Chef John Besh buys Le Foret; grand CBD restaurant to become private dining venue

A downtown New Orleans restaurant drawn to a grand and elegant scale now has a new owner and a different blueprint for the future.

Chef John Besh announced today that his company has bought Le Foret. The restaurant will become a private events hall for his restaurant group.

“We hear from a lot of people who want to host events, and we don’t always have the space to do them,” said Besh spokeswoman Maggie Moore. “This will fill a need.”

The new venue is called Pigeon & Prince. The name references some earlier chapters at this address, including, alternately, a roost for pigeons and European royalty. With minimal renovations planned, Pigeon & Prince should begin booking events later this month.

The building, at 129 Camp St., is three blocks from Besh’s flagship, Restaurant August. It has four floors, including a penthouse level with its own kitchen. The space will be used for private dinners, corporate events, and possibly cooking classes from Besh Restaurant Group chefs.

Erick Loos, chef de cuisine at Besh’s Lacombe restaurant La Provence, will oversee the new event space as executive chef. He will also continue to lead La Provence. His menus at Pigeon & Prince will be based on south Louisiana flavors and seasonal ingredients, according to a release from the company. Moore said current staff at Le Foret would be invited to apply for positions at the Besh Restaurant Group.

More events, more venues

Other local restaurant groups have invested in event venues lately, citing more demand for private functions.

Last year, for instance, Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts took over the former Spanish restaurant Galvez in the French Market, a space still well-known for its pre-Katrina tenure as Bella Luna. The company is now developing it as venue for weddings and other events.

This new venue will be called Marché (French for market), and it should open in early spring, according to Zeid Ammari, chief operating officer for Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts. Renovations to the property have opened up a long bank of windows facing the French Quarter, he explained, which gives the main room a sweeping view from the rooftops to the river.

Also last year, owners of the downtown Italian eatery Marcello’s Restaurant & Wine Bar converted a nearby property to use as their own private events venue. The Todaro family took over the former Indulge Island Grill, at 845 Carondelet St., a business that combined a bar and grill with a pool club, fitness club and meeting space. They now run it as a venue called Carondelet.

An ambitious debut

Pigeon & Prince’s downtown building had been long vacant before Margaret and Michael Schnexnayder undertook a year-long renovation to create Le Foret. It debuted in 2009 aiming for the stars. At the time, it was easily the most ambitious and elaborate addition to the New Orleans dining scene since Hurricane Katrina. The restaurant’s first chef, James Corwell, directed a highly contemporary Continental menu, while Danny Millan, a veteran of the local dining scene, was maitre d’. The restaurant received enthusiastic reviews early on.

But Corwell was out by 2011 and Millan later left too (he now runs his own restaurant, Cava, in Lakeview), and staff churn continued.

The Le Foret purchase marks the latest project for a very busy Besh Restaurant Group.

Besh and his chef partners have opened four new restaurants since 2014 alone, and the company now has 12 altogether, including locations of Johnny Sanchez in Baltimore and Lüke in San Antonio. In November, the chef announced he would reopen the Caribbean Room in the Pontchartrain Hotel and handle food and beverage at the historic St. Charles Avenue property. That project is expected to debut later this year.

Pigeon & Prince

129 Camp St., 504-553-6738

For inquiries, email pandp@chefjohnbesh.com

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.

More Stories