"This is without a doubt our flagship store," says “Jack” Treuting, executive director of culinary operations.
Chef-jacketed associates at this store often actually escort customers to what they want, which is usually ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat, store-made food.
Probably because Rouses Markets is the first full-service grocery store that New Orleans’ central business district has had in nearly 50 years, customers keep telling store-level employees they’re grateful, even excited, that Rouses’ newest store was opened right in their midst.
In a building that’s a former Cadillac dealership, this unusual-looking supermarket, with 40,000 square feet of selling space, attracts attention with its decor alone. Mahogany woodwork, bamboo floors and glass chandeliers speak of elegance, and an entirely open kitchen enables customers to see chef teams stirring gumbo, peeling shrimp and tossing pizza crusts.
The food, the look, the convenience, the friendly ambiance combined have given this, the 38-unit chain’s latest venture, a jump start. Opened just before the winter holidays, the store has seen a constant increase in traffic, officials said.
“We’re definitely in a growth mode,” Louis “Jack” Treuting, Rouses’ executive director of culinary operations, told SN. “I’ve just ordered eight more wood stone ovens. Prepared food sales are even better than we had expected they would be by this time.”
Such sales success has spurred the addition of new concepts. A taco bar (left) was added just last month, and more concepts are being researched.
“We were having such success with our fresh burritos, we decided to do tacos. All the ingredients are provided on the bar. You build your own. We even have paper bags there [for the customers’ convenience],” Treuting said. Two large tacos for $4.99 make for an inexpensive and easy lunch.
The huge selection of freshly prepared foods — including several ethnic stations as well as traditional Louisiana cooking — serves this particular area well. The district, only relatively recently showing significant signs of renewal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is heavy on office buildings and apartment buildings. That means a busy lunchtime and also a more-than-usual request by customers for single servings or small portions.
An upscale, touch-of-class store like this one, with so much tempting food wafting its aromas into the air, is like a light in the dark, local residents say. Both residents and people working in the area have reacted with enthusiasm, and sometimes with barely checked emotion.
Chaya Conrad, Rouses’ in-store bakery director, told SN one of her friends was stopped in her tracks when she visited the store for the first time.
“She said it brought tears to her eyes to see such a beautiful store because it meant New Orleans was coming back,” Conrad said.