Adding a walk-in closet is a common enough job for contractors renovating old New Orleans homes. Clint Nunez's clients are more likely to ask for walk-in coolers. His company Cain Construction & Designs (2310 Perdido St., 302-1850; www.cainneworleans.com) also does residential work but lately has developed a specialty in design/build projects for restaurants and bars, with a list of recent clients including Patois, Tru Burger, Sylvain, Maurepas Foods, Chiba, the Eiffel Society and Republic. Nunez ran Fiorella's Cafe for much of the 1990s and started Cain Construction in 2003.
What are the big things local restaurants are asking for these days?
Nunez: With all the specialty drinks now, they want to make the bar more a part of the experience. They need more room for all they do and what they're stocking, and they want them to be eating bars. The open kitchen is big now, too. It's part of the transparency they want. So we might build the space so you can see what's going on, but you don't have to see the whole circus. We'll close off the dishwashing station, for instance.
How much do you think a restaurant's design impacts its success?
N: What do people complain about the most on Yelp and Twitter and all that? It's prices, noise and how comfortable the chairs are. I think I read those posts more than the chefs. So we work on noise and comfort issues a lot. Bathrooms are always a big deal. I always tell clients "your bathrooms are representative of your kitchen." So you have to do them right and, most of all, keep them clean.
Do you like dining in restaurants you've done, or is that like being at work for you?
N: We come back all the time, it's part of that relationship you build. You don't want to be like the fisherman who changes his oil and pours it into the water. Your business and what you do is circular, and you have to take care of people who take care of you. Restaurants are as much a part of the city as the river; it's something that flows through the city here and it's fun to be part of it.