Amid the colony of national chain restaurants to emerge in the Mid-City Market, one eatery in this new development stands apart — Felipe’s Taqueria, a Mexican concept that was first hatched in New England but spread its wings here in New Orleans.
This latest Felipe’s is scheduled to open Friday, Aug. 23, joining the new locations of Pizza Hut, Pei Wei Asian Diner, Panera Bread and Pinkberry as well as a soon-to-open Five Guys Burgers & Fries in the North Carrollton Avenue retail development.
Felipe’s is by far the smallest player among all those restaurant brands, but it has big plans and has built significant local cachet over the past few years with a quick, inexpensive format and a bar program that breaks away from the typical fast-casual restaurant template.
“It’s the same Felipe’s people already know from our other locations, with the big difference here being outdoor seating,” says Justin Crooks, vice president of operations for Felipe’s.
The outdoor seating area will have table service, and Crooks says this is a new angle the company is pursuing.
“It’s kind of this fast-casual hybrid,” he says. “We’ve made cocktails a big part of what we do, so here you can either go through the line like usual or have a seat, take a little more time, order that second or third margarita. This is something our fast-casual industry hasn’t really explored yet.”
The restaurant fronts a small pedestrian mall, and Crooks says they plan to install a projection screen in this outdoor space for big games during the upcoming football season.
While each of the local Felipe’s locations has a full bar, its Uptown location has focused on tequila cocktails and the French Quarter bar had made a specialty of mescal, an earthier, smokier relative to tequila. Crooks says the bar at the new Mid-City Felipe’s will highlight pisco, a style of brandy from Chile and Peru.
Felipe’s founder Tom Brush and namesake Felipe Herrera opened their first restaurant in 2004 in Cambridge, Mass., as a late-night eatery catering to Harvard University students. Brush has New Orleans ties with the Stumm family, of the local Carriere-Stumm construction company, and in 2006 he partnered with Robert Stumm and Elio Todaro, owner of Elio’s Wine Warehouse, to start Felipe’s Louisiana LLC (Todaro died earlier this year). Members of Herrera’s family moved to New Orleans to help run the restaurant, and this is where the brand has grown.
The first local Felipe's opened late in 2006, adding shrimp and fish to the original concept's menu as a nod to local tastes. In 2009 the partners expanded with Felipe’s French Quarter edition, rehabilitating a former Hooter’s location. Earlier this year they added Tiki Tolteca, a tiki bar and small plates restaurant that operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays above the French Quarter Felipe’s.
While Crooks says there are no specific plans on the drawing board for a fourth location, additional Felipe’s restaurants are a possibility.
“We have a local owner who is constantly looking for new opportunities,” Crook says of Stumm. “Will it be in Lafayette? Baton Rouge? I don’t know, but it will be in Louisiana. We think this is a concept that has plenty of room to grow still.”
Grand opening celebrations this weekend for Felipe’s and Pinkberry will double as a fundraiser benefiting the Ochsner Cancer Institute in honor of Todaro. A live mariachi band will perform and there will be a dunking booth “starring” local TV personalities.
The Mid-City Felipe’s will serve lunch and dinner daily.
411 N. Carrollton Ave., phone n.a.
6215 S. Miro St., (504) 309-2776
301 N. Peters St., (504) 267-4406