By T. Scott Boatright
Hopes for a bar to be located in the city of Ruston’s newly-created overlay district are one step closer to becoming reality after Ruston’s Planning and Zoning Boardgranted a conditional use permit to Bourgeois Restaurant Group during a Monday night meeting.
A conditional use permit is a zoning exception that allows the use of a property in a non-conforming way.
Desi Bourgeois, who owns and operates Grown and Grazed, one of the three food trucks at the park — which also includes Staple Sandwich Co. and Bad Wolf BBQ –plans to first build a bar inside the old Heard Warehouse Building at the Heard Freighthouse Food Park with hopes of eventually also adding a full-service restaurant to be located next to the bar.
“The bar will be a bar – no one under 18 allowed,” Bourgeois said. “Our goal is to create on and extend on what we’ve already done, and that is to have a place that creates a more-thoughtful, high-quality beverage. We want to be a craft-cocktail bar. A place where someone can go because they want to have a drink – a special drink.
“Or they want to have a drink with friends in a space that is really well-designed and makes them feel comfortable – makes them want to be there as opposed to somewhere just to go drunk. Our intent is to not create a space that can become a free-for-all place where craziness happens. Our goal is to create an experience, just as we’ve done with Freighthouse Food Park. And eventually we want to do that with a restaurant as well – create an experience here in Ruston that people now are driving out of town to get.”
But first the warehouse must be renovated to accommodate a bar.
“What will come first is the loading dock that we’ll re-add to the building,” Bourgeois said. “That will come back into play because it’s a key access point to restrooms for the entire property. We’ll facade the whole building – bring it back to the original facade. So we’ll reopen the original warehouse doors and we’ll restore the awning to the original front of the building and we’re going to watertight the building with a new roof.”
The construction work for restrooms and a bar will only be in part of the old warehouse.
“We’re basically going to restore the north third of the building,” Bourgeois said. “The bar will be in the far northwest corner of the building, with the bathrooms behind that directly to the east. And then commissary kitchen equipment to support food truck operations will go in. It may not go in completely at first but will go in as a viable commissary space. It may not have all the cooking equipment at this point, but it will definitely have a three-compartment sink, prep tables and things like that.”
Bourgeois said that securing funding, which he believes will happen, is another early part of the process of creating a bar at the site along with completely finalizing architectural plans.
“The architecture work is way along,” Bourgeois said. “We’ve been working on this project for five years now, and really hard for about three years now. We’re not 100% complete on what we’re settled in on as far as design, but the space itself is laid out.
“We know where walls are going, we know where doors are going, we know where the bar will be and where the walk-in coolers will be. But as far as the finishing touches, we’re not quite sure on that yet. We have some things to talk through, but we have a good feel for what we want in the space, it’s just a question of whether we can achieve it. The biggest hurdle right now is figuring out if we can watertight the roof and if we can do that cost-effectively.”
Bourgeois said it’s still too early for a timeline to when the bar could open, but he’s hopeful the process won’t take too long.
“It’s still so early a timeline is hard to nail down. Ideally we’d love to start the project as soon as possible. If we can get funding we hope to start this project before fall. And it all depends on how fast construction can go.
“We’re also at the mercy of materials and equipment, but that’s not as big a deal as it was when we were in Phase I and we were trying to get electrical panels and things like that. I think that’s all been alleviated at this point. So hopefully Phase II will be a little bit quicker. But the first big deal is obtaining that second round of funding.”
Bourgeois said hopes are to include some live music at times without overpowering the ambiance he hopes to bring to the setting he wants to create.
“There’s a stage already on the property,” Bourgeois said. “We actually put in infrastructure to run speaker wire and equipment wire to permanently wire the property outdoors for events and just ambiance with music out there. Unfortunately, it’s been really hard to acquire the equipment.
“We’re still trying to get the right equipment. We’ve gotten some input from some locals who do this professionally. But just acquiring the equipment we’d like to have has been difficult. It’s just not out there.”
Bourgeois said those issues could be overcome on a temporary basis if deemed necessary.
“If we need to rent sound equipment, we’ll rent sound equipment until we can figure out a permanent solution. But in that vein, inside that bar space we might want someone in the corner playing guitar. It’s not going to be a giant space. It’ll hold maybe 50-60 people. I want people to be able to interact.”
Planning and Zoning Board member Wilbert Ellis said the Bourgeois agreed to the only requested condition to make the conditional use permit happen.
“We asked and they agreed to put fencing between the property and the railroad itself,” Ellis said. “That’s something we wanted simply for safety reasons.”