NEW ORLEANS Archie A. Casbarian, who lifted the once down-on-its-heels French-Creole restaurant Arnaud’s to prominence and made it a must-stop for the powerful, died Saturday of esophageal cancer. He was 72.
Casbarian and his wife, Jane, took over Arnaud’s in 1978 after the restaurant, founded in 1918 by Arnaud Cazenave, had become worn at the edges. After Arnaud's reopening, Casbarian hosted every sitting president since Jimmy Carter.
Casbarian was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and graduated from L'Ecole Hoteliere de la Societe Suisse des Hoteliers in Lausanne, Switzerland. He later attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and worked with the Sonesta Corp., which assigned him to the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans after a number of appointments abroad.
The Royal Sonesta was across the street from Arnaud’s, which was being run by founder Arnaud Cazenave’s daughter, Germaine Cazenave Wells. Casbarian convinced Wells to allow him to take over the property.
“The place was a wreck,” a history on the Arnaud’s website recalls. “Almost all of the dining rooms had long been closed. Despite that, Casbarian was committed to the idea that the new Arnaud’s should look like Arnaud’s, not like a brand-new restaurant. The original chandeliers, iron columns and cypress paneling were kept. The old ceiling fans also stayed – even though few of them worked, then or now.”
The Casbarians invested $2.5 million to renovate the warren of buildings on Bienville Street, and the new Arnaud’s opened on Feb. 29, 1979.
Casbarian was known for his unfailing and highly refined approach to hospitality, taking great steps to fulfill the guests’ wishes.
Jim Funk, president and chief executive of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said, “Archie Casbarian was one of the first people to befriend me when I started with the Louisiana Restaurant Association in 1981. It is with deep sadness that our industry has lost such a brilliant restaurateur. Archie understood the business of hospitality as well as anyone and continued the legacy of one of the most notable and world-renowned fine dining establishments in the Crescent City.”
The Casbarians have received a number of honors. “Archie and his wife, Jane, were named 'Restaurateurs of the Year' in 1998 for their success in bring world-wide attention to our cuisine, for their community involvement and their commitment to the Louisiana restaurant industry,” Funk said.
Casbarian is survived by his wife, Jane, and two children, Archie and Katy Casbarian. The children serve as vice presidents of their family's restaurant