For the past decade, Melba’s has held down the busy corner of Elysian Fields and North Claiborne avenues with 24-hour po-boys, hot plates and daiquiris. Now work is underway to open a second Melba’s on Tulane Avenue in Mid-City.
The new restaurant will be modeled closely on it the original Melba’salthough it is smaller and for that reason will not have the laundromat, which is a major component of the first one.
It is now taking shape at Tulane Avenue, in an old building, formerly used as a car wash, on a triangular lot where D’Hemecourt Street branches off from the main drag. This new Mebla’s should be ready to open within two months.
Owner Scott Wolfe said this new Melba’s will be open 24-hours serving po-boys, breakfast dishes and breakfast sandwiches, plates like stuffed bell peppers and smothered cabbage and fried chicken and wings. It will not have a full-service bar, but instead pour an array of daiquiris. Online ordering and delivery will be a big part of the operation, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he was drawn to the area by the mix of neighborhoods along this stretch of Tulane Avenue to downtown New Orleans, as well as the nearby medical complex, a special consideration for a 24-hour operation.
“The demographics are great, but Tulane Avenue needs more restaurants,” Wolfe said
The new location will have two floors, and the upper level will have an open-air rooftop patio. On the ground level, there will be a large canopy extending from the restaurant to the tip of the triangular lot, creating another shaded outdoor seating area.
When the first Melba’s opened in 2012, it represented the next act for Wolfe, his wife Jane and their family, who had already created some memorable brands with their earlier businesses.
In 1982, when he was 20 and she was 18 and pregnant, they borrowed $10,000 from family members to buy a bankrupt grocery store called Wagner’s, located in one of New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods near what was then the Desire public housing complex.
They built Wagner’s Meat into a local chain and a household name in New Orleans, even for those who never shopped at his stores. Credit its risqué slogan: “You Can’t Beat Wagner’s Meat.”
Wolfe and his family also created the Chicken Box (slogans: “Tastes Like Mama’s” or, at some locations, “Tastes Like Ya Mama’s”), a chain of takeout joints that had a short but colorful run in the years before Hurricane Katrina. This was the company that once offered to put on weddings for couples who bought its 1,000-piece chicken package to cater their receptions.
Hurricane Katrina spelled the end of both of those, although the Wagner’s brand would return under different ownership.
At Melba’s, the Wolfes built a colorful place that serves a cross-section of New Orleans people. Jane Wolfe has also worked in her own community literacy mission, hosting reading events and author visits, including from some heavy hitters.
In 2019, Melba’s hosted Colson Whitehead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and Sarah Broom whose book “The Yellow House” won the National Book Award shortly thereafter.
That same year, Hillary Clinton visited Melba’s while promoting a campaign from her foundation called Too Small to Fail, an early learning initiative that helps turn otherwise utilitarian spaces like laundries, groceries and clinics into places where parents and caregivers can read, talk and play with children.
Wolfe said literacy programs will also extend to the Mid-City location of Melba’s.
1525 Elysian Fields Ave., (504) 267-7765
3205 Tulane Ave., projected opening fall 2022
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