Germaine maintained in her mind the image of Arnaud’s as one of the great restaurants of the world. So it was that Archie Casbarian managed to pass the first of many barriers before achieving a dream he had of restoring Arnaud’s. Casbarian was hardly the first person to approach Germaine with an offer to buy the restaurant. But she saw the transaction not as selling a business but as abdicating a throne. Only the threat of impending financial ruin forced her hand.
The choice of Archie Casbarian as the man to keep Arnaud’s alive turned on a set of odd coincidences that appealed to Germaine’s sense of drama. Archie Casbarian had the same initials as her father.
Both men loved good cigars, handsome clothes, fine wines, Cognac and telling an amusing story. Both were born overseas, and both spoke French fluently. They were about the same height. In fact, Germaine thought that Archie looked a lot like her father. As immaterial as those rationales were, they resulted in a decision that could hardly have been better for the future of Arnaud’s. In December 1978, Germaine agreed to lease the property and name of Arnaud’s Restaurant to Casbarian. On February 28, 1979, the renovated dining room reopened and a long renaissance of Arnaud’s began.
In charge of it was a unique man Archie Casbarian. He attended the prestigious Hoteliere Suisse de la Societe Suisse des Hoteliers in Lausanne, Switzerland. He then attended the equally prestigious Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, NY. Deluxe hotels were his life for many years. After working in Cairo, Washington, and New York, he came to New Orleans and the Royal Orleans Hotel. As general manager of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, he was across the street from Arnaud’s. By the time he’d reached the Sonesta, he was respected as one of America’s best hoteliers, and one who always had great restaurants in his properties.
Arnaud’s needed all the creativity and managerial wherewithal that Casbarian could bring to it. The place was a wreck. Almost all of the dining rooms had long been closed. Despite that, Casbarian was committed to the idea that the new Arnaud’s should look like Arnaud’s, not like a brand-new restaurant. The original chandeliers, iron columns and cypress paneling were kept. The old ceiling fans also stayed – even though few of them worked, then or now.
The wall of pebbled-glass windows was replaced by beautiful beveled glass – but the spirit was the same. During the renovation, a small section of the original tin ceiling was found and replicated to cover the entire main dining room. Silver, glassware and china patterns were discovered to be the same as those originally chosen by the Count back in 1918.
Most important, the original small Italian tiles that covered the floors throughout the restaurant changing from building to building – different patterns and colors in every room – were left as they were. In collective consciousness of New Orleans, tile floors are to Arnaud’s what the streetcar is to St. Charles Avenue.