In the middle of a pandemic, it might seem like a surprising time to start a new business, but Rodney Berger made it work. After living in New York for 23 years, he decided to return to Gretna and open a restaurant. With his family, he started The Artist Way Cafe.
“My father, Chester Berger, always wanted to have a restaurant. We children were too young to appreciate his dream and realize it. He passed away a few years ago. So this restaurant is dedicated to him and all of his hard work raising his kids and sending them to college,” Rodney says.
“It’s a family business. It feels good to work as a family,” added Berger. His sister, Stephanie Miller, is the marketing manager and his mother, Elaine Berger, is the hostess.
The African-American owned and operated cafe opened on October 19, 2020, starting with take-out only. He then added restore options. “We weren’t sure what to expect, starting in the middle of the pandemic. But the community has been amazing and wonderfully supportive,” Berger said.
Having lived in New York for many years, he decided to make the cafe a New York themed environment. And since he is also an artist, he designed the decor himself. The restaurant includes an art gallery, both displaying its own work and open to exhibiting works by other local artists. Berger specializes in abstract painting, using acrylics on canvas, focusing on color and texture, he explained.
“I wanted to bring a bit of New York to Gretna,” he noted. “The decor mimics my favorite cafe in downtown Brooklyn. It’s eclectic and different for Gretna.
The cafe serves sandwiches and desserts, all homemade. In a nod to the Big Apple, the sandwiches all have New York-themed names. Hot dogs in particular are getting a lot of attention. “Our hot dogs would be the best in the whole area,” Berger reported. “We have single and double Coney Islands, with homemade chili and coleslaw.”
Other items on the menu include names like the Empire State – a pulled barbecue chicken sandwich, or the Grand Central – a corned beef brisket with Gouda cheese. Stroll past Central Park (grilled cheese BLT) to The Artist Way Cafe’s Facebook page and check out the mouth-watering desserts. With offerings like Red Velvet Cake, Mountain Dew Cake, Chocolate Mousse Cake, and Key Lime Pie, how can you say no?
These tantalizing creations might suggest that Berger spent his New York years in the restaurant business or went to culinary school. But no, the Gretna High School and Longwood University graduate studied psychology, and he worked in sales and with architects and designers, developing an interest in interior design. “The restaurant is a new business. I have studied a lot and I am learning a lot,” he commented. “It pays off.”
Berger and his family aren’t just building on their current success; they are looking for ways to grow and expand their business. His sister Stephanie posted on the cafe’s Facebook page last Friday: “We have been open since October 19, 2020. We are looking to expand our business and stay for a while. That being said, we want more information on new ideas to bring to our spot, different foods and/or activities? Please also keep in mind the actual cost of these ideas, as we need to be able to make a profit and keep costs reasonable for customers. There have been many suggestions, but some are not economically beneficial for everyone involved. We want to know your thoughts! And as always, we appreciate your support! I can’t say it enough!”
Berger said the restaurant’s space is large enough to accommodate events such as birthday parties and bridal showers. They also plan to offer take-out dinners with country cuisine one or two evenings a month. Organizing trivia nights and painting nights is another possibility.
If you haven’t been there yet, stop by the Artist Way Cafe at 116 S. Main St. in Gretna and give it a try. Taste the home cooking and take a look at the art gallery. And if you feel so moved, you can even purchase the artwork. “A few people bought parts,” Berger said. “It’s hard to let go sometimes, but I’m learning to let go.”
The Altavista Journal and the Star Tribune salute this local company!