Photo by Megan Liegh Barnard.

Local Canteen

How to advance and evolve with the changing Short North.

What would you call Da Levee and Justin Boehme?

Old-School New Short North?

Yeah that sounds about right.

The Louisiana-born Iraq vet brought his native cuisine and a laid back vibe to his little spot behind Axis, and was most certainly of the young, independent businesspeople that came to characterize the second wave of the neighborhood. He knew his customers, and they knew him.

A few months ago, unable to recognize the neighborhood from eight years earlier—or two for that matter—he made a decision:

It’s time for us to change, too.

With more folks in the entertainment district wanting to wet their beak than try on a new culinary adventure, ever the Army guy, he adapted on the fly, turning the former Cajun restaurant into a sleek, slim pool hall, named after his grandfather, a veteran too.

Today, Eugene’s Canteen is thriving, and Boehme is embracing new customers—and new possibilities in the Short North.

You and your grandfather are both veterans. Can you tell us about the branches of military you were in, and your jobs? We were both Army. Grandpa was in the infantry and carried a bazooka. He actually enlisted under his older brothers name because he was too young. He never talked to anyone, not even Grandma, about his experience. The one fact I know is he was in the Battle of the Bulge and him and only two other soldiers in his company came back alive. He passed away before I joined the military, so we never got to swap war stories. My job was a 31U, radio operator/maintainer. My main mission during my deployment was operating the TOC, coordinating patient transport to the clinic. Halfway into my deployment I was assigned to travel base to base in Iraq to upgrade HUMVEE seat belts. It was quite the experience to tour the country.

Tell us about The Backdoor. The Backdoor is a pop up kitchen located inside of Eugene’s Canteen. We schedule local chefs to come in and feature their food and have a High Street restaurant for a day. It also gives me a opportunity to do my own pop-ups and experiment with new dishes for my catering company and future restaurants.

This location used to be Da Levee. What was the catalyst for changing your business.  There were two factors that sparked my interest in the change. The first is for the past year I had planned to be a part of a new concept here in the Short North serving cajun that is a bar and has several food concepts, similar to a food court. After a year of planning and a verbal agreement I was notified by a text message that I was no longer a vendor on the day they started announcing their vendors. The second factor is that my catering company is really taking off and wanted to make my life a bit easier. I have kicked my own ass these past eight years running multiple restaurants. I wanted to create a space I could just kick it and chill.

You transitioned from a restaurant featuring cajun food, to a bar inspired by your grandpa. Is it more personal now? Can you compare and contrast them a little bit for us? Opening a new business to me is like having a child. That is also being said from a guy with no kids. Da Levee will always be my first child and hold a special place in my heart. I have been in the cajun business for 15 years. nine of which with my mentor Joe Vuskovich and eight and counting on my own. Eugene’s Canteen is more personal due to the fact that I got to work side by side with my wife. She is an amazing designer and really did a number on this one. She handled all the design and branding and I did my best to build it. It is nice to look at every detail of the build out and remember every Lowe’s trip and argument that came with. Eugene’s is my happy place. As a child my sister and I would create a fake grocery store in my grandparents attic and we called it “Gene’s Place.” Once I opened Da Levee I promised my sister one day I would open a “Gene’s Place,” Eugene’s Canteen is my version of that. This bar has really been in the works for 30 years.

We’ve got to talk about construction if we’re talking to a Short North business owner… I think the construction in the Short North is all for the better. I can’t say I agree with the destruction of certain buildings or approve of certain architectural decisions, but overall I think its a positive change. I can’t wait for my new sidewalk!

So, your future is in the Short North? I am evolving with the scene and keeping my business relevant. I am also a huge fan of change. I was ready to release some creativity and build something I hope the neighborhood appreciates. To add to it, running restaurants is a challenging business. Running a bar feels like a vacation, comparatively. Less overhead,  less stress, better hours. I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I was recently offered a disgusting amount of money to buy my business, but I’m not ready yet. I want to see what Eugene’s grows into.

For those missing Da Levee, you can still pop in to their Gahanna location, or get a taste of Rouxpert’s, Boehme’s catering company, which still serves out of the Backdoor every Friday and Saturday night. Eugene’s Canteen is open 3 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday at 765 N High St.

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Travis Hoewischer

I've been working in journalism in central Ohio for more than a decade, and have been lucky enough to be a part of (614) Magazine since the very first issue. Proud to live in a city that still cares – and still reads.

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