Our “Meet the Neighbors” series gives you a closer look at the people and businesses that make us proud to call downtown New Orleans home.
René Brunet (pictured hard at work above) is the owner of Café 821, a café with a French-bistro vibe located at (where else?) 821 Baronne Street. A New Orleans-native, René recently moved back to his hometown to open Café 821 in June of this year. We sat down with Rene to discuss the story behind the café and why he chose to return to downtown New Orleans.
Why did you open Café 821?
I moved back [to New Orleans] from Montreal in November 2013 – I owned and operated a restaurant there for two years, but decided to close last fall. I came home to recuperate because I was working 100-hour weeks. It was intense! So I came home and scoped out the situation here – I knew that New Orleans was in an economic boom. Even though I wasn’t living here, I was coming home for Christmas, Mardi Gras, stuff like that. My family is here, it’s home.
I knew that the city was, in the words of a lot of business-owner friends, an incubator for small businesses. So I thought, “Well, I think it’s about time I come home and do something!” I came home with that in mind, and it just so happened that some close friends of mine own this building and the café space was vacant. We started talking about it – it started as a casual conversation, and it became a reality.
I knew there was a lot of new stuff coming to the neighborhood – the South Market District, new condos, new businesses. That’s going to be hundreds of new people in the neighborhood. They’re all potential customers, and this place is quickly becoming a community.
Why did you choose the area?
Because of the growth that’s coming, and that there’s not a similar café over here – that’s why I chose to go with the French bistro feel. And all of the young professionals in the area love their coffee!
What’s your favorite thing about the neighborhood?
Centrally-located. Pretty much everything you could want or need is around here now. It’s truly becoming its own community. Everything is so accessible – it’s walkable, you have the streetcar, you’re right next to Magazine and Tchoupitoulas, the Warehouse District, Rouses. I like to cook, and I couldn’t live in a neighborhood without a grocery store. Two years ago, so much of that didn’t exist.
What’s your favorite memory since you opened?
In a more general term, there’s just really a feeling of community here that I love. From the very first week, I had return customers. Before I hit my first Friday I had familiar faces and I already knew what they wanted.
Since Katrina, there’s a renewed sense of community among the people who live in New Orleans, and I’m not just talking about the visitors and transplants, but among the locals. We have a renewed sense of pride in our city, and that is great to see. Look at the fleur-de-lis – it’s everywhere! People have said it’s kind of become an adopted symbol of renewal, which is awesome.
How do you see the future of the neighborhood?
Population-wise this neighborhood is obviously going to expand rapidly. Because of all of the restaurants, bars, and its central location, I have little doubt that’s all going to pull a lot of people into the neighborhood. Obviously I’m not the only one that thinks that or developers wouldn’t be investing so much money!
Thank you to René for showing us his café and talking about his love for his hometown! Café 821 is located at 821 Baronne Street. Check out their Facebook page for more info.