Otter's Chicken restaurant closes

by Mary Tutwiler

While I've reported recently the plethora of new restaurants opening, I've been chastised by readers to tell the whole story. Restaurants do also close in Lafayette; it's a tough business. Otter's Chicken is the latest closure in a string this fall that includes Sage, Serranos, Phoenician Grill and Collage. Owner Talbott Ottinger says the demise of both the Lafayette and Breaux Bridge Otter's locations is a layered story, but the oil and gas drilling moratorium in the Gulf, enforced because of the BP oil spill, caused the coup de grace. "Sales had dropped dramatically since the spill," Ottinger says. "We stopped seeing guys coming in wearing jumpsuits with oil company logos. And even after the moratorium was lifted, it was still affecting us."

Talbott, along with his brother Stuart and high school and college friends Steve Logan and Charlie Fitzgerald, started the first Otter's in 2003 in Nashville, Tenn. The brothers are sons of Lafayette Consolidated Government attorney Pat Ottinger. That restaurant proved so popular the partners expanded to three locations in Tennessee before launching in the Ottingers' home town, Lafayette.

Planned in 2007, the economic free fall of 2008 greatly affected profits, says Talbott. Another factor was the limited menu, based solely on chicken, at a time when chicken plants were closing in Louisiana. "The price of chicken has been at a 10-year high for the last year," Talbott says, "in a business that has a thin profit margin, really pennies."

The Breaux Bridge location opened three days after the spill, in late April, and was never able to stabilize with the uncertainty of the local oil-based economy. The Lafayette restaurant closed Dec. 4.

Stuart Ottinger posted this notice on the Otter's Facebook page:
Stuart Ottinger December 4 at 11:56am
It is with great sadness and regret that we have decided to close the Lafayette location at the close of business today, Saturday the 4th. Given the current state of the economy and the effects of the oil moratorium on the area we are faced with this tough decision.

If you are in Lafayette today, please stop by and have a meal or beer so we can get rid of our inventory and please encourage others to stop by as well.

We would like to personally thank each of our loyal customers for your support for the past two years. We hope that if you are ever in the Nashville or Atlanta area you will visit some of our other locations.

We will have $2 beers all day so come watch the SEC Championship with us.

Best Regards,
The Otter's Family
Evidently the national economy is not taking the same toll on other Otter's locations. A new restaurant opened in Marietta, Ga., in July, and it's going great guns, according to Talbott. Which is saying a lot when the competition is national brands, with deep corporate pockets for advertising. As for Lafayette, "it's a tough foodie world," he says. "Everybody thinks their mama's fried chicken recipe is the best."

Talbott says his location, on the corner of Kaliste Saloom and Pinhook, is attracting attention. "We've been approached by people with other concepts," he says. "They're looking at our building."