PERSONA: ROBERT G. “NASH” LAURENT

It’s late afternoon and the pre-dinner rush has started at Clancy’s restaurant, a favorite place to dine for New Orleanians. Though it seems like a serene scene – white tablecloths, silverware and stemware are arranged all just so – the restaurant’s maître d’ – Nash, as everyone knows him as – is doing about three things at once. He’s taking phone calls, assuring whomever it is that getting a table the same night is no problem. Nash, whose given name is Robert G. Laurent, checks the reservations book several times, then gets one of the staff to reconfigure once, twice – probably a few more times – the tables and how many placesettings each one gets. The phone keeps on ringing … and Nash keeps on answering it, even when the restaurant is at its most crowded and loudest, usually between 8 and 9 p.m. or so. A party of two shows up unexpectedly. Not a problem, if Nash can help it.

Though restaurants have repeat customers that maître d’s get to know over time, many still present a stiff and formal air to the uninitiated. Not so with Nash. He’s as friendly greeting the stranger as a regular, though I will say I like that he knows me, though I don’t know if I’ve attained regular status just yet. The restaurant’s regulars do depend on Nash – he has the ability to make them feel that anything is possible, even getting a table for four in the main dining room on a Friday night when the request came at 5 p.m. that same Friday. With Nash, not a problem – well, not that he’ll let you know, like any good maître d’.

Age: 58 Family: Wife, Laura – married in December 2005. Even my first wife, Kara, attended. Four children, three grandchildren. Lives: Uptown Favorite book: Anything by John Sandford, mysteries and I’m a bit of a World War II aficionado Favorite movie: North by Northwest Favorite musician: Bob Dylan Favorite food: Clancy’s fresh fish, usually made as meuniere, and the restaurant’s oysters and brie appetizer.

How long have you been known as Nash? 35 years.

Quite a few people don’t know you’re a born and bred New Orleanian. I was born in Touro Infirmary, grew up in Broadmoor at S. Salcedo Street. Graduated from De La Salle High School. Through my mother’s side, we go back four generations.

What did you do before you came to Clancy’s? I was in the Air Force, 1969-‘72. I wasn’t drafted, but joined and I didn’t go to Vietnam. I then worked in Haiti. My family had a hotel/casino, the Royal Haitian Hotel, in Port-au-Prince. I worked there about 13 to14 years until the government took it over.

How long have you worked at Clancy’s? Eight years. I was hired by Johnny Vodanovich and his father Steve.

What’s the key to being a good maître d’? As a maître d’ you provide a service. You greet the guest and make sure the customer is seated properly. You implement the owner’s policies. It’s a people job – and if you don’t get along with people, it could be difficult. And you make every customer feel like a celebrity.

What is Clancy’s appeal? Clancy’s is low-key, not pretentious – people come here to see and dine with friends and family. I get to know families and see second and third generations coming here. I think the food is No. 1 in the city. The staff is beyond reproach – and the owners Brad and Sue Hollingsworth, her son Brian Larson and Chef Steve Manning – who I think is one of the top five chefs in the city – are great to work with.

Are you going to write your memoirs, sort of like a “Life at Clancy’s”? No! What happens at Clancy’s stays at Clancy’s – hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

Are there any customers whose special requests you can tell me about? I had one customer who would call ahead and I had to order Rolling Rock beer. We would get them, chill them, and then serve all six in an ice bucket to him when he arrived.

Do you have a policy regarding celebrities? I don’t remember seeing them.

Ah, come on. I’ve seen your name mentioned in print by actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Oh, she is lovely as can be. She came in a bunch of times while filming a movie. [Ed. note: Failure to Launch.] Dustin Hoffman is nice, and Jessica Simpson is lovely, but different. She had a large entourage.

You have a story about Dustin Hoffman. His assistant called to say he was coming in for dinner that night, a Saturday. I’ve heard it all, especially people using a celebrity name, so I didn’t believe him. The assistant then said, “Hold on, I’ll get him” – and I still think it’s a joke. A man gets on the line saying he’s Hoffman and I say “I have one word for you: plastics.” He laughs and I know it’s really him. Since the reservation was made at the last minute, Hoffman had to wait at the bar for 20 minutes and he was fine.

Has any celebrity surprised you? Johnny Knoxville. He was very polite and a gentleman. Straightforward.

If you’re not eating a Clancy’s, where could one find you? One Restaurant and Lounge [in the Riverbend], where former Clancy’s chef Scotty Snodgrass is. Bayona, Delachaise, Brennan’s or Dante’s Kitchen for brunch.

What are your hobbies? Golf. And being with my grandkids.

Any dream golf course you would like to play, but haven’t? Pebble Beach

True Confession: I’m secretly shy. But when I walk into the restaurant and the lights go on – then I’m a little different.

Categories: LL_Feature

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