In the spring of 1997, The Bunch brothers, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began an ambitious project - exporting the authentic experience of an old-style New Orleans coffee house or café to another part of the country. Having grown up with the rich history of New Orleans and the French Quarter and with access to their mother’s recipes, they felt confident in their ability to recreate this tradition. In 2003, Kenneth Williams became The #1 Franchisee and in 2005 he took over the corporate operations. The menu and recipe additions from his family and corporate staff have made Crescent City Beignets even more Authentic.
The history of beignets, café au lait, and the French Market is long and storied. It is believed that the Ursuline Nuns of France, who came to Louisiana 1727, first brought beignets to New Orleans. The basic dough recipe remains the same to this day, providing delicious pillow-pastries, crisp and golden on the outside and light and airy on the inside and served covered with powdered sugar. In 1782 Spanish colonists established what is now called the French Quarter on the banks of the Mississippi River. From the beginning there were vendors in the market selling coffee to the people of New Orleans. Before long coffee houses were social centers for the ethnic and social mix of people along the waterfront. By the early 1800’s the custom of enjoying coffee and beignets in the French Quarter had spread throughout New Orleans society. Sometime in the early-1800’s the experience was enhanced with the introduction of café au lait, a 50-50 mix of very strong coffee and steamed milk.
In 1830 a coffee house opened at the end of the city’s open market, now called the French Market, and it is still operating to this day. This coffee house served café au lait and beignets. Soon the War Between the States began and because of the Yankee blockade, coffee became difficult to find. Soon, chicory, the root of the endive plant, was dried, ground, and roasted and then used to stretch the coffee that was available. Coffee was served very strong. (Some say it was purposely made extra strong to dissuade the unaccustomed palates of the unwelcome Union soldiers.) But the chicory reduced the bitterness and smoothed out the taste of the brew. Coffee houses continue to flourish to the present day and the strong coffee with chicory, as well as café au lait, served with beignets has become a symbol of New Orleans and the French Quarter.
Using this history as a backdrop, the Bunches formulated their business plan. The first Crescent City restaurant opened in Houston, Texas, in July of 1997 to tremendously positive reviews. After appearing on the cover of the Houston Chronicle Dining Guide, the business was off and running.
The initial menu began as simple and as traditional as the old style coffee houses of New Orleans: hot beignets cooked to order and served with rich Louisiana-style coffee and café au lait. Crescent City guests are surrounded by New Orleans jazz and black and white photos of the city’s landmarks, such as Jackson Square and Bourbon Street, all conjuring up images of the Vieux Carre.
By the end of the first year of operations it was decided to expand the menu. The goal was to increase customer choices while staying true to the traditions of a New Orleans style café. The menu was expanded to include authentic Creole dishes, including red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, and shrimp Creole. The most recent menu evolution added po-boys as authentic as those offered in the French Quarter.
As Crescent City continues to grow, Crescent City Beignets Corporation is confident that they have created a fast-casual food service concept unique to today’s franchise market. The menu, while simple and easy to manage, has received exceptional reviews from the dining public, as well as dining critics. Both the products offered by Crescent City and the casual dining atmosphere appeal to a full cross section of customers from teenagers to couples to families to seniors. The Crescent City concept involves the art of providing beignets, café au lait and other food and beverages consistent with the traditions of South Louisiana and the French Quarter. Crescent City Corporation guarantee both the freshness and authenticity of everything on the Crescent City menu.
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