Natalie Secco talks food, drink and finding the perfect match.
Sacramento native Natalie Secco came to New Orleans in 2007 to attend Loyola University, where she majored in marketing and international business. During that time, she started working with Robert LeBlanc, a restaurateur who’s owned or overseen several New Orleans favorites, including Republic, Sylvain and Ste. Marie Brasserie. Secco tended bar at Republic for two years. “When I graduated, it was easy to keep working with Robert,” Secco says.
After moving from Republic to an event sales job, Secco served tables at both Sylvain and Ste. Marie; then, hoping to leave the service industry, she worked as a casino marketing host. “I actually quit the casino job with the idea of possibly moving back to California, and pursuing a graduate degree in public health and nutrition, when Robert approached me about coming back to Ste. Marie as part of the management team,” she says. She took the job and never looked back. “I absolutely love what I’m doing,” she says.
In May 2014, LeBlanc and Ste. Marie executive chef Kristen Essig seized the chance to move to a smaller, more neighborhood-oriented space at the up-for-grabs Meauxbar Bistro. Secco shared her team’s enthusiasm for the switch. “We were just ready for a move and a change, and Meauxbar became available,” she says. “It was a really natural progression for us to move into a smaller space and focus really hard on the menus that Kristen wanted to do.”
Working with LeBlanc has afforded Secco the chance to grow both personally and professionally. “It’s been huge for my career growth,” she says. “[Robert] has definitely challenged me to do some things that I thought I wasn’t capable of.”
Chief among these challenges has been growing into the role of general manager, which involves spending five to six nights per week on the floor of the restaurant. “I’ve been a pretty quiet person my whole life,” Secco says. “Being the general manager… has always been a little scary. I think I’ve really grown into enjoying being out there and letting my personality show.” It helps that she loves her colleagues. “I work with people that I really care about, which makes me want to work a lot harder at what I’m doing,” she says.
At Meauxbar’s new iteration, Secco has focused on keeping the beverage offerings basic as a way to support Essig’s menus. “We’re doing French cuisine, so I went pretty heavily with an Old World-style wine list,” she says. “Those flavors go a little more with the menus that Kristen’s doing in the kitchen.” Similarly, the bar menu doesn’t rely heavily on mixology — instead, it offers a few interesting twists on classics, like a French 75-type cocktail made with genepy, an herbal liqueur.
Secco, who says she could easily eat Essig’s signature steak tartare “on a daily basis,” spends her limited downtime at other favorite eateries around town, which include Coquette, Bouligny Tavern and, naturally, Sylvain. “I like to try new restaurants — I kind of have this ‘try everything twice’ mentality,” she says. “I’m a bar eater. I don’t really go places and make reservations.”
Though her family in California misses her, Secco has no plans to leave New Orleans just yet. “I definitely see myself here; I see myself with this company,” she says. “I definitely see myself working with food in some capacity, whether it be as a general manager or in some other role.”