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Monday, April 20, 2020

Maxwell’s Market


Lending a helping hand to local restaurants

Craving crawfish etouffee’ from Frank’s Louisiana Kitchen?

Salivating for one of El Cabo Verde’s signature soups?

Daydreaming of spinach and chicken crepes from Biscotti’s?

Now, thanks to COVID-19, you can satisfy your taste buds without going to any of those places.

Maxwell’s Market, at 4861 Line Avenue in Shreveport, is selling food from these three local restaurants. It’s a gesture from market owner Ross Barclay – a way of helping friends in need, friends whose restaurant business has been significantly hurt by the closing of dining rooms.

“I’m not charging anything extra,” Barclay explained. “I’m paying retail for it (the products) and putting it out there. As soon as they deliver, I cut a check to them. We’re just doing this as a complete collaboration. I’m not trying to make any money on it. They’re just trying to make sure they keep their employees paid.”

“I’m not turning a profit at all,” Barclay stressed. “They’re covering the sales tax.”

Barclay and Chef Frank Harris (owner of Frank’s Louisiana Kitchen) brought the idea to our area. With dining rooms closed and shortened hours for curbside pickup, both saw this as a convenient way for people to enjoy locally prepared food.

“I saw an article on Facebook where the Rouses’s Market – really popular in South Louisiana – had done a similar thing for Commander’s Palace and some of the stalwarts – really established restaurants that are gems in South Louisiana,” Barclay said. “Rouses’s had donated their space to help them out. Then, Frank and his wife texted me and said, ‘Hey, did you see what Rouses’s is doing? Do you think you might want to do something like that?’ Honestly, it was a collaboration between Frank and me. I immediately said, ‘Sure, whatever I can do to help you out.’” Judging from sales, the idea is a hit. “They (the product) sell out almost immediately,” Barclay said. “That’s due to the fact that we have some fantastic people in Shreveport-Bossier who understand the importance of these small businesses. A lot of people are actually buying items and taking them straight to hospitals and donating them. There’s a lot of goodwill.”

For Mike Lewis, owner of Biscotti’s inside Lewis Gifts, having his food sold at is helping ease the loss of income.

“I have refrigerated cases, so I had everything out front,” Lewis said. “I have pastry cases. I bake everything at my restaurant, so we're having baked goods and my casseroles out there. People would order lunch, come in and end up buying four casseroles. But that’s no longer because we are curbside only.”

The food business can be a tough way to make a living. Profit margins are small, and staff turnover is high. But the food business is also made up of a close, tightknit group that looks out for each other.

“Like anything else, when you have careers, you become friends with people who have similar careers or are in the same line of work you’re in,” Barclay said. “We’re a family … we all help each other out when we can. Independent businesses will always try to help each other.”

Barclay, who has owned Maxwell’s Market for almost 19 years, believes helping each other is more important now more than ever.

“You think of all the different places that are great, that are independently owned, that have a lot of character, that anchor neighborhoods.” Barclay said. “We’re going to lose those if we don’t do something about it. That’s going to hurt the community more in the long run than, I think, anything else when this is done. The face of the community is actually the small, independent businesses.”

Maxwell’s Market is one of the few small, independent businesses that is not hurting from COVID-19. In fact, Barclay says business is better now than it was before the pandemic.

“I’ve actually been blessed,” Barclay said. “My guys are working twice as hard. I’m actually making more money than before this all started. It’s embarrassing to say that. That’s why, once Frank called me about that, I reached out to all of my chef friends and said, ‘I will donate 100 percent of retail space if you think it will be worth it.’”

So why is Maxwell’s Market – which sells its own steaks, seafood and readyto-serve meals – doing so well, when so many other food-centric places are not?

“Because the restaurants are closed,” Barclay explained. “There are more families that are home. There are a lot of people at home that aren’t working. They’re having to cook more meals at the house. There’s no activity. There’s no travel baseball. People aren’t going on vacation. There’s just more people in town eating more food with less places open.”

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