Steven Latter lived for Tujague's. Tragically he died recently; so too might Tujague's. So far what we’ve heard is rumors but one source is a person who usually gets the “New Orleans going to hell” rumors right. (He was the one who first tipped me off about the improbable rumor that The Times-Picayune was going to cut back to three times a week. “That can’t possibly be,” I thought.) Also bothersome about the rumors is that while no one is confirming them, no one is denying them either. We know this: Something is being considered that people are not going to like.
According to the rumors, the building on Decatur Street that houses the last of the original Creole Restaurants and the second oldest (after Antoine’s) restaurant in the city will be sold to businessman Mike Motwani who is known for converting businesses into tacky, touristy T-shirt and gift shops. Motwani supposedly will do the same, though the front part of the building, according to my source, might be used to serve fried chicken.
Preservationists and those who care about urban style and character have long despised Motwani’s businesses. Legally he has gotten by – further evidence that justice being blind isn’t always a good thing. (Besides the aesthetic considerations, another objection to Motawni’s businesses is that they are totally targeted to visitors further taking away reasons for locals to frequent the Quarter.)
Latter worked tirelessly to maintain the old restaurant’s character. He kept the tradition of serving beef brisket with horseradish sauce as part of every meal. His menu was classic old line. His bar was busy and, a significant sign, had a good following among locals.
According to the rumors, and some reporting by WWL-TV, while Latter owned the business, his brother Stanford owned the building and that’s where the problem lies. (Latter’s son, Mark, who is experienced in the business, runs the restaurant.)
Motwani has been in the news many times including in 2009 when he was accused of illegally installing ATM machines in downtown buildings. Coverage by Bruce Eggler of The Times-Picayune included this astonishing statement:
“Mike Motwani is not a good person. No one is going to deny that," structural engineer Roy Carubba told a city preservation agency.
Carubba, who said he has done a lot of work for Motwani and who was supporting his client's request to demolish a badly deteriorated Central Business District building, said he has often expressed the same sentiment directly to Motwani.
No one on the CBD Historic District Landmarks Commission spoke up to defend the Indian-born businessman.
Please Mr. Latter, keep the legacy of your brother’s restaurant alive. At the very least, don't let the builiding fall into the hands of those who don't give a damn about the character of the city.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival – Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via email email@example.com or (504) 895-2266.
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