and bar from Besh Group chefs Kelly Fields and Lisa White, opened its doors to the public today in the brand new Paramount building on the corner of O'Keefe and Girod.
Fields named the spot after her grandmother, who she says was "100% where I got my personality — sarcastic, witty, kind of a smart ass. But also open and full of love. She's the one who taught me it's OK to be exactly who I am." That accepting nature is the driving force behind the vision of the restaurant opening today. Fields says that the space is where everyone can be themselves, and where she can express her love of food and hospitality. "This space feeds me in ways that inspire me creatively, and I want that for everyone," she adds.
I wanted it to be comfy like grandma's kitchen, but urban so it's not, like, cheesy.
The theme for the lofty decor — full of light, white oak, hand painted brick, and honeycomb floor tiles — Fields describes as urban farmhouse: "I wanted it to be comfy like grandma's kitchen, but urban so it's not, like, cheesy."
Menu items go beyond the dessert focus Fields is known for. She's always loved cooking savory foods, she says, and this is her opportunity to express that. The menu was inspired mostly by Lisa White's bread, she says. "Her bread makes our food better, and our food shows off her bread," Fields adds.
A self-professed "huge coffee nerd," Fields says that Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee came down to New Orleans to assist her in building the coffee program. Fields also pays special attention to the milk used in the beverages, sourcing exclusively from locally farmed Mauthe's Progress Milk Barn.
Fields selected everything — from the white oak wrapping the corners of the space, to the napkins, to the industrial grade whisk lights above the quartz countertop and bar — to advance the aesthetic of comfort and nourishment she sought. The Uneeda Biscuit painted on the brick over the bakery counter is an homage to the old New Orleans Nabisco Company's sign on Dumaine Street in the French Quarter.
"I passed that every day on the way to work," Fields recalls. "It's really a great motto for life, if you think about it."