Companies that think the key to future success lies in constant reinvention may want to take a good look at Café Du Monde. That's because the world-famous coffee stand, which has been operating out of the same location in the New Orleans' French Quarter since 1862, has become a staple of the Big Easy.
And it’s managed to do this with just two items on its menu: beignets — a type of square doughnut — and café au lait, Café Du Monde's own blend of coffee mixed with chicory.
The menu, however, is not the only thing that has stayed the same at Café Du Monde over the years. Since 1942, the coffee stand has been owned and run by the same family.
It was in that year that Hubert Fernandez purchased the restaurant. Today, ownership is in its third generation, and subsequent generations are preparing to take over the family business. That stability has paid enormous dividends to the Jackson Square mainstay.
"If I had to pick the one thing that leads to our success, it would be how long it has stayed the same," said Burton Benrud, vice president of Café Du Monde. "The last time we changed anything on the menu was in 1988 when we introduced iced coffee, frozen café au lait, on our menus and added a soft drink machine. People have grown up coming to Café Du Monde and repeat visitors, even though they may not have been to New Orleans in a long time, are always very happy to find the store is the same way they left it."
Super Bowl brewing
It’s not just the beignets and café au lait that have people coming back to Café Du Monde, Benrud said. They also come to soak in the restaurant’s famed atmosphere — a 400-seat restaurant and outdoor seating area.
"We are open 24 hours a day and we only close on Christmas or when the occasional hurricane gets a little too close to New Orleans," Benrud said. "It doesn’t pay for us to close. Even at slow hours, there is someone who will show up and we want people to know they can come to the Café Du Monde at any point in the day. At those hours, the business crawls and at others there are 400 people sitting down and another 400 waiting to get in."
Former presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as many celebrities including Jay Leno have braved those crowds.
This year tens of thousands more people will be introduced or reintroduced to Café Du Monde as they come to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII. Benrud said the restaurant has plans to deal with those crowds.
"We are putting a tent up and we will increase our fryer bank so that we can make beignets faster and so the lines won't be as long to get in," said Benrud, who estimates the restaurant will use 19 50-pound bags of flour in a busy eight-hour shift.
Slow winds of change
While many things have stayed the same at Café Du Monde, there have been some changes over the years.
Today, there are eight additional Café Du Monde locations throughout Louisiana. The company has also expanded its business outside of the state.
It’s also gone international — in a sense.
In 1990, the Café Du Monde penned an agreement with a Japanese company called Duskin, which gave the company the right to use the Café Du Monde trademark in Japan.
The company also sells canned coffee and boxed beignet mix via the Internet and in supermarkets.
Although Café Du Monde may now be offered outside of Louisiana, its home base remains in New Orleans. At no time was that more evident than after Hurricane Katrina, when Café Du Monde closed for seven weeks in the wake of the storm. The reopening of the coffee stand proved to be a small step toward normalcy in one of the city’s darkest hours.
However, Benrud acknowledges that Café Du Monde is just as dependent upon the city of New Orleans as the city is upon the restaurant. After all, Café Du Monde has been around for more than 150 years of New Orleans’ 295-year history. The iconic status of the city itself has helped the company brand itself as a landmark.
In many ways, Café Du Monde has become synonymous with New Orleans.
"When people, and the media, in particular, do come to New Orleans, they end up making a stop at the Café Du Monde,” Benrud said.
Benrud credits the location of Café Du Monde in the busy French Market for that popularity. He also said the company benefits from the fact that New Orleans is slow to adopt change.
"We have been very fortunate that the winds of change don’t blow very strongly at the Café Du Monde," Benrud said. "There isn’t a foreseeable breeze that could blow to make our coffee and beignets obsolete. That is something that everyone in business needs to look out for. Once you get past that, it is about the succession plan and doing what you like. You need to like what you are doing since you are going to be doing it for a long time."