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Old Cuevas Bistro reopens in historic building in Pass Christian

pass christian — Sometimes old friends are the best friends. That’s why the reopening of a Pineville neighborhood restaurant, the Old Cuevas Bistro, in the historic building that earlier served as a post office and a trading post is particularly welcome in this community that was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s just so great to have something back the way it was before the storm,” a patron of the Old Cuevas Bistro said recently while working his way around the room visiting with people.

The restaurant could be considered an old friend, but it is also a gathering place for neighbors and old friends. There are no other restaurants for miles around.

The Old Cuevas Bistro is located in the historic Pineville community. It is four miles south of the Menge Avenue exit from Interstate 10 to the first stop sign, which is at the intersection with Red Creek Road, and the restaurant is on the right next to Bayou Portage.

Bayou Portage is a scenic spot rich in history as the waterway was once an important route for Native Americans and early settlers to transport trade goods. When the area was mapped by the French explorer DeLisle in 1700, Bayou Portage was already an established trading route.

During Hurricane Katrina, the bayou overflowed its banks, flooding the restaurant to the ceiling. The restaurant had been open a year after two years of renovations.

Joseph Schuman moved in Pass Christian in mid-August 2005 to manage the Old Cuevas Bistro.

“Then Katrina happened,” Schuman said. “So instead of managing a restaurant, I spent the next 20 months working on flood repairs. We worked on the place as soon as we could get a FEMA trailer down there. It took every bit of that 20 months to get everything ready.”
The restaurant reopened June 29.

‘Awesome’ response

“We couldn’t have scripted the reopening better,” he said. “Business has been super. We haven’t done much advertising, but the response has been awesome. It is word of mouth. Everybody coming in is glad to see some normalcy. We feel the same way serving customers rather than painting and sawing and building stuff. No one will provide you with better quality, fresh food. We provide good service with a nice atmosphere, a place to get away and enjoy yourself like we did before the storm.”

The business didn’t have flood insurance, so didn’t receive any insurance proceeds to rebuild. Owner Cassandra Timmons, whose family used to vacation in the area before she moved to Pineville and bought the building she has renovated into a restaurant, said it was tough starting over. It took a year and a half to be approved for a SBA loan.

Some new, some same

The renovations were helped tremendously by volunteer labor.

“We had a lot of volunteer groups that helped like Mission Discovery, Campus Crusade for Christ and a Methodist church from San Antonio, Texas,” Timmons said. “My manager, Joseph, and my niece, Carrie Parkinson, did a lot of the work on the restoring the building. Another person who did a lot of the actual labor on the building is Ashton Therrien, who was a waiter before the storm and is a waiter again now.

“We kept the original ceilings and doors, which are still there. We tried to put it back as close as we could as far as design and color. We have the same artist, Sharon Mulligan, who does Delta blues- and coastal-themed paintings. Basically we have the same menu, with a few additions of some new entrees and appetizers.”

Timmons is from Greenville. Her parents had a vacation home in the area for 30 years, and retired in Pass Christian about 10 years ago. Her father found the old Cuevas grocery store was for sale, and helped with the renovations after it was purchased by his daughter.

“It was built in 1851,” Timmons said. “It was a trading post and a post office, and even a gas station at one point. The original building burned and then it was redone. It had been vacant and boarded up for years when I purchased it. My dad, other family and my friends helped a lot renovating it.”

Timmons worked in the restaurant business in South Carolina for 20 years. She moved to Pass Christian to be closer to her family, and realize a long time dream of owning her own restaurant.

“I love to cook,” Timmons said. “I’ve been enjoying doing it. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about cooking from my mother. We cook at home all the time, too.”

Blue corn chicken (blue corn-breaded chicken breasts topped with cheddar cheese, salsa and sour cream), crab cakes and sunflower-crusted trout are popular items for lunch. Some dinner favorites are the beef filet covered with crab meat and brown butter hollandaise, whole deep fried flounder with sweet Thai chili sauce and gumbo. Speckled trout along with other fresh fish such as lemon fish and red snapper are often specials on the dinner menu.

The joy of back to normal

Even if one ate regular at the Old Cuevas Bistro, one likely wouldn’t be bored with the menu. Timmons, who cooks from instinct and experience rather than following recipes, likes to change things up and try new items.

Katrina and its aftermath are fading away, being replaced by the joy of things being back to normal.

“It is great to have all my old customers,” Timmons said. “Just being in the restaurant and cooking food for everyone, that is what I enjoy. We’re proud that we were able to preserve the old building that is so unique. It is in the middle of nowhere in a location where you wouldn’t normally expect to see a restaurant. We’re trying to bring historic Pineville back a little, and have more businesses open here.”

The Old Cuevas Bistro is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call (228) 452-5480.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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