by Ian McNulty
As the clock wound down on 2011, the gears turned on a deal to add a restaurant to Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre and reopen the landmark theater.
On Dec. 29, the board of Le Petit completed the sale of part of its French Quarter property to the local restaurant management group Dickie Brennan & Co., according to a release from that company. The yet-to-be-named restaurant will serve French Creole cuisine and feature private dining rooms in addition to its main dining room.
With the deal finalized, the way seems clear for Dickie Brennan & Co. to begin renovations. The restaurant is now expected to open in the fall of 2012 in conjunction with the planned return of theater productions to the 365-seat main stage of Le Petit. The restaurant will be located along the Chartres Street side of the building, in what had been a smaller black box-style theater space long known as the children’s theater.
“We’re anxious to get started on renovations,” Steve Pettus, managing partner of Dickie Brennan & Co., said it a statement. “Creating an alliance that works for Le Petit Theatre, as well as us, takes time. But, good things come to those who wait, and we’re very proud of how we’re moving forward together.”
The plans for the sale became the source of considerable contretemps over the summer between the theater’s board and its guild, an independent support group. But in August, the theater’s membership voted in favor of the sale.
Le Petit is widely recognized as the oldest community theater in America, with roots dating back to 1916. For generations it has been an important part of the New Orleans theater community, and many of the city’s best-known actors today got their start on its stage in youth productions. But serious debt put its future in doubt. In December 2010 the theater canceled its season and laid off its staff. It has not staged any performances since.
According to the deal, Dickie Brennan & Co. bought 60 percent of the theater property for $3 million. The board retains ownership of the main stage theater and other portions of the building, and it will share with the restaurant access to the main lobby and courtyard. The board has said it intends to use sales proceeds to pay off the building’s mortgage and other debts and establish a $1 million endowment The plan calls for renovations throughout the building.
In his company’s release last week, Dickie Brennan suggested the theater could also benefit from his restaurant group’s marketing and customer base as well.
“We plan to bring additional patrons to Le Petit and spread the word of their venerable history to our many guests that we host each year,” Brennan said.
Dickie Brennan & Co. runs Palace Café, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse and Bourbon House, which are all located within a few blocks of Le Petit.