Amy Chan grew up in restaurants. Her parents founded the first Chinese restaurant on the West Bank in the 1970s. She was the regional manager for Sucre and later the director of operations for Dinner Lab. In her new position as the manager at the Pythian Market (234 Loyola Ave.; www.thepythian-nola.com), Chan will help pick vendors and oversee operations at the food court in the renovated historic Pythian Building. Chan spoke to Gambit about the project.
Gambit: How are you picking vendors for the market?
Chan: Lisa Brefere at GigaChef (www.gigachef.com) was hired as a culinary consultant early in the game, and they are actually partners in the Pythian Market now. Lisa set out to try every restaurant in New Orleans with a rating system. It's interesting to marry that with what I did at Dinner Lab, because we did somewhat the same thing. It was a big part of our concept: You'd have your comment cards, and we would have a techie assign an algorithm to every word so we would know how popular, say, octopus was as opposed to chicken. [GigaChef] did a similar thing where they had people taste test a lot of restaurants and then come back with that (data). We're filtering incoming inquiries from people that are interested and also targeting concepts that we believe work in the city.
Gambit: What food halls and markets did you draw inspiration from?
C: There's a great market in Napa (California) called Oxbow (Public Market) and I love the Ferry Building (Marketplace) in San Francisco. That's a great example of marrying local culture while also appealing to tourists. They have great anchor spots, like The Slanted Table. I love Chelsea Market in New York. One of my favorite dining experiences was sitting in its seafood market picking at oysters from around the country.
Things like this don't come along a lot in New Orleans. It's such a unique project and a great project to build from the ground up. I like to build and create, and I felt that my background and expertise could lend to all of the things that are involved in us getting started. Right now my focus is leasing the market and finding perfectly curated tenants that will make this space beautiful. Green Coast Enterprises is developing the whole building, which has a lot of great history. It was owned by (Samuel L. Green) the wealthiest African-American gentleman at the time in New Orleans. It was a hub for jazz, and a lot of great jazz musicians came out of there.
Gambit: What can visitors expect when the market opens this summer?
C: I'm building a market that I would want to go to. I see myself as somebody who is pretty well-versed in what is going on in New Orleans. I think there are voids that we can fill. Like Indian food. I would love to see some good Indian (food vendors). I would love to see things we don't have as much of and then see them done very well. For example, I'm half Chinese and I'm always in search of the perfect Chinese restaurant, and unfortunately, New Orleans doesn't have one.
(The Pythian Market) is going to be different from St. Roch (Market) because I think each of our vendors is going to have a little bit more autonomy. The look of St. Roch is St. Roch — it's just gorgeous. If I was them, I would have done exactly what they did. Every booth is marbled, the stalls all look the same and so you're really playing to the building. (The Pythian Market) will allow each of our vendors to build out their booth to the extent they want. So each stall will be branded according to how they want the aesthetic to look. Most of our vendors will be allowed to do their own cocktails — we're working on getting liquor licensing for each one.
So far we have La Cocinita, Frencheeze — who is doing a separate juice concept — and Laurel Street Bakery.