New Orleans has its share of celebrity restaurateurs–Emeril LaGasse, Donald Link, Alon Shaya, the late Paul Prudhomme, among them–all who have or had built franchise empires.
Robért LeBlanc (known to friends as “Ro-Bear” or “Ro”) is not one of them in the boldface-name pantheon. Though that is fine by him, he ought to be. LeBlanc’s steadily growing restaurant and bar sextet of hotspots–most recently the French Quarter hang Longway Tavern–are as distinct as the neighborhoods they take strongholds in. Where they open, the locals come, even when they’re blocks from God-awful Bourbon Street. LeBlanc, 41, has a way of developing spots that don’t so much buzz as slow-cook, until they become reliable and enduring ports of call for discerning New Orleanians and visiting gastronauts.
In the French Quarter, this list includes Sylvain (a re-purposed carriage house built in 1804), the understated Meauxbar, and the critically acclaimed Longway Tavern. His spots in the Lower Garden District include roadhouse whiskey bar Barrel Proof, the visually-stunning New Louisiana eatery set in an old Victorian mansion Cavan, and the soon-to-open hotel Chloe.
Despite being a standout in any crowd–ridiculous good looks, brooding brown eyes, 6-foot-6 frame with Howitzer guns–the Houma, La.-born LeBlanc speaks softly and unassumingly while traversing his locales, making sure that things feel the way they should. He’s what you call “a good guy,” “a guy’s guy,” not a womanizer (well, he married the most stunning gal in town).” The anti-prima donna, possessing a James Brown work ethic. Perhaps it why he was invited to fly with the New Orleans Saints football team when they went to Miami and returned with Super Bowl rings.
And when he isn’t backing up a hungover bartender, you may find him in an assembly line of volunteers at one of his restaurants, making P&J sammies and care packs en masse, then leading a caravan up to the hungry and stuck in a recent Baton Rouge area flood. Yet all said and done, he’d rather be home with wife Danielle and wrestling with his two boys Bear and Will. Yup. A good guy, but when the work is done, he knows how to have fun. “Young man,” as he is known to inquire, “another whiskey?” Or, off the grid, a Hemingway daiquiri will do.
CRIQUET: Describe your personal style.
Because I am 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, my options are limited. I stick to the basics that are timeless: jeans with black T-shirt, chinos with a white long-sleeve shirt. I do wear Nantucket Reds every Friday. I’ve never had a bad Friday in those slacks.
Where do you go to be under the influence?
I like to hop around when having afternoon drinks, when the work is done. Margaritas at the great authentic Mexican cantina Del Fuego, pretty much any cocktail at the Brazilian-inspired Baru, daiquiris at Manolito, just opened this summer by cocktail greats Chris Hannah and Nick Dietrich. And perhaps a nightcap at St. Joe’s Bar, on my way home Uptown.
First job, and how did it influence your current endeavors?
I was a lifeguard, and the pool I worked always played the radio over the speakers. I’d spend eight hours a day just listening to music. To this day, every single one of our restaurant concepts begins with the question: “What type of music will we play here?”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I don’t want to grow up.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Boat drinks. New Orleans is the king of frozen but toxic ones.
What is the No. 1 thing that you love about New Orleans. Hate?
Every single person is made to feel at home here, wherever they may be. I hate the timeliness of the meter maids here.
What makes a great bar?
Drinks that are made well and with a stiff pour that are made quickly and with the intention for the guests to have fun with them.
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…(FINISH SENTENCE).
…to be the first to leave a great party. Always make an Irish Exit.
Were you always so…wholesome?
I vividly recall my parents telling me about the Golden Rule, and I guess it just started from there. Be a great friend, too. Walk hard. Be grateful. Remain humble.
I have never left London without a clear vision of what I want to do next in life.
You have a Huck and a Tom as kids. What’s the favorite thing you do with them?
I love taking them to a place called Imperial Sno-Balls without their Mom. My brother, sister and I did that as kids growing up, and so it is nostalgic. There’s a subtle rebellion in having the boys have so much sugar so late at night against their mother’s will.
Growing up in the fishing town of Houma, my Mom used to cut fresh magnolia blossoms and float them in a large bowl of water on our kitchen counter. I still love that smell.
I know you are a boxer and basketball player, but do you ever golf?
I’ve never had the time to commit to being good at it. If I’m reminded that I’m the worst of all my colleagues at something, I’d rather that be done quickly rather than over the course of four hours.
Favorite place to figure shit out?
Walking the dirt path around Audubon Park, home of a pretty decent golf course, while listening to Sigur Ros albums.
What insults your intelligence?