By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 09, 2004 at 5:46 AM

{image1}The closing of Crescent City Beignets, 731 N. Milwaukee St., after only six months in business has left neighbors and customers baffled. The restaurant unexpectedly failed to open for business last week, and after three days of silence, OMC contacted franchise owner Timothy Tuttle.

Tuttle was unwilling to comment, but when asked if should remove Crescent City from the site's business listings he said, "It would be pretty safe to remove the listing."

The store's manager, Terry Swarthout, was also unwilling to comment.

Eric Durant, director of the Grain Exchange Condominium Association, the condos perched above the former restaurant, said, "They had a good product and excellent location. Lines often extended onto the sidewalk during lunchtime and the beignets were excellent, consistently well prepared and reasonably priced."

But Durant, an assistant professor at MSOE, also admitted there were problems.

"Evening and weekend business was much slower, though. While the service was friendly ... there were issues with preparation. The temperature was not consistent across visits and there were occasional 10-minute waits after ordering until the food was brought out."

Cubanitas restaurant owner Marta Bianchini said the fact they didn't have evening hours might have been the problem.

"The block is the busiest from 5 'clock on," she said, adding that her Cuban-concept restaurant across the street at 728 N. Milwaukee St. is thriving.

But Crescent City Beignets CEO, Wayne Bunch, said they did test evening hours and it didn't work.

"We did very well at lunch but very little weekend and night business," he said.

Bunch also claimed there were a number of reasons, and was willing to disclose one.

"The location was not the greatest. We just didn't do well in a business district," he said. "We simply weren't doing the sales figures we needed to do."

But Randy Prasse of the East Town Association disagreed.

"I felt as though they were in the right space: close to hotels, larger employers and had already established dining along there," he said.

For the record, the restaurant was also located on the street-level of a condo project which usually spells instant customer base.

"One of their employees cited all of the low-carb diets and people's New Year's resolutions for impacting their business," continued Prasse. "At first I thought they were joking but the more I think about it -- fast food, packaged foods and restaurants are all promoting their 'Atkins-friendly' ingredients and menu items -- it could be more real than I originally thought."

But Milwaukee's Krispy Kreme doughnut shops, located in Brookfield and West Allis, have not experienced slow downs, despite the recent popularity of low-carb diets.

"We have not slowed down one bit and you wouldn't believe what's in our doughnuts," said Debbie Cooper, the assistant manger of the Krispy Kreme in West Allis.

(According to Mark Hermann of the Brookfield Krispy Kreme, an original Krispy Kreme doughnut has 22 carb grams and 200 calories, 100 of which are fat calories.)

"We're as busy as ever," said Hermann.

Crescent City Beignets is a chain with 12 locations around the country and another 80+ locations in the works. The downtown Milwaukee location was the only one in the Midwest and the first in the Milwaukee-area.

Beignets (pronounced "ben-yays") are deep-fried, square-shaped donuts heavily sprinkled with powder sugar. They are originally from New Orleans' French Quarter.

Crescent City also served strong coffee and food, including red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, shrimp Creole, crawfish bisque and eggs NOLA (Short for New Orleans, LA)

Perhaps another reason for the store's demise was that with its tinted windows, it always looked closed. Regardless of the reason why Crescent City Beignets' closed, the location is prime retail space and Prasse is optimistic other businesses will achieve success there.

"The corner of Milwaukee and Mason has a chance at being the hub of the burgeoning retail and restaurant activity," he said. "As much as I am concerned about Milwaukee Street getting inundated with bars and clubs, I think that any new retail that moves into that area will be able to coexist with the night life."

And for the Beignet fans out there, Crescent City may return someday. Although Bunch said Tuttle has no plans to reopen the Milwaukee Street location and that the company is focusing on the Minneapolis market right now, never say never.

"I wouldn't rule out us re-entering the market in the future," said Bunch.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.