NEW ORLEANS -- After years of late rent payments and a series of health code violations, the French Market Corporation voted in February to pull the plug on Montrel's Bistro, cancelling the restaurant's lease for prime retail space in a city-owned building on North Peters Street.
The city agency gave the owners three months to leave, with the final day of the lease coming on April 29.
That deadline has come and gone, but Montrel’s remains.
The Creole eatery is still open for business, but it is now serving up its signature reds beans and rice as a squatter, according to French Market attorney Henry Julien.
An eviction petition was filed in Civil Court three weeks ago on May 3, but so far, the restaurant is not budging. In fact, the establishment has been doing a brisk business lately, with most of its open-air tables filled with tourists during several recent lunch shifts.
By all accounts, the restaurant and city are engaged in a stand-off, just as A.S. Broussard promised when he defended his family's restaurant after the French Market board voted 4-to-2 to remove the establishment.
"I'm going to fight for what's right. The chips can fall where they may. I'm going to fight for what's right," Broussard said at the time.
The eviction petition cites a bounced check to cover a delinquent rent payment of $20,191. But Broussard said his family has paid up and the health code violations have been cleared.
“The essence of the matter still continues to be that we are in full compliance with all violations of the health department,” Broussard wrote in a statement. “That $20,000-plus dollars was paid to the French Market Corporation with a cashier’s check. We continue to vigorously disagree with the board’s decision.”
In an additional statement issued Monday, family member Sugar Broussard touted her restaurant's status as one of the only African-American owned restaurants in the French Quarter and gave no hint of backing down.
“Montrel's Bistro has effectively maintained a level of consistency despite an unstable and often hostile external environment,” Sugar Broussard wrote. “Montrel's perseverance has paid off in the past and will continue to pay off in the future for itself and the French Market Corporation and the great City Of New Orleans.”
But Julien said the eviction process will continue.
"They sent their latest rent payment and we sent it back,” Julien said. “They're out. It could take a couple of months, but we're trying to move as fast as we can."
It now appears that the future of Montrel's will be decided in court. And if A.S. Broussard's previous words ring true, it could be a bruising battle.
"You're not going to just sit down and slap my family around,” Broussard said in the earlier interview. “You can do it to me and I'm going to take it. But that's just not going to happen."
In a related dispute, the French Market Corporation claims that Montrel's still owes more than $100,000 for electric bills that were inadvertently paid by the city because of faulty wiring in the building they share.
According to a maintenance report obtained by Eyewitness News, the restaurant’s electrical lines had been unknowingly hooked up to the French Market Corporation’s meters. The problem went unnoticed and uncorrected for about five years, according to the report by the French Market’s building maintenance supervisor, Robert Gurtner.