NEW ORLEANS -- In the eyes of the city, Montrel's Bistro is a squatter. Served with eviction papers in April, the troubled restaurant hasn't budged from its prime French Quarter location on North Peters Street.
The family-owned restaurant saw its lease cancelled by the French Market Corporation after years of late rent payments and a series of health code violations. A previous eviction two years ago was withdrawn, but when the bistro fell more than $20,000 behind on rent last year after logging the highest number of health violations of any city restaurant, the French Market Board decided to pull the plug.
But even as the city agency prepares to go to court for eviction proceedings on Sept. 10, Montrel's owner Elvira Collins has opened a new restaurant called Creole Cottage, according to incorporation records filed with the secretary of state.
The eatery at Esplanade Avenue and Grand Route St. John features almost the identical menu as Montrel's, specializing in local favorites like gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice.
French Market attorney Henry Julien said he isn't surprised to hear about the new venture.
'I can't say I'm shocked, after all we've been through with them,' Julien said. 'It's unusual for someone to become a squatter in this modern day, but now it looks like they want to be squatters long enough to open up somewhere else.'
Julien said he doesn't know how the owners were able to get city permits for the new restaurant at the same time they're being sued by the city over the old one. But the new business doesn't change the status of the lawsuit against Montrel's, which Julien said owes the city about $36,000 in back rent.
And for the past week, Julien said, Montrel's has committed another violation by closing its doors and not generating revenue as required by its lease. The owners say the bistro is temporarily closed for maintenance, but will reopen soon.
Derrick Montrel, a manager at both restaurants, said Creole Cottage has been in the planning stages for more than a year, long before the recent eviction was filed against Montrel's.
Montrel said the opening of Creole Cottage has been smooth, and shouldn't be linked to the family's French Quarter location.
'It's like comparing apples and oranges,' Montrel said. 'This place has been in the making for a long time. It's the same family, but not all the same family members.'
If anything, Montrel said, the successful ramp-up of Creole Cottage should serve as evidence that the city is misguiding in its efforts to kick Montrel's out of the French Quarter.
'The food is great. The customers are happy,' Montrel said. 'We're going back to our family roots and keeping it simple.'
Montrel said his family has tried to pay Montrel's back rent and negotiate with the French Market, but the board has been unreceptive.
'We're still fighting the eviction at the other location and we expect to win,' he said.