NEW ORLEANS -- After years of disputes between Montrel’s Bistro and its landlord – the city of New Orleans – the troubled restaurant is being forced to close its doors.
At a court hearing Tuesday, Civil Court Judge Christoper Bruno granted the city's four-month old eviction request for the establishment.
Montrel’s has occupied prime real estate on North Peter Street since 2008, sharing a building with the French Market Corporation, the city agency that oversees the property. While the physical proximity has been close, the city’s relationship with its tenant has been anything but.
Almost since it moved from its pre-Katrina location in Gentilly, Montrel’s has been a problem child for the city, repeatedly falling behind on its rent and racking up dozens of health code violations.
Several years ago, the restaurant was in such a colorful state of disarray it reached an agreement to appear on the reality TV show “Kitchen Nightmares,” but the city pulled the plug on the idea before it could get off the ground.
Demetric Mercadel, head of the French Market Corporation board, said the agency is eager to move on. The French Market has been advertising for bids for a replacement restaurant for several months, even as Montrel's defied the eviction lawsuit and continued to serve its menu of Creole specialties.
"The judge ruled in favor of the French Market to grant the eviction, effective immediately,” Mercadel said. “And that they are to vacate the property so that we can move on.”
The eviction comes after years of contentious efforts by the French Market board to get Montrel’s to clean up its act, including one earlier eviction that was rescinded when the restaurant caught up on its late rent payments and promised major upgrades.
But in February, after the Montrel’s bounced a $20,000 check to make up for a new round of delinquent rent payments, the board voted 4-2 to remove the eatery.
"We wish them well,” Mercadel said. “So sorry that it didn't work out in their favor. I guess they'll just move forward with their new restaurant."
Mercadel is referring to a new restaurant on Esplanade Boulevard called Creole Cottage, which lists the same owners as Montrel's. WWL-TV reported the opening of Creole Cottage in August, even as city was fighting the Montrel's in court.
Even with the eviction settled, there could be more court proceedings by the city against Montrel’s.
Mercadel said the city has made a legal demand that Montrel’s repay about $100,000 it says the restaurant owes for electric bills that were inadvertently paid by the city because of faulty wiring in the building.
According to a maintenance report obtained by WWL-TV, 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.
Montrel’s owners dispute the electric bill, saying the restaurant always paid all the utility bills it received.
A.S. Broussard, a spokesman and representative of the family-owned restaurant, said the family is weighing its options in the face of the eviction.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re still in there,” Broussard said. “I’m taken by surprise at the eviction. Frankly, I thought it was being handled. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”