As fourth-generation owner of Arnaud’s Restaurant, one of New Orleans’ premier dining establishments since 1918, Katy Casbarian is proud to carry on her late father Archie’s legacy of serving exceptional Creole cuisine. Her success as a leader derives from her understanding that the restaurant’s continued success lies in achieving a balance between preserving the past and embracing the future.
This year, she serves as chair of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA). Casbarian has ascended the leadership ladder, having served as President of the LRA Greater New Orleans Chapter, the Chair of the State Communications Committee, and through the Executive Committee ranks.
From toddler age, Casbarian, along with her brother Archie, found themselves at home in the 975-seat restaurant with rich wood paneling and mosaic tile floors in the dining room, and corridors above with beautifully decorated private dining rooms.
“As children of restaurateurs, we had a remarkable experience growing up at Arnaud’s,” Casbarian fondly recalls. “Our father cleared out one of the store rooms for Archie and me to do our homework when we finished school and extracurricular activities. As kids, we ran the restaurant, playing office, from that store room.”
A graduate of Isidore Newman School, Casbarian attended Cornell University, earning a degree from the prestigious School of Hotel Administration, just as her father had. Casbarian kick-started her career at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, where she excelled in her work as restaurant manager, assistant executive steward and sales manager.
“The operational aspects of working at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York gave me a greater appreciation for the foresight my father had in implementing those systems at Arnaud’s,” said Casbarian. “It cemented in my mind that structuring our large restaurant like a hotel operation with different departments and team leads made great business sense.”
In 2003, Casbarian was lured back to New Orleans and the restaurant she called home to ensure the restaurant remained just as her father would like it. She loves the culinary aspect of the business, but leaves the cooking to the professionals.
“I have a tremendous respect for chefs and culinarians, and while I’m a good cook, I leave the restaurant kitchen in Chef Tommy DiGiovanni’s capable and creative hands,” said Casbarian.
While that’s true, she and her brother have challenged Chef DiGiovanni to expand the menu offerings to appeal to a larger audience. In January, Arnaud’s introduced its light Résolution Menu, created with the health-conscious in mind. With more people seeking out healthier menu options in restaurants, this move also makes great business sense.
The management side of the business was ultimately where she found her calling. Her no-nonsense approach to her professional life and her volunteerism is what makes her such a respected leader and valued volunteer.
“The LRA is blessed to have the access to the vision, passion and creative energy of Katy as she serves as our 2016 state chair,” said Stan Harris, President and CEO of the LRA. “She has a wonderful history in our industry as she gained experience in understanding each role in the business’ operation. I know she will share this amazing background with our LRA members as she travels our state this year.”
As the New Year kicked off, we caught up with Casbarian who shared her outlook for the year, who’s been most influential in her life and why she’s given so much time to the LRA and Louisiana’s restaurant industry.
KC: I would like to see members, new and old, get more involved in advocacy. This is a critical benefit that the LRA offers, but we all have to do our part and tell our story.
ALC: What are you most interested in seeing improvement in the restaurant industry?
KC: I think the industry needs to do a better job of telling our story. We continue to grow and provide jobs year over year across the nation. There are not many other industries that can say that. We offer security and opportunity yet we continue to allow ourselves to be represented by negative connotations.
ALC: How do you see the association fitting into the needs of the next generation?
KC: We must continue to adapt to the needs of our members as we’ve done in the political and economic arenas. In the last five years, under Stan Harris’ leadership, we’ve made significant improvements in communications and technology. As an association, we are consistently exploring new ways to serve our members.
ALC: What is something you learned from your father, you think would benefit the membership?
KC: That’s a difficult question to answer in a few short words because the list is long. He had a lot of euphemisms that always amused me. These two were used a lot and are particularly apropos…“this restaurant is a business of pennies” and “a day does not a year make.” Of course I now say them all the time to the team. It’s scary watching yourself become your parents.
ALC: You’ve described your father as one of your great mentors…any others of note?
KC: I have been very fortunate to work with some very accomplished individuals, in New Orleans and across the country who have taken me under their wing and provided great guidance to me over the years. The most significant to note, other than my father, were always a stone’s throw away. Lisa Sins, our beloved Director of Sales for over 30 years, and Jane Casbarian, my mother. My mother had no experience in the hospitality industry. If you look up the definition of dedication, loyalty, tenacity, perseverance and grace….well, you will see my mother’s name.
ALC: What did it mean to you to have these mentors as you developed as an adult?
KC: This industry can have the highest of highs and lowest and lows. Having my mentors meant I had trusted advisors I could bounce my ideas off of and build my confidence.
ALC: What is it about the LRA that you find most valuable?
KC: What is so tremendous about the LRA is that our members can come together as a team to help overcome a challenge, explore an opportunity or advocate for the industry. We put aside our differences and forget we are competitors to do what needs to be done.
ALC: Who has had the greatest impact on your involvement?
KC: I have made tremendous friends through my involvement, but LRA Board Member Helen LeBourgeois, President of TLC Linen Services, is who got me involved when I moved back to New Orleans. She took me to lunch and told me about what the LRA did and why it was important to her and the industry. She invited me to a few chapter meetings…really took me under her wing. Cindy Brennan did the same with her. That simple engagement got me involved. I hope to inspire more of that during my year as chair.
In addition to Arnaud’s Restaurant, Katy also oversees the operation of French 75 Bar, Remoulade Restaurant and Arnaud’s Food Company with her brother and mother.
Casbarian also devotes her time and expertise to the betterment of the community. For the past two years, she’s worked with the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation on the Teddy Bear Drive. Recently, on behalf of Arnaud’s and its patrons, she donated over 1,200 teddy bears, which will be distributed to police officers to have with them to comfort children in crisis situations.
Casbarian serves on the Board of Directors for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Louisiana Museum Foundation, and is Past Chair of the Board for Lighthouse Louisiana (formerly Lighthouse for the Blind).
Forbes.com named her one of “The Reigning Business Women of the South” in 2014; the New Orleans CityBusiness honored her as a Woman of the Year in 2013; the LRA Greater New Orleans Chapter selected her as its Restaurateur of the Year in 2012; and New Orleans Magazine named her as a Top Female Achiever in 2010.