Five years after launching food pop-up Alma as an ode to her Honduran heritage and grandmother’s kitchen, chef Melissa Araujo will open her first restaurant in New Orleans’s Bywater neighborhood. Alma, meaning “soul” in Spanish, is set to open this fall in the former Louisa Street home of Paloma Cafe, Cafe Henri, and Booty’s Street Food.
The restaurant will start out by focusing on breakfast and lunch, opening at 7 a.m. with a full coffee bar, grab-and-go pastries, and sit-down breakfast. Araujo plans to offer dishes ranging from light to hearty, including modern takes on the classic Honduran breakfast and classic American breakfast. Lunch will be a mix of small plates (like chili verde ceviche); sandwiches (maybe a concha with beef, onions, mushrooms, and cheese); and entrees like guiso de puerco, a pork stew.
The menu will initially be set in the coastal area of Honduras where she was born, La Ceiba. From there, the plan is to move around the country every three months, introducing a different menu with each move. “I want to concentrate in regions,” Araujo told Eater. “A lot of people will be very surprised about what Honduran food actually is, its range.” After six months of breakfast and lunch service and “learning what my customers want and like,” Araujo plans to introduce tapas-style dinner service and cocktails.
Born in Honduras and raised in New Orleans, Araujo cooked in the kitchens of high-end spots like Doris Metropolitan and Restaurant R’evolution before leaving town to work in Italy. After returning, Araujo launched pop-up Alma, getting her start in former Central City food hub Roux Carre (also home to Chef Tunde Wey’s pop-up Saartj for a time). Araujo wanted the opportunity to test out her idea, which was to educate diners about Honduran cuisine by focusing on dishes associated with each region. It worked.
“I was the best vendor in Roux Carre,” Araujo told Eater. “I outgrew it really fast.”
Eventually she split with her original business partner and put Alma on the back burner, focusing on her catering business, Saveur Catering (a “Certified Louisiana Farm to Table” catering company). Two years later, says Araujo, “I’m ready to bring her back,”
When Araujo visited Paloma Cafe for breakfast a few years ago, she knew the space was perfect for her. That cafe, owned by Birmingham-based coffee company Revelator, closed at the end of last year. Since solidifying her lease for Alma there, she has made it a point to introduce herself to the neighborhood, saying she knows she has to be “a part of” it to succeed. She will have comment cards for customers, eager for feedback on everything imaginable so the restaurant is best poised for long-term success.
“I want to start this way to get a sense of what the Bywater wants. I want them to feel like they’re home, to know who I am.” Araujo hopes to open Alma by September 2.
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