Monday, August 6, 2012

Brewing a successful business in Baton Rouge

In the summer issue of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) magazine, the cover story, “Couples in the Kitchen: Family at the core of many Louisiana restaurants,” shared three couples experiences in the restaurant business. Meet James and Lina Jacobs who recently opened Magpie Café in Baton Rouge.

In early June, James and Lina Jacobs opened their dream business—Magpie Café in Baton Rouge on Perkins Road. Named for their dog Maggie, whose nickname is Magpie, they brought James’ love of a great cup of Italian coffee and Lina’s fondness of locally-sourced and wholesome ingredients to the Perkins Road Historic Merchants District location.

Magpie Cafe owners James and Lina Jacbos.
“Many people consider opening a restaurant, or in the Jacobs’ case a café, for the freedom of being their own boss,” said Stan Harris, President/CEO of the LRA. “Many restaurants are family owned and operated, which is a significant part of the cultural and culinary fabric of Louisiana.”

The groundwork for the cafe was unknowingly laid during a trip to Italy to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.  While there, they tackled the country with no tour guides or real plan and spent 21 days exploring cities, towns and villages.

“I went to Italy with a huge ego about what good coffee was,” said James. “I grew up drinking dark roast with a lot of milk and even used a French press, but I was completely humbled by the coffee, its sophistication and culture in Italy.”

He certainly doesn’t discount the Louisiana coffee culture, but his Italian coffee experience seeded the plan to seize an opportunity to bring a different type of coffee to Baton Rouge.

Lina noticed the regionalism of Italy’s cuisine, as they used what was available and locally harvested. How the available products varied by region was reminiscent of the bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood of Louisiana’s rich land and waters. 

Before they abandoned their former careers for their new found loves, they took a motorcycle trip through the Carolinas. They stopped along the scenic byways to visit coffee shops, restaurants and cafes that offered specialty coffee and organic cuisine similar to their interests.
“The challenges in opening Magpie Café were more than we anticipated,” James said. “We’d never done this before and we thought we’d have time to grow into it.”

What they didn’t expect was to sell out of everything they had in the first hour they were opened during the first two weeks. They were completely overwhelmed by how Baton Rouge embraced their business.

“Right now, we are up to six staff members including Lina and me,” said James. “She and I have been discussing where we go from here, how we will expand our menu to offer more variety and keep up with the demand.”

The couple’s goal is to have Magpie become the pinnacle of the best coffee in the region, bringing true Italian traditions and proper servings. For example, James shared that there is no 24 oz. cappuccino in Italy, while it is routinely available here. 

Fortunately, there is some common ground between their former careers and their new one. James said he feels the immediate satisfaction and rewards of being his own boss instead of reporting to one.

“Being able to act on our own, instead of having to go to a boss, just can’t be topped,” he said. 

If you or someone you know is interested in opening a restaurant, café, coffee shop or sweet shop, the Louisiana Restaurant Association can assist budding entrepreneurs with what you need to know to get started in the industry. From the licenses, required food safety and sanitation and alcohol server training, labor laws and workers’ compensation coverage, the LRA is here to support individuals choosing to make a career in Louisiana’s rich culinary landscape.

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