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Bayou Eats | Board & Bottle

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Eats
Jun 3rd, 2024
0 Comments
931 Views

article by Starla Gatson
photography by Kelly Moore Clark

Board & Bottle is a café and wine bar Jayne Jenkins and Emma Machen opened together nearly a year ago on Park Avenue in Ruston.

A GROUP OF FIVE OR SIX college-aged women gather around one of the green velvet couches in the front of the restaurant. A teacher sits grading papers at a two-top with a glass of his favorite red. Two men sit at the bar with bottles of cold beer, catching up on each other’s lives and chatting about their days. A few couples and families are spread out at tables across the establishment, enjoying a delicious meal and each other’s company.

This is what Jayne Jenkins saw one evening as she looked around Board & Bottle, the café and wine bar she and longtime friend Emma Machen opened together nearly a year ago. While the place, located at 130 West Park Avenue in Ruston, was intended to appeal to the adults who call the Lincoln Parish city home, it has managed to win the hearts of patrons of all ages. That wasn’t necessarily what Jenkins and Machen envisioned. However, they certainly aren’t upset about it.

“It’s a true representation of the melting pot that Ruston is,” Machen says of the diverse groups of customers that visit Board & Bottle each day before Jenkins adds, “And that’s what we want to be about.”

According to the duo, Board & Bottle appeals to such a wide customer base for several reasons. The first is the casual, laid-back atmosphere Machen and Jenkins have worked so hard to create in the space. 

They mention several times in their conversation with BayouLife that they want theirs to be someplace you sit and stay awhile, and the comfy seating they have throughout the restaurant makes that easy to do. Soft, cushioned chairs surround every dining table, and there are several couches scattered around the restaurant. The barstools are some of the only non-cushioned seating in the place, Machen points out before noting that those will soon be upgraded to something softer. 

The music playing softly in the background doesn’t hurt the ambiance, either. During the day, tunes play through a speaker, but if you visit Board & Bottle on a weekend evening, you might catch a musician playing live — that is when there isn’t a trivia night or wine tasting happening instead.

The coffee they serve — all of which is locally roasted — is another draw to the restaurant, Jenkins says, especially for Louisiana Tech and Grambling State University students. 

“They use this as a hangout for studying over a coffee, and we absolutely want to keep that on board,” she explains.

And the last but certainly not least factor that brings customers into Board & Bottle? That’s the food, of course! Menu items like the B&B Signature charcuterie bagel, Coronation Chicken Wrap, and the Classic Charcuterie board offer a pleasant and diverse casual dining experience and provide a nice break from nearby chain establishments, Machen and Jenkins explain. 

“As much as I love Ruston, the one thing that we we’re really lacking is that diversity of offerings from a culinary standpoint,” Jenkins says before Machen adds, “But different at a price point everybody can enjoy. There are many restaurants that offer different foods and a fine dining aspect, but not everybody can [afford them].” 

So, Jenkins, a self-professed food enthusiast and self-taught chef — “I’m always thinking about food,” she says with a laugh, — thought up Board & Bottle as a means of meeting the need she noticed in Lincoln Parish. Initially, the business was to operate on a much smaller scale, sharing the space with the now-defunct Railway Coffee and only operating a few nights a week. But when Railway owner, John-Luke Robertson, decided to sell, Jenkins decided to “go big or go home.” 

“That’s when I started speaking to Emma [about it],” she shares. “She’d already known what I’d been planning to do and was like, ‘Is it going to happen?’ I said I probably need to open a whole restaurant now, and she said, ‘That’s what I used to do.’” 

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, the two explain. At the time, Machen was planning to re-enter the workforce after nine years as a stay-at-home mom. Given her years of restaurant experience — “I started from the bottom when I was 16 hosting, and as soon as I was old enough to wait tables, I did that. Then, I bartended, then managed,” she says, — joining forces with Jenkins was the logical next step. 

Besides, Machen says, she loved the intention behind Board & Bottle.

“I feel like Ruston is mostly a college town,” she says. “But there are adults that live here, and there aren’t very many places for them to come and hang out and relax. That was kind of my drive to bring this environment [to life] the way it is.” 

Equipped with Machen’s restaurant experience and Jenkins’s love of and knowledge about food, the two gathered their funds, purchased Railway Coffee, and transformed it into the business they envisioned. Despite their rebranding efforts, however, they share that some people still have a hard time separating Board & Bottle from its predecessor.

“It’s been one of the biggest challenges, actually,” Jenkins says of differentiating their business from the Railway Coffee name. Machen agrees, noting, “It’s not like we changed the space so drastically that it doesn’t look like Railway anymore. We still offer coffee, but now, we’re so much more.” 

Jenkins goes on to say that they’re still working on branding themselves and searching for a way to clear up any Railway-related confusion on what the restaurant is. 

“We thought it’d be really easy, just putting a new sign on the front saying ‘Café Wine Bar,’ and people would just get it,” she shares. “But they don’t, really. The transition’s been a lot more challenging than we anticipated.”

However, in customers’ defense, Board & Bottle is a bit difficult to sum up in just a few words. Both Jenkins and Machen agree though it’s not a traditional restaurant, it isn’t just a coffee shop, either.

“It’s a hybrid, really, kind of a mixed-use space,” Machen says. “A lot of businesses nowadays have to move into many different avenues or fields to survive in this economy. That’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re tapping into multiple areas of the food industry to make this work and appeal to a multitude of people.” 

Tapping into multiple areas of the industry means it’s been difficult to find a rhythm, she says, explaining, “I find that one week, the coffee’s great and the food, not so much. Then, it picks up the other way around. Where one slacks, the other side picks up. It’s been interesting to see that.” 

Both women admit that kind of ebb and flow can make running Board & Bottle a stressful ordeal, but the excitement of planning the next thing keeps them motivated. 

“You have to keep planning and bringing new things,” Jenkins notes. 

The “new things” she’s referring to include seasonal coffee drinks, cocktails, and food items, as well as what they create to sell in tandem with Ruston events, like the annual Louisiana Peach Festival. 

“My goal is that, hopefully, when you step in here once a quarter, it’s something different and something exciting,” Machen says, echoing her co-owner’s sentiments. “That’s what keeps me motivated. We just keep rolling with the punches and the needs and wants of Ruston.” 

There’s been a learning curve as they navigate what works and what doesn’t, the two reveal. But their efforts seem to be paying off. Both Jenkins and Machen share that the feedback Board & Bottle has received from patrons has been overwhelmingly positive, and they’re encouraged by customers’ kind words. 

“It’s all very well, us having this dream and wanting to deliver this food and this experience,” Jenkins says. “But that’s just our opinion. To have that validated by people saying, ‘Yes, there’s a need for this. We really enjoy it here.’ —” Machen interjects, “It’s really cool to get that public feedback from people we don’t know.” 

Taking the lessons they’ve learned and the feedback they’ve received since opening their business, Machen and Jenkins plan to keep pushing Board & Bottle forward, advising current and potential customers to keep an eye out for fun events, like wine or whiskey tastings, and new menu items.

“There’s always something different,” Jenkins promises. “[You’re] not going to walk through the door and have the same experience every time. We’re not boring like that.” 

You can experience all Board & Bottle has to offer seven days a week, Monday through Wednesday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., or Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Before you show up to “Gather, Graze, Sip, Share,” as the business’s tagline suggests, check out the restaurant’s social media pages (@boardandbottleruston on Instagram and Board & Bottle Ruston on Facebook) or head to www.boardandbottleruston.com to see what new items or special events you can look forward to on your visit.