After establishing economic security in his own business, Trauth has set out to fulfill his personal dream: operating his father's bar and restaurant, Red Maple (1036 Lafayette St., Gretna, 367-0935). He spent the past year renovating the front bar, replacing all the wiring and air-conditioning, repairing the roof and sprucing up other parts of the building.
"Everything that he has done, he's done with great patience and doing it the right way -- no shortcuts," says general manager Becky Brown says. "He's really brought the restaurant into the 21st century."
Trauth refers to his takeover as a "labor of love" and a return to his roots. After all, he grew up at the Red Maple, which began as a modest bar opened in the home of his great grandmother, Emma Whiteside, in 1963. From the beginning, it was a local hangout, attracting regulars from the oilfield, longtime Gretna residents and notables such as Carlos Marcello. The addition of the restaurant came partly as a necessity.
"Brent's father, Marvin, started the bar in his grandmother's house; she had a killer bread pudding recipe that we still use today," she says. "After (customers) drank for a while, they would get hungry. (Marvin's) parents had a shotgun next door and (Marvin) raised it and bricked the bottom and that's where the restaurant started, with eight to 10 tables.
"Marvin was a very charismatic character. This became a watering hole with great steaks" and, of course, Emma Whiteside's special bread pudding.
Over time, Trauth turned the backyard and patio of the houses into enclosed dining rooms, and even a small garden along the 11th Street side of the building has been outfitted with outside tables. The expansion now is over -- the building is surrounded by cemetery.
Trauth decided to buy the restaurant after the retirement of his two aunts, who operated it after his father died in 1980. Trauth claims Red Maple is the longest-running restaurant in Gretna.
"More than 50 restaurants have closed in the last 20 years on the West Bank," he says. "What fueled the restaurant industry over here was all the oil companies. We've lost a lot of them; it really hurt the restaurant industry."
Red Maple, however, remained popular. In fact, when the renovated bar was set to reopen, three men staged a vigil outside from 9:30 a.m. because they wanted to be the first customers in the new bar, just as they had been when the original opened. With former Kelsey's owner/Chef Randy Barlow in the kitchen, the food is contemporary New Orleans cuisine with a focus on the steak, boiled brisket and seafood that Red Maple has been known for over the years.
Trauth renovated the complex to be a classy spot that invites both the regulars and new customers to relax and enjoy. He took great pains to recreate the romance and ambience of the area throughout the restaurant with vintage items from Ricca's and lights from Bevolo and even tables and bistro chairs from Mount Carmel High School.
"This was from the heart," Trauth says. "I didn't want someone to take it over and ruin it; we did it all first class."
Earlier this month Willem and Barbara Ann Downs van Calsem retired, turning the business over to a new generation, represented in the shop by niece Amy, who lives upstairs with her family.
"It's wonderful," she says. "It's absolutely a joy to come to work every day. There's a wonderful history involved in the business."
Hove, which has only the French Quarter store, has developed an international clientele through a mail-order business that delivers products all over the United States, Canada, Tokyo, Scotland and other places. There already is a host of fragrances, soaps and other products, but the van Calsems also keep developing new lines.
"There are a couple of scents we are looking into creating," Amy says. "One is already created, we're just letting it sit for a while to see how it ages."
Part of the enduring success of Hove, Amy says, is that many of the scents are indigenous to New Orleans, such as Magnolia, Azalea, Carnival, Creole Days and No. 1 seller Sweet Olive, making them a perfect mementos for tourists and locals alike.
"Our scents are exclusive right here in New Orleans," she says. "It makes it great for our customers, because they know it's not on every department store shelf everywhere. They can take them back home with them to remember New Orleans and Hove."
- One of the elegant dining rooms of the newly renovated, longtime West Bank favorite Red Maple restaurant.