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Gourmet to go: Classic New Orleans restaurant makes changes to survive pandemic

Award winning chef and owner Frank Brigtsen said he saw federal unemployment benefits running out for his staff and knew he had to do something.

NEW ORLEANS — Brigtsen’s Restaurant is changing course. 

After 34 years of dine-in service only, the popular bistro near the Riverbend reopened last week for curbside takeout only. 

“We had to get our people back to work,” said James Beard award winning chef and owner Frank Brigtsen. “That’s the driving force for us.”

The restaurant shut down four months ago as the coronavirus hit New Orleans. 

Brigtsen said he saw federal unemployment benefits running out for his staff and knew he had to do something.

“With the state of the restaurant industry today, which is really bad, I could not with any good heart turn these people loose, and let them fend for themselves,” Brigtsen said. “Many restaurants did not open. Many restaurants are not going to open, but we did and we are here.” 

Brigtsen and his wife Marna planned the reopening for weeks. 

There are some classic dishes on the takeout menu and some new ones as well. 

“I wanted to feature my chefs who are so talented,” Brigtsen said. “We have Chef Elliot’s chicken tacos, we have Chef Larry’s lasagna and Chef Emily’s brownies, things that are appropriate for takeout service.” 

Brigtsen put 20 employees back to work. 

Server Amanda Sanders has been taking orders over the phone. 

“It’s really nice to be back to work to feel productive and to be back with my work family and to be serving food to people in the community,” Sanders said.

Chef Larry Herbert is happy to be chopping onions again. 

Herbert said he got tired of sitting at home. 

“Chef (Brigtsen) doing this for us says a lot about his character and everything that he believes in,” Herbert said. “It makes us want to work here.”

Chef Brigtsen expects his restaurant to be takeout only until at least the end of the year. He’s not sure when it will be safe to welcome customers back into his dining room. 

“We are very small here, a very small dining room. We’re not comfortable doing seated dining at this point.” 

From the "How much more can they throw at us category," the city is now tearing up the street in front of Brigtsen’s restaurant. 

“Curbside with no curb, “Brigtsen joked. 

Brigtsen tells us in the first four days since reopening, his restaurant is averaging about 100 takeout meals a day. 

For that, the chef said he is very thankful for the support of his customers and the community. 

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