The Rabbit’s Foot Market and Cafe Runs Out of Luck

NEW ORLEANS — The Rabbit’s Foot is preparing to close for good. Ryan Murphy, owner of the market and cafe in the Lower Garden District, broke the news on Facebook. The business opened in the spring of 2022 and built a reputation for its “modern bodega” style breakfast sandwiches.

“It is with deep sadness that I have to tell a story that is too familiar recently,” he wrote. “The Rabbit’s Foot will be closing and Sunday, Dec. 3 will be our last day of service. The last six months crushed us and we couldn’t keep going carrying debt that we gained after Hurricane Ida delayed our opening by seven months.”

Murphy said it is “incredibly frustrating to end a business that, by most measures, has been successful and growing.” He blamed the slow summer and surprisingly slow October sales for an insurmountable buildup of debt. Other restaurants have reported similar experiences this year, and, earlier this month, the owners of Marjie’s Grill announced plans to close and return with a new format.

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Murphy is a West Virginia native who’s worked in the hospitality industry for two decades while living in nine different states. His quest to open the Rabbit’s Foot began after he moved back to New Orleans, his wife’s hometown, for the third time in 2018. During previous stints in town, he worked at Donald Link’s Cochon and at Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel.

When the pandemic hit, Murphy pivoted away from the idea of a restaurant built around a wood-fired oven. Instead, he dreamed up a cafe combined with a market that featured goods from local makers and vendors. He looked at many potential properties for his dream business until he found what he was looking for in the vacant building at 2042 Prytania Street that was home to Zara’s grocery store until 2014.

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Ryan Murphy

“Every space I went, I always took a little notebook with me to sketch everything out,” he said. “And the initial sketch I have versus what’s there now is almost identical. So I just saw it.”

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Murphy said he raised more than a half million dollars from private investors to pay for a buildout of the space and to buy more than $200,000 worth of equipment. Unfortunately, the price tag grew and the timeline stretched by more than six months when Hurricane Ida disrupted the supply chain and boosted the cost of materials and labor.

He said during the hospitality industry’s busy season, which is November through April, the Rabbit’s Foot averaged more than $4,000 in daily receipts. The summer 2023 numbers were about 60% of that amount. Then, when the October numbers were less than expected, reality began to set in.

Murphy said the earlier Ida construction delay ate through needed cash reserves, so the business had to resort to taking out high-interest loans to make purchases and pay employees.

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“Once you’re open as a business, it’s incredibly hard to get funding, because for pretty much any bank loan, you need two years of tax returns. And, of course, we didn’t have that,” he said. “And then to get an SBA loan, you have to have collateral. My wife and I don’t own a home, we rent. So that was a no go. So the only options available were those just really terrible predatory loans.”

A surprise tax bill from the state that came over the Thanksgiving holiday was the final straw, and Murphy realized the debt burden had become unmanageable. He announced plans to shut things down sooner than later.

He said he’s meeting with his landlords, who bought the building soon after he opened the Rabbit’s Foot, in the coming days to plan the next steps. The ideal scenario, he said, is to find another operator to take over the lease. 

But for now he’s mostly worried about taking care of his staff as the holiday season approaches. Supporters can donate to their cause via a gofundme campaign that’s linked from the Rabbit’s Foot Instagram account.

“Please come through these last few days to have a last hurrah, support the staff, and clear out our shelves,” Murphy wrote on social media. “If anyone is hiring please comment below. I would love for my staff to be able to land somewhere great.”

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