The beloved Creole restaurant was in business for nearly 40 years.

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Upperline Restaurant Exterior
Credit: Cedric Angeles

Sad news out of the Big Easy. Upperline, the New Orleans restaurant owned by the inimitable JoAnn Clevenger, has shuttered its doors for good.  

Clevenger and her family, who first closed the cherished Uptown spot at beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, have decided not to reopen after nearly 40 years in business.

The charismatic 82-year-old spoke with The New Orleans Advocate about the difficult decision to remain closed earlier this month.  

"If I was 62, I would definitely be reopening, but I'm not," Clevenger said, though her age is only part of the story.

"What finally made up my mind was when I realized I could not recreate what I had loved so much and that gave so many other people such happiness," she continued. "To try to do it, to get the money together, to bring back employees, to finally get back open and have it not be as satisfying as it always was? I couldn't stand that."

JoAnn Clevenger
New Orleans, LAA succession of talented chefs has led the kitchen since the Uptown restaurant Upperline opened in 1983, serving the roasted duck of your dreams. But chefs have not defined this place. Each night JoAnn Clevenger greets her audience in a red-and-black dress, fixed with her prized Girl Scout pin. A visionary restaurateur who makes a case for the role of hospitality in community building and reminds diners that "the word restaurant comes from the French word for restore," she may be the best front-of-the-house person in the region and is definitely the sort of charmer whose presence makes a night in New Orleans truly transformative.
| Credit: W. Rush Jagoe V

Upperline was more than a restaurant. The converted house was also an art gallery, and, perhaps more significantly, Clevenger's domain. Wearing the same Parisian crimson-and-black color-blocked tunic every day, she would regale customers with stories of the French Quarter's more bohemian days. Clevenger's brand of hostessing is an art form in itself.

"I found JoAnn to be an intoxicating character," Gabriel Stafford, who worked at Upperline for 11 years, told The New York Times. "I felt like I was ensconced in New Orleans-ness while working there."

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Clevenger, who owns the restaurant with her son, Jason Clevenger, and her husband, Alan Greenacre, told the Advocate the plan now is to put the property up for sale. They're considering selling the business too, but only if things work out "just right."

"We would sell Upperline with the name and the recipes, but I only want to sell to someone who is not going to damage what we built here; they could change it, but I have to trust they won't damage it," she told the paper.