The name La Petite Grocery pays homage to the history of the building that houses our restaurant: In the late 1800s, John B. Willig built a Creole-style cottage on the corner of Magazine and Berlin (renamed General Pershing after World War I) Streets in the Jefferson City area of New Orleans. He leased the store to a young entrepreneur named Frank W. Mackie and together they opened the Central Tea, Coffee and Butter Depot.
The small store was located across the street from the Jefferson Market, a very busy center of trade due to its proximity to the bustling port of New Orleans. Mr. Mackie would sell items such as butter, fresh from the creamery; coffee, which was roasted in the store; teas, imported from around the world; as well as local goods like pecans, rice and field beans. Customers would come by foot, horse and buggy or take a ferry from across the river to purchase the delectable and unique groceries they stocked in their store.
The store was enjoying success in a rapidly growing neighborhood. Then, on a May night in 1908, a fire that spread roughly two square miles devastated the area and burned the store to the ground. In an act of honorable resilience, Mr. Willig, along with his daughter Josephine, agreed to rebuild at the same address. The architect Joseph M. De Fraites was in charge of design and construction, while Frank W. Mackie would oversee the whole project.
The end result was a building like no other in the neighborhood at the time: it had a full service grocery store in front and a barn in back to house delivery carriages, a few horses, stable hands and delivery boys. Once again Mr. Mackie would be in charge of operating the store, reflected in its new name: “Frank W. Mackie Grocer.” In advertisements, Mackie boasted of “fancy groceries.” Tea, coffee and butter remained the store’s specialty.
The store operated successfully for 35 years during which Mr. Mackie acquired ownership from the Willigs. Before Frank Mackie passed away in 1942, the store was handed down to his youngest son, Richard H. Mackie. Richard, an accomplished jazz musician, operated the store with his mother, Mrs. Winnifred Fahey Mackie, until November of that year before selling the building and grocery store to Frank A. Von der Haar. The Von der Haars operated their grocery, Von der Haar’s Fine Foods, for nearly four decades. In was a staple in the uptown neighborhood, known for its high quality butcher shop and city-wide delivery, until it closed in 1982.
Not long after Von der Haar’s closed its doors, Irwin’s Flowers moved in and provided the area with some of the most artfully presented fresh floral arrangements in the New Orleans area. Mr. Irwin’s flower shop closed just after the turn of the millennium.
In March of 2004, La Petite Grocery opened its doors in the same building that John Willig and Frank Mackie built almost 100 years earlier with similar aspirations: to provide the neighborhood with exotic teas, locally roasted coffee and fresh produce. By doing this we hope to provide a dining experience that evokes nostalgia of old New Orleans.