The mantra "location, location, location" means everything to Steve Gundlach, owner of Steve's Diner (Place St. Charles, 201 St. Charles Ave., 522-8198; www.steves-diner.com). When two large neighboring firms moved from Gravier Street after Hurricane Katrina, he got serious about finding a new home for his restaurant.
"I knew that I'd have a hard time surviving without those two big pieces of my customer base," he says. "I was confident that my block was going to become an ugly dead zone, which it has."
Gundlach found an open space in the food court at Place St. Charles, and Steve's Diner moved to its new location two years ago.
Aside from the venue and a switch from china to paper plates, visitors to Steve's Diner won't find many changes. They may even see some of the same diners who frequented the old location for its homestyle dishes.
"I'm getting a lot of the customers that I would see less often, more often," Gundlach says. A clientele of attorneys, architects and other professionals line up each weekday for breakfast and lunch.
Gundlach calls the menu a cross between Southern and soul cooking, inspired by the Sunday dinners served at his great-grandmother's house.
"[It's] a lot of pot food [and] slow-cooking ... lots of beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, lima beans, red beans," he says. "[It's] considered comfort food to me."
The diner's devotees come in for daily specials such as slow-roasted beef brisket smothered in brown gravy, which remains the most popular menu item despite being served just one day a week.
Gundlach's recent experiments for the specials board include Loco Moko, a hamburger steak cooked with peppers and mushrooms and topped with fried onions. His kitchen instincts come from years of experience in the restaurant business.
"It goes all the way back to college," he says. "My first job was flipping burgers in a grill at a bar." He later was a front-of-house manager at Commander's Palace. Gundlach's experience has prepared him to juggle management duties at Steve's Diner and Terrazu, his coffeeshop, also located in Place St. Charles.
"It's an interesting journey," he says. "I just hope it continues."