ormer pastry chef Cindy Black decided to open her Asian-fusion Blue Owl midnight eatery a year and a half ago when she noticed there weren’t many late-night dining options. But she said it took her more than six months to generate consistent business.“It was very scary,” Black said. “Every night you are wondering if you will have any customers. I was so nervous I would make myself sick.”
Black went through that routine every night for about two months because she didn’t have much money and her reputation was at stake.
“I was worried people would laugh at me after opening a restaurant and closing in two months,” she said.
But after a tumultuous year and a half, Black is opening a sister restaurant, Blue Owl Café, at the former location of Bitterman’s Deli at 5 W. Canon Perdido St. Black says she wants to get back into baking, making her own bread and creating healthy, locally sourced sandwiches and breakfast dishes.
“I want to do a different spin on a deli,” she said. “When I get a deli sandwich, chips and a drink, it could be $15 and a lot of food. I want to offer smaller portions, healthy sandwiches and my own baked goods. I didn’t go to cooking school just to make burgers at 2 a.m. I’m happy to be doing something different.”
Each night, Black has about 40 minutes to prep Blue Owl, which opens after Thai restaurant Zen Yai at 425 State St. closes and cleans up around 10:50 p.m. The restaurant has been able to survive partly because of Black’s work ethic — she cooks, cleans, waits and regulates. She also received a lot of support from her peers in the industry, customers and friends, and benefited from low overheard.
But if anything, she said the late-night crowd can be unpredictable, adding that breathing exercises have helped.
“I’m dreading Fiesta and Halloween,” said Black, adding that she was cleaning up until 6 a.m. the next day. “The day after Halloween I cried all day long, and I’m not a crier. I had to yell at so many people who were an awful kind of drunk — the aggressive, crazy drunk. It definitely got to me, but I learned to let it go.”
There have been several restaurants that have tried out the late-night scene. Mac’s Fish and Chip Shop used to be open until 2:30 a.m. but recently changed its hours, according to owner Grant MacNaughton.
“I realize that I will have a heart attack if I keep doing that, so I’m going to save myself,” he said.
But Black said the customers who support her and the friends who volunteer their time are the ones who make the biggest impact.
“My friends were so supportive and would help me out, and my customers would tell all their friends to eat here because they wanted me to stay open,” Black said.
Blue Owl is open from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and Blue Owl Café will open in June at 5 W. Canon Perdido St., according to Kristopher Roth of Hayes Commercial Group, who represented Black in the lease.
“Cindy has chosen a prime location to attract downtown breakfast and lunch clientele,” he said.