With a drastic slowdown in business due to the coronavirus, Stanley Restaurant’s owners Scott and Tanya Boswell discover a surprising sense of purpose and pleasure in the little things, all the while keeping a constant eye on the horizon.
Known for its all-day brunch menu featuring Eggs Benedict Po-Boys and Bananas Foster French Toast, Stanley Restaurant has been feeding French Quarter diners since 2008. Owner and chef Scott Boswell and his business partner and wife Tanya originally opened the brunch spot next door to their fine dining restaurant Stella! on Chartres Street, but after the levee failures of 2005, they saw an incredible opportunity and successfully outbid Starbucks for its current spot on Jackson Square. Though Stella! closed in 2014, Stanley has remained strong, even withstanding the current COVID-19 crisis.
In the beginning of the outbreak, the Boswells were forced to close for a couple of months after delivery and takeout orders were simply not abundant enough to continue, not to mention the constant worry for the safety of their employees and guests. But with stimulus money, PPP loans, and reduced staff and hours, Stanley Restaurant opened its doors again in mid-May. With limited seating options due to mandate restrictions, the Boswells decided to take it outside. “I’ve taken over a little part of Jackson Square and just did what I could and it’s been good,” says Tanya. “People like our set up and say ‘Oh! I feel like I’m in Europe!’ I figured some people are eating outside in parking lots so why not eat while looking at the gorgeous St. Louis Cathedral.”
Before the pandemic, putting tables out in Jackson Square would’ve been problematic considering the artists, street performers, fortune tellers and other vendors had all staked their own little piece of property in the square. But now, it’s become more communal. “I’m glad the artists are there because people are eating and looking at their beautiful art and hopefully supporting them,” says Tanya. “It just helps everybody to have some action around here.”
The millions of tourists that typically flood the French Quarter every year have greatly reduced, but there are still people driving in from neighboring states on the Gulf Coast, spending a few days to enjoy what’s available. “We’re seeing the bulk of the business on Saturday and Sunday.” says Tanya “But we’re sort of just taking things day by day because we just don’t know.” Perhaps this Fall people will start trickling into the city in greater numbers, but all we can do is wait and see.
While the menu hasn’t changed much, Chef Scott Boswell finds himself invigorated by the responsibilities he’s had to assume since the pandemic began, taking solace in keeping the restaurant going regardless of the obvious obstacles. “We’re a very prime-located, recognizable restaurant and we certainly don’t want the first people traveling here to go to closed doors,” says Scott. “We just keep moving forward knowing that at some point the pendulum is going to tip and we’ll be back to working in the black.”
Back in his Mid-City commissary kitchen “The Paint Factory,” Chef Boswell has discovered a newfound love of the little things. “I’m enjoying just kind of being that facilitator and not doing everything for everybody, but just making sure that all the people on my team, including my wife, when they go to reach for that – whatever it is – I make sure that it’s there,” says Scott. “I think this pandemic has really been an eye-opener to get down to Jackson Square again where I haven’t been for some time now, and to be interactive with my team and my staff as much as I can.”
In addition to doing a lot of the prep work and purchasing, Boswell has added a couple of items to Stanley’s “starters” section of the menu, French Fried Frog Legs with horseradish potato salad and lemon-Tabasco honey butter, and Boudin Croquettes made with his own, house made boudin, Velveeta and a Rotel Tomato fondue. The frog leg dish was created by the chef almost a decade ago, but they never came to fruition until now. “I was going to have french fried frog legs wrapped in butcher paper and have people walking around the French Quarter eating frogs legs,” laughed Scott. “The only problem is there would be little frog bones discarded everywhere.”
Along with their classic brunch items, Stanley Restaurant is still offering stellar burgers and sandwiches such as their mouth-watering Reuben made with Cajun corned beef pastrami and the ever popular cornmeal-crusted oyster poor boy. Italian sodas and their own, house made ice cream, created in an exquisite, Italian Carpigiani machine, remain favored draws, plus they have also added the classic New Orleans favorite, sno-balls. “I don’t really have the sno-ball machine I really want though,” admits Scott. “I would like the bigger, Cadillac, Sno-Wizard machine.”
Through the recent hardships and a murky, uncertain tomorrow, the Boswells can’t help planning for the future. While hinting at an expanded menu to dreaming of more locations, it’s the small, everyday delights that keep them going. “I just know that I am having more pleasure than I’ve had in a while,” says Scott. “It’s kind of been our sole business model, since the beginning, is making a great product people can relate to and want to be a part of, and that’s pretty much it.”
*Originally published in FrenchQuarterJournal.com on October 24, 2020