PERSONA: JOHN BLANCHER
Age: 53 Family: Married for 31 years to wife, Deborah; son, John (“Johnny”) Anthony Blancher; daughter, Eve Hankins; four grandchildren, with one on the way. Resides: Mid-City High school: Archbishop Rummel High School College: Loyola University for his freshman year, then finished at Northwestern State University Favorite food: It’s hard to beat a good filet, medium rare. Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life Favorite book: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway Favorite musician: Johnny Adams Favorite beer: Heineken
Your family is very involved in your business – who does what? I’m at Rock ‘N Bowl most of the time, my wife does a few things at both places. My son, John Anthony, son-in-law Jimmy Hankins and his brother-in-law Chad Penedo, run Ye Olde College Inn. The RNB is my baby.
How’s business at RNB and Ye Olde College Inn since the storm? Business at Ye Olde College Inn is very good. Surprisingly, very consistent. People are coming, and the majority like the new place, which has a much better feel. And we’re only offering dinner, instead of lunch and dinner.
RNB’s business has been off 15 to 20 percent than normal, but my July was very good. My party business seems to have returned.
Why did you move Ye Olde College Inn next door? The old place had charm, but the reality of it was there were many obstacles to overcome there [the original building] after the storm – apparently over the years there was extensive termite damage that I was not aware of until after gutting it. There are real structural problems. Before the storm, we were planning to have a Thai restaurant in the [new] building. We had gutted it and were about to run the electricity when the storm hit. It was built differently than the old one, so all I had to do is pressure wash it.
And I notice the menu is shorter. When I first took over the restaurant I said one of the things we have to do is to reduce the menu. And when I got here I realized I couldn’t do a thing. People were like …“Damnit John, Don’t change a thing.”
The storm allowed me to go ahead and make the change. We don’t do the corned beef and the turkey anymore. We took off the Lone Eagle. Even [The Times-Picayune columnist] Angus Lind said not to take it off. It had been on the menu since 1936, when Charles Lindbergh visited New Orleans. His nickname was the Lone Eagle and they created a sandwich in his honor. It’s made of bacon and turkey with grilled cheese on top, then positioned in the shape of a bird.
It’s so labor intensive to do some of these items, some of it is expensive … and I don’t have enough staff. What is on the menu is what we can do every day and have it be fresh.
In an OffBeat article, you said you were planning to open a Rock ‘N Bowl in Lafayette. Are you still moving forward on that?
It’s still a possibility. No building yet. I was actively looking in early October (2005) because I had no idea then that I would be back and RNB would reopen on Nov. 10.
Whom of the many musicians you have worked with do you miss? Johnny Adams, Beau Jocque, Ernie K-Doe, Boozoo Chavis and Tommy Ridgley.
Those guys were with me in the early days of the RNB and were so great and underappreciated. RNB takes a heavy loss when it loses people of that caliber. I really thought our early identification and early attention was the fact that I had these old legends playing in my bowling alley. I was able, because it was a bowling alley, to take in enough money, to pay enough to have them. Somebody else could have booked them somewhere else and it wouldn’t have worked, but it worked at the bowling alley.
And I got to be really good friends with Johnny Adams. The last public gig that Johnny Adams ever did was here; last public gig Beau Jocque did was here; last club date that Ernie K-Doe had was here; Tommy Ridgeley’s last club date was here. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s last club date – playing with Joe Krown – was here.
If money is no object, who would you like to book at RNB? Dr. John – he’s never played here. The Dixie Cups, Aaron Neville and Art Neville. Art once told me the first job he ever had was setting bowling pins here.
Rock ‘N Bowl is known as the place to go to when celebrities are in town – who has been your favorite? Bonnie Raitt. She is a total class act. She showed up with a guitar and was about to pay the cover charge for the Snooks Eaglin show, when I saw her and told her not to pay. She played with Snooks – even helped him fix a broken guitar string – but for her it was all about Snooks, he was the star.
What music am I going to see you dancing to? Well, probably after a few drinks … I dance to almost anything – a little Cajun, zydeco, swing; I do a lot of “cut-up” … jumping splits off the stage. I sometimes have a “split-off” contest with Rockin’ Dopsie.
Do you bowl? Yes … but maybe twice, bowling a full game, in the last 13 years. I have too much to do during the day before RNB opens, then I have to supervise the staff and be out on the floor. When I bought RNB, I wasn’t even in a bowling league.
Has anyone been married in Rock ‘N Bowl? There have been three or four weddings.
Rock ‘N Bowl patrons, as well as fans of the TV commercial, are used to seeing Li’l Murphy Hines – is he back in New Orleans? He’s back in town. He was at the bowling alley when I took over [in 1988]. The former owner used to chase him out every day, though he would sneak back in. I didn’t run him out and he gradually endeared himself over the years.
What’s going on in the RNB complex? I’m currently the only tenant and I lease my space. The building that Thrift City is in, is in bad shape and has some structural problems. That part may have to be demolished. RNB had some leaks, but was relatively unscathed. The complex is up for sale. It’s complicated – Hibernia Trust is managing the property for the Salmen Family Trust, which had it under the name of Mid-City Center LLC.
If you weren’t doing what you were doing now, what would you be doing? At this moment I might be teaching or coaching baseball.
True confession: The only woman I’ve ever been intimate with is my wife, so I feel sad that Wilt Chamberlain and Hugh Hefner have been so frustrated, [Blancher says jokingly.]