One of NOLA’s oldest restaurants, closed since 2020, returning soon.

Historic New Orleans restaurant finally eyes return after changing hands, devastating fire

Bon Ton Cafe dates back to 1877. It changed hands in March 2020, possibly the last local restaurant to do so without the influence of the pandemic.

It remained closed through the pandemic but a reopening was nearing last fall when tragedy struck. A fire broke out in September erased the progress of a thorough renovation. But its comeback was never in doubt.

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The Bon Ton Cafe, at 401 Magazine St., in downtown New Orleans, following a fire that broke out Sept. 24, 2023. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

The Bon Ton was purchased by Jerry Greenbaum, proprietor of Chophouse New Orleans, the steakhouse located just across the street from Bon Ton; he’s also chair of Charleston-based restaurant group CentraArchy, which operates more than a dozen restaurants around the South.

Greenbaum has a keen appreciation for the Bon Ton’s role in New Orleans, and is dedicated to bringing it back. Repairs from the fire got underway, and a fresh renovation has been progressing.

Bon Ton Cafe in downtown New Orleans on Friday, February 28, 2020.

Now, Greenbaum says the Bon Ton could reopen in September, or early fall.

“We’re bringing it back, that restaurant is too important to me,” he said.

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A clipping from the New Orleans Item newspaper, part of a history compiled for the Bon Ton Cafe.

The Bon Ton’s tenure makes it the third-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, behind Antoine’s and Tujague’s, though it changed a great deal through successive owners. It moved twice, first to 322 Magazine St. (which, coincidentally, is the address now occupied by Chophouse, Greenbaum’s other local restaurant) and finally to its present home. That’s where the Pierce family established it as a hub of Cajun food from their own bayou country roots.

Where to find Cajun food in New Orleans
Bon Ton Cafe introduced traditional Cajun dishes like crawfish etouffee to New Orleans in the 1950s. (Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)

Dishes like crawfish etouffee, crabmeat au gratin and redfish bon ton (topped with buttery crabmeat) became signatures at the Bon Ton, and the house cocktail was the potent rum Ramsey.

The new Bon Ton that opens this year is conceived as a fresh start that draws from its history and legacy.

Bon Ton Café

401 Magazine St., projected reopening early fall 2024

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