The Ruby Slipper Cafe, a breakfast-brunch concept based in New Orleans, is spreading its eye-opener menu across the Gulf Coast.
Created by an engineer couple in May 2008, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, The Ruby Slipper has grown to six units, with more company-owned locations on the way, co-owner Jennifer Weishaupt said.
She and her husband, Erich Weishaupt, created the first Ruby Slipper restaurant to cater to residents rebuilding their Mid-City New Orleans neighborhood, which was flooded after Katrina.
The café’s name is rooted in Dorothy Gale’s footwear from the “The Wizard of Oz,” and the menu features Southern breakfast standards, brunch classics and lunch dishes, as well as cocktails.
“That first restaurant was about a block an half from our home,” Jennifer Weishaupt said. “Our Mid-City neighborhood had flooded with about five feet of water. Erich was in real estate and renovating and restoring property in the neighborhood. Our goal was create a restaurant that would be amenity for the neighborhood and attract residents to re-occupy homes in the area.”
The original goal of the 52-seat restaurant was to break even, she said, but it was drawing hour-long waits within a few months.
The couple opened a second Ruby Slipper restaurant in 2010, at a dilapidated former restaurant property found in New Orleans’ central business district from a Craigslist listing, Weishaupt said. The restaurant was also successful, leading the Weishaupts to open a third New Orleans location in December 2012, and a fourth unit in January 2014.
“We wanted to test the concept in a different location, so we choose Pensacola, Fla., and opened that in July 2015,” she said of the fifth restaurant.
The sixth and most recent location, in Orange Beach, Ala., opened in June, and is the couple’s first freestanding new construction.
“Erich’s love really is taking historic buildings and repurposing them,” Weishaupt said.
The Orange Beach restaurant is 5,000 square feet and seats 240 people.
“Our target is about 3,500 square feet and 125 to 150 seats,” Weishaupt said. “Orange Beach is definitely out of the box for what we normally do, but we felt with the seasonal location, we wanted to test the idea of an expandable restaurant.”
The Ruby Slipper is looking at two more locations, as well as rebuilding the original location about six blocks from the existing unit. That will allow them to double in size and include corporate and commissary offices, she said.
“We don’t have any plans to franchise,” Weishaupt said. “We are looking at ways to accelerate growth, but it will be on a company-owned basis.”
The Ruby Slipper specializes in breakfast and brunch and has an average check of $15.50. The best-selling menu item is Eggs Cochon, which features apple-braised pork debris (a Southern term for pork trimmings) served over a buttermilk biscuit with two poached eggs and hollandaise.
Newer Ruby Slipper restaurants feature innovative table inserts that were the product of the owner-engineers’ creativity, said Roland Gilfour, Ruby Slipper’s director of operations, who formerly worked with Landry’s Inc. The wooden table expanders feature embedded metal rails that allow leaves to slip between existing two-tops to accommodate larger parties, Gilfour noted.
Weishaupt said her husband honed the table leaves in order to meet seating-capacity standards to qualify for a liquor license in Florida. But the expanders have proven successive in existing restaurants, as well as in the latest Orange Beach locations.
“First of all, Erich hates when people move tables, and Erich hates when tables wobble in restaurants,” Weishaupt said with a laugh. “That’s one of his pet peeves. When we built the restaurant in Pensacola, he wanted to make sure all the tables were bolted down. … Necessity drives ingenuity.”
The Ruby Slipper Cafe was honored in September by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and Fortune magazine’s Inner City 100 as a fast-growing inner city business. The Ruby Slipper Cafe ranked 46 on that list, and reported 2015 revenue of $9.6 million and a five-year growth rate of 273 percent.
Weishaupt, who left her position as an engineer with Shell Oil Co. last year to focus on The Ruby Slipper, said her sole restaurant experience had been working at McDonald’s when she was young.
“I realized that everything I really needed to know about running a restaurant, I learned in those few years at McDonald’s,” she said.