It’s always a good thing when preservation is witnessed in a neighborhood or city. A very good thing for downtown Gretna was when the dilapidated, termite damaged hot mess on Gretna’s landmark main street was finally restored! Locals will remember the location as Stumpf’s Drug Store!
It is today a thriving, highly popular new eatery called El Gato Negro, a part of a local chain owned by Juan Contreras. Touting themselves as the authentic Mexican kitchen, El Gato’s other locations are popular spots in New Orleans in the French Quarter, Warehouse District and Lakeview area.
On Dec. 16, a formal ribbon cutting was held by City of Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant and the City Council to welcome the new business at 301 Huey P. Long Avenue to the neighborhood. Councilman Mike Hinyub presented Contreras with a Certificate of Appreciation from the City.
“Having a restaurant like El Gato invest as heavily as they did in the City of Gretna speaks volumes about the success opportunities within the downtown of our city,” Mayor Constant said.
Sandy Sallettes, a 20 year veteran residential and commercial realtor with the Century 21 Richard Berry Family is largely responsible for the transition. Proudly a part of the ribbon cutting ceremony, Sallettes told the story from the very beginning.
“I met Juan Contreras about five years ago when I was working in the Lakeview area where he has an El Gato location on Harrison Avenue. So impressed with the high quality, freshness and the incredible taste of his food, I began going there several times a week. One day I asked to meet the owner and was told he was in the back cooking. So I waited. He came out, we met and a handshake later we became family from that day forward,” Sallettes said.
“I met his mom and dad, his son and daughter. I sold his son a house in Terrytown near Juan’s mom and dad. His entire family is just like Juan, down to earth, hardworking and just good people. Juan shared with me that he would love for his next location to be on the Westbank, particularly in Old Gretna. He wanted to be in the Farmers’ Market circle, which was tough because nothing was for sale there at the time. But that didn’t stop me.
“One Sunday afternoon, I was driving down Huey P. Long Avenue and saw the 2-story green building on the corner of 3rd Street and Huey P. Long. A long time ago when I was a little girl, it had been the home of the old Stumpf’s Drugstore. The building currently was a law office and was in very bad condition with severe termite damage and other major problems. I took a picture of the building and sent it to Juan and kiddingly said, “I would love to have one of your margarita’s right here. And he responded, “I love it. Get it for me.” And that’s how it all began.
“I knew the owner of the building and I called her and after some negotiation, they agreed on a sales price and then the due diligence began. We closed at the end of June in 2019. It took longer than expected to open the restaurant because of the condition of the building and with the many hurdles that needed jumping! Conditions of the pandemic made it difficult to get the building materials. Unfortunately, not much of the original could be salvaged, but Juan managed to save some heart of pine wood from behind the walls that was repurposed into a dance floor and table tops, sanded and varnished and really beautiful.
“Juan is a very hard worker and very personable. If you meet him, you will just like him immediately. His restaurants are dedicated to his father and mother, who immigrated to this great country with nothing but dreams with their three children. Juan started as a dishwasher in 1983 at the age of 14, because he wanted a pair of Nikes. After more than 30 years of restaurant experience, he is very proud of his new location in Old Gretna and to be a part of this great little city.
“Juan was so grateful and appreciative of this being my vision from the beginning, he honored me with a table in my name upstairs. There is actually a sign on the wall, “Sandy’s Table.” El Gato Negro has become quite popular and will likely continue to be such a great success,” Sallettes said.
Stumpf’s Drug Store, originally on Front Street was the first location that Archie Stump, a pharmacist opened in Gretna. According to John F. “Jack” Stumpf, Archie’s grandson, the family started with a drug store on Laurel Street in New Orleans, crossed the ferry to Gretna and from then on, the Stumpf family was woven into Gretna history. In the 1900’s, Archie opened his second pharmacy at the Huey P. Long Avenue location. He rented most of the space downstairs and Sam’s Barber Shop was located downstairs on the right side of the building. There were apartments upstairs.
Archie Stumpf was a good man who helped people with their medical issues, especially those who couldn’t afford the services of a doctor. Circa 1965, Stumpf’s opened a drug store in the new Westside Shopping Center, keeping the Huey P. Long location for a time. Archie’s son, Patrick Stumpf, a graduate pharmacist took over the drug store business when Archie retired.
The Huey P. Long Avenue building was let as offices to lawyers when Stumpf’s Drug Store at that location closed. It was still being rented out as law offices until the building was sold.
Juan Contreras and his family has given new life to the 3rd Street corner of the Avenue. El Gato Negro’s extensive menu was inspired by family recipes from the western Mexican state of Michoacan. Offerings include tender seared beef, fire-grilled seafood and roasted pork carefully prepared with the finest and freshest ingredients. Patrons enjoy refreshing cocktails such as pineapple cilantro margaritas or muddled fruit mojitos made to order with hand-squeezed satsumas, raspberries and limes, plus top shelf tequilas and rums. Rare beers, tequilas and other imported concoctions native to Mexico that are not easily found stateside are at the ready.
El Gatos’s Gretna hours are Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and 5-9 p.m. for dinner; Friday and Saturday 11a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and 5-10 p.m. for dinner.
A newly added Happy Hour will start on Monday, Jan. 4 and thereafter every Sunday-Thursday from 3-6 p.m.
Have a story you’d like to share? Contact me here.