Jan. 25, 2013 02:38

Despite the upscale Cajun restaurant's runaway success in New Orleans, Cajun Country did not embrace the concept.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated with new information and comments from Ruffino's owner Ruffin Rodrigue.]

A little more than a year after opening his sprawling Riverfront restaurant (easily the most beautifully designed in town) on Camellia Boulevard in River Ranch, renowned chef Donald Link is calling it quits. The warm yet contemporary feel achieved by Cochon was not enough to sustain the business, a fact easily observed by the sparsely populated restaurant - a direct contrast with the runaway success the casual eatery has enjoyed in New Orleans' Warehouse District. 

While the menu tweaks Cochon made in recent months and other promotions appeared to be catching on, the restaurant was said to have been preparing to check out of the market for some time. 

Donald Link, left, at his New Orleans
Cochon, one of the most popular
eateries in the Warehouse District

Selling upscale Cajun to Cajuns? It was a gamble that did just not pay off for the Lake Charles native - not when millions had been invested. While Link may be leaving Lafayette, the talent behind New Orlreans' Herbsaint, Cochon and Butcher is far from done when it comes to restaurant development. 

Cochon spokeswoman Liz Goliwas Bodet released this statement to The IND Friday morning:

Link Restaurant Group (LRG) announced today that it was re-focusing its development efforts in the New Orleans market. With the planned opening of a new wood-fired seafood restaurant this spring at the corner of Magazine and Julia Street, the company resources will be concentrated in the city. As a result, LRG is exiting the Lafayette market. The Cochon Lafayette location will become a new restaurant operated by the owners of Ruffino's in Baton Rouge. We've enjoyed our time in Lafayette. We're also happy that the beautiful Vermilion River location we built will become a vibrant new restaurant serving an excellent menu from a highly regarded Louisiana operator.

At press time we were still trying to confirm the actual closing date of the local Cochon. A manager told IND Monthly Thursday night it would remain open for about two weeks (we're hearing Feb. 10), so there is still time to take in that last meal and fabulous scenery.

Lafayette will surely welcome Ruffino's, the wildly popular Italian-Creole fusion restaurant on Highland Road in Baton Rouge (said to offer steaks that will give Ruth's Chris a run for its money and a wine program that'll excite all local oenophiles: Silver Oak and Caymus for $99 a bottle).

Ruffin Rodrigue, Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden
and Executive Chef Peter Sclafani

Ruffino's, owned by former LSU lineman Ruffin Rodrigue and Executive Chef Peter Sclafani, will make some interior changes but is not planning a major overhaul, Rodrigue tells IND Monthly. A private dining room is part of the planned renovations, the entrance may be relocated, and some other changes to the flow and colors of the restaurant are being discussed, he says.

"We kind of feel like the building was meant for us," Rodrigue says.  

The restaurant will likely be called Ruffino's on the River, primarly a white tablecloth dinner venue. Like the Baton Rouge eatery, plans call for it to open for lunch only on Fridays, with a brunch offering on Sunday.

Ruffino's negotiated a lease-purchase agreement with Link and his father-in-law, who own the real estate, according to Rodrigue. The new restaurant will seat about 250, Rodrigue estimates, signficantly less than the 400 accommodated in Baton Rouge. 

The Baton Rouge restaurant was founded as DiNardo's (after the former LSU coach) in 1998, and Rodrigue and Sclafani secured an equity interest in the venture in 2000, prompting the name change. They bought out their partner, T.J. Moran, three years ago. 

One big question for potential Lafayette diners of Ruffino's on the River: Will it offer the Mercedes sprinter van service here like it does in Baton Rouge? We're dying to know.

Yes, Rodrigue says, it'll happen. But probably not immediately. He hopes to open the new restaurant in April.

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