Nestled discreetly among residences and small businesses in Mid-City is a wonderland for anyone who loves entertaining, preparing or serving food. There's no street-front plate glass window displaying the variety of goods inside Loubat Equipment Co. (4141 Bienville St., 482-2554), but once you enter the red brick building and view the showrooms, you'll find one of the largest selections of tableware, cookware, utensils, appliances and other food-related tools around.
Its focus is design and supplies for kitchens in restaurants, hotels, schools, oilfield platforms and other commercial concerns, but the 128-year-old business also provides wholesale-priced goods to the public.
"We've really turned into a place where you can shop for kitchen utensils and supplies for parties," says Christine Briede, who owns Loubat with Henri Louapree, Cam McCall, Doug Tyler and controller Lauren Crutcher. "I would urge people to come and see the showroom. It's a hidden gem. There's so much here, especially for those who like to cook, and it's wholesale prices for commercial quality."
The goods range from oyster forks to chafing dishes, large refrigerators to ice machines and commercial dishwashers, delicate glassware and plates to toddler booster seats that can be placed in dining chairs. There are even potholders, cup dispensers, ladles, trays, chef's outfits, large grills and stoves, freestanding champagne ice buckets and furniture. Some items, such as plates and glasses, are sold by the case, but some of the cases are packed with as few as a dozen items.
Although Loubat's allows the public to shop where the chefs shop, the focus is on commercial food preparation.
"What has propelled us forward (in the industry) is the design work we do for commercial kitchens," Briede says of the company that began as a glassware distributor in 1875. "Most people think of us as a restaurant supplier, but we also do hospitals, hotels, schools, oil rig galleys. We can set up a kitchen anywhere."
The staff's expertise in kitchen design has made Loubat's a worldwide company, with clients in Sweden, Korea, England and elsewhere.
"We work with a lot of architects, general contractors," she says. "Because of technology -- we do Auto Cad (a computer design program) -- a lot of the work we do can be emailed back and forth ... then we may go over to help them put it all together if they need us to."
Locally, Loubat works with a lot of hotels and restaurants as they open businesses or expand and redesign their kitchens. They also work with the Archdiocese of New Orleans as it remodels schools and upgrades food services.
"Everything we do is dictated by the menu of the customer," Briede says. "We sit with them before we begin and ask what will be on the menu. That determines the equipment and the layout of the kitchen.
"I feel what Loubat does best is we can really help our customers make their kitchen more efficient and that will make their business more profitable. Labor costs are very high in a restaurant, and we hope we can help them in some way. Design makes a world of difference; time is money."
Now That's Italian
Duke LoCicero, executive chef and managing partner at Cafe Giovanni (115 Decatur St., 529-2154), doesn't follow food trends; he prefers instead to set them. The restaurant, opened in the French Quarter in 1991, offers diners a place where they can dress casually but enjoy an upscale meal in a cozy, romantic atmosphere.
The best way to experience the tastes of Cafe Giovanni's New World Italian cuisine is the "feed me" method, in which the chef presents appetizer-sized courses he chooses especially for each diner. After all, he's an expert not only in blending the best of Italian and New Orleans tastes but pulling in others he's culled from world travels and his culinary stays at respected restaurants across the country. Giovanni's reputation landed him an invitation a few years ago to prepare dinner for former world leaders President George Bush, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, French President Francois Mitterand and other dignitaries during an economic summit in Houston. He also was chosen to prepare a "Dinner to the Czars" for a special Palaces of St. Petersburg Exhibit held in Jackson, Miss.
The menu at Cafe Giovanni includes several choices for every taste. Food is prepared to order and always made with fresh ingredients. The service echoes the chef's attitude that his guests deserve only the best and that dining should be a delightful experience.
Customers will find Creole specials, steak, daily fresh fish creations, veal, seafood, duck, pasta, salads and more on the menu. The restaurant is open for dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and opera singers serenade diners from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.