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Monday, Oct. 26, 2015

Serving up Shreveport-Bossier City

Business buzzing for newest eateries

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Seven months ago, Lesleigh Monsey’s restaurant plans were on hold until retirement.
Today, though, she is the owner/operator of the Highland Table, a “made-from-scratch” restaurant located at 3030 Creswell Ave., in Shreveport.


“Ninety-nine percent of everything we do is made-from-scratch. It’s not health food. But you do notice the difference,” Monsey said.
So why did Monsey open a restaurant sooner rather than later?

“Opportunity,” she replied.

It’s the same opportunity that has many other eateries – both chain and independent – opening and/or building in the Shreveport-Bossier City area. 

That includes five Zaxby’s, a casual chicken chain; a Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar, a sports-themed eatery; along with a few unnamed establishments that will join the Camp Forbing Marketplace at the corner of Flournoy Lucas and Ellerbe roads.

Then there’s also the development of a Kroger Marketplace along Airline Drive in Bossier City. That alone will add a Panda Express, Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.


Diverse Tastes
Monsey said she welcomes the different eating establishments.


“We’re not all burger joints. We all do something different and offer diversity,” she said.
Monsey opened Highland Table in July. Since it’s opening, she’s received a quick course in restaurant management.


“We’ve definitely made our share of mistakes. But I do not regret opening,” Monsey said. “There are certainly some downfalls in opening a restaurant in two months.”


She continued, “It’s gotten a lot better since we opened. Feedback has been great.”


Monsey started her restaurant career at the age of 17, washing dishes for a Taco Bell. She’s worked in practically every facet of the food industry, including working for the local franchise owner of Walk-On’s, Chris McJunkins.


McJunkins, a Shreveport native, owns two other area restaurants: Cantina Laredo and the Windrush Grill.
His take on the incoming restaurants is all about pastimes.  


“With Shreveport-Bossier City, eating out is kind of our entertainment,” McJunkins said.
Walk-On’s adds to that entertainment offering. The Baton Rouge-based restaurant is a sports bar but with a secret.


“The food is what blew me away,” McJunkins said, adding that Walk-On’s unique food presentation and taste profile places the establishment above its competition.


“We bring a sports bar atmosphere but with more menu options,” he said.


Similar to his former employee, Monsey, McJunkins’ restaurant career started in his teens. And it’s this wealth of experience that has him not overly worried about the incoming competition. And while he admitted the newcomers would have an impact for “a month or two,” McJunkins focused on a different question: “How are grocery stores making it?”


From where he sits, McJunkins sees consumers who are moving to ready-to-go meals.
“With all the activities on our plate, families do not have the time to cook and then have a sit down meal,” he said.


This means restaurants fill the meal gap for many families.


“I would tend to agree with that,” Erica Burns, the director of communications with the Louisiana Restaurant Association in Metairie, said.


With the price of groceries and time required to cook, people may get a cheaper meal at a restaurant, Burns said.


“It’s a valid point,” she said. “It’s a good meal but at a lower price. People get in and get out.”


A Great Pairing
As for any negative effect newer restaurants may hold for older ones, Burns, McJunkins and Monsey all agreed: There shouldn’t be any.


“National data shows when a chain or restaurant with a larger appeal opens near an independent establishment, both restaurants do well,” Burns said.


She used the example of an Olive Garden opening across the street from an independent Italian eatery.
“Where are [customers] going to go and eat when they can’t get a seat?” she asked. “The place across the street.”


As for what’s fueling the influx of restaurants, Burns said the economy plays a part in the business.
Burns said the Shreveport-Bossier City area has been a hotspot for chains for the last decade, mainly due to an uptick in the economy. “As the economy picked up in post-recession, chains began opening in new areas.”
“Northwest Louisiana is chain central. It’s not new. But it just keeps going,” Burns said.


Plateful of Growth
And gaining the attention of chains like Zaxby’s or Walk-On’s is a good thing.
“National chains tend to do a lot of due diligence prior to opening a store in a location,” Burns said. “That’s a compliment to Shreveport-Bossier or any area that gains a national chain. It means companies are seeing a growth pattern.”


That’s an assertion confirmed by Steve Watkins, half of the duo behind the local Zaxby’s restaurants.
“Population in trade area, traffic counts, household income, accessibility, visibility are just some of the many factors that go into selecting a location,” Watkins said.


He went on to call Shreveport-Bossier City a “prime market for Zaxby’s.”
“[The Shreveport-Bossier City] population base and demographics should actually support more than five locations. The Zaxby’s brand has proven to be strong in every market they have expanded into,” Watkins said. 
Monsey admitted it’s hard not to notice all the new restaurants.


As for the advantages of a locally-owned eatery, she called it both ways. “I think it’s an advantage and also a disadvantage,” she said.


One advantage for a local eatery is freedom, Monsey said. “We can do whatever we want,” Monsey said. “Franchises have very strict guidelines.”


For example, Highland Table can adjust its hours to peak times or pull menu items that are missing the mark. That’s not as easy for franchises.


However, franchises do have name recognition. And that is big.


“[Highland Table] gets phone calls from people asking what do we do,” Monsey said. “Walk-On’s has the advantage of name recognition. People know what to expect. [Franchises] are going to get a crowd because they are a Zaxby’s.”


But asked if the recent openings have resulted in a drop in business, Monsey replied, “Not really.”
McJunkins echoed Monsey regarding the lack of falling business.


Healthy Chance

Monsey has her Highland Table. 

McJunkins has his Walk-On’s.

Then there’s Matt Smith with his family-owned Pita Pit, a South Carolina-based chain restaurant.
Smith along with his wife and parents opened the Pita Pit on Oct. 26 in the Shreve City Plaza, along Shreveport-Barksdale Highway. It’s the first Pita Pit in Northwest Louisiana. It’s also the first restaurant for the Smith family.

“We spent seven months trying to find the right place,” Smith said.

And while the Pita Pit and its “healthy and fast service” may be new to some, for many college students and airmen it’s old hat. So far, Smith is hearing more praises than questions about this new venture.

But, because it is a lesser-known franchise, Smith relied on creativity, not mass media, to get the word out.

During the Pita Pit’s first week of business, Smith and his family donated 10-percent of the establishment’s profits to nonprofits like Providence House, the Warrior Network and the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission.

It’s one example of how a restauranteur can stand out among the masses. “[Pita Pit] is a good fit for this area,” Smith said. “It’s a new concept, bringing a healthy and quick option to this area is our main focus.”


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