Arnaud’s is one of America’s most celebrated and historic restaurants, serving fine Creole cuisine in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter since 1918. And with the upscale restaurant’s 100th anniversary upon us, the restaurant’s owners, Archie and Katy Casbarian, are planning on celebrating it in high style.
Arnaud’s was founded by a French wine salesman named Arnaud Cazenave (nicknamed “The Count”), and his menu of high-end French and Creole fare led to local acclaim and allowed him to expand the restaurant to 11 different buildings on the block. In the late 1940s he retired and passed the restaurant on to his gregarious daughter, Germaine Wells, who became a New Orleans legend due to her fun-loving personality and great sense of style. She increased the restaurant’s stature around the globe, but by 1978 Arnaud’s was a faded landmark, so she sold it to the husband-and-wife duo of Archie and Jane Casbarian (she saw a spark in Archie that reminded her or her father), who invested $2.5 million in restoring it to its former glory. Archie and Jane’s children, Katy and Archie II, took over as proprietors after Archie’s 2009 passing.
Over the course of the year, the Bienville Street institution will be playing host to four seasonal events, each of which will honor one of the restaurant’s four owners through the decades: A private party in the winter, which will honor Jane and Archie Casbarian with dishes from the 1978 menu; a springtime fête which will honor Arnaud Cazenave with cocktails from the 20s through the 50s; a late summer luncheon in honor of Germaine Wells; and a November gala to celebrate the restaurant’s present and future.
For the Casbarians, balancing the old and the new has been a delicate art. When Arnaud’s opened, its menu was massive, written entirely in French, and full of rich French and Creole dishes. Guests will still find plenty of the classics, including shrimp remoulade, trout meuniere, soufflé potatoes, and the famed oysters Bienville (with shrimp, mushrooms, green onions, and white wine sauce), but there are also plenty of newer menu additions, like duck breast with blueberry-infused port wine sauce and alligator sausage with smoked onions and apple relish.
“New Orleans is a city that celebrates tradition, and we will always be a traditional Creole restaurant, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve,” Archie Casbarian told us during a recent sit-down. “We try to keep one toe in the past, and the other nine in the future.”
The local sourcing movement has also affected the menu. “We stay cognizant of trends and the local restaurant scene,” Katy added. “All of our menu items link to the bounty around us – Gulf seafood, produce from the region – we’re focused on the local.”
The New Orleans restaurant scene has been booming over the past decade, with plenty of competition in the area, but the Casbarians are confident in Arnaud’s legacy and future, and know why the restaurant is still going strong after a century.
“The experience is what it’s all about,” Archie said. “Some say it’s the food, some say it’s the service, some say it’s the atmosphere; we say it’s all three of those things coming together. There’s no formula, though; we know what’s worked and we don’t deviate too much from that.”