This news brief appeared in the August/September issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

Preservationists and environmental advocates often tout the “greenest building is the one that’s already built” axiom. In Arabi, two local business owners have recently taken that philosophy literally, transforming a formerly shuttered Waffle House building into The Green House, a new retail store for rare tropical plants, cacti and ceramics. The adaptive reuse project on Arabi’s St. Claude corridor has re-invigorated the vacant building and helped to fight blight in the flourishing Old Arabi Cultural Arts District. Nearby, St. Claude Avenue in the Lower Ninth Ward joined the state’s Main Street program in 2021, also as an effort to revitalize the area.

The renovated former Waffle House is the newest branch of co-owners Jake Zeairs and Joseph Guerriero’s plant business, Nice Plants Good Pots. The duo has grown their online shop and nearby nursery since 2018 and had searched for a brick-and-mortar space to draw in local customers and host community art events. In 2022, those plans came to a sudden halt when an EF-3 Tornado devastated Arabi and destroyed much of the plant nursery. After Zeairs and Guerriero cleared the debris and rebuilt their nursery from the ground up, they purchased the vacant Waffle House in November 2022 to expand.

“The Waffle House building is pretty iconic and has lots of windows,” Zeairs said. “It’s all glass, almost like a greenhouse, so we figured it would be a great location to show off plants and give them lots of light.”

Before photo courtesy of Google street view, after photo by Dee Allen

The building itself is not historic, but it retains many of the Mid-Century-Modern-inspired elements associated with the former breakfast chain. The Waffle House shuttered after Hurricane Zeta just two years prior, but the building had quickly fallen into disrepair and became a target for graffiti and vandalism. Zeairs and Guerriero completed nearly all renovation work themselves, removing graffiti from the exterior, repainting and installing new green acrylic panels — inspired by the Streamline Moderne-style storefront of Mckenzie’s Chicken In-A-Box in Gentilly — above the windows where the previous Waffle House signage had been removed.

On the interior, Zeairs and Guerriero also designed and built all of the furniture, shelving and lighting. “Everything is made out of angle iron, mesh and sinker cypress,” Zeairs said. “We wanted something that was industrial and would last for a while, but also has some natural elements from Louisiana.”

The plant store is now open at 6720 St. Claude Ave. on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Zeairs and Guerriero plan to expand the store’s hours in the fall and hope to eventually open a small coffee shop or café inside the retail space.

“Arabi is growing, there are a bunch of art galleries nearby now, and hopefully that keeps continuing with other businesses, restaurants and art galleries,” he said. “Hopefully we will continue to have a nice little part of this community for years to come.”

Dee Allen is PRC’s Communications Associate and a staff writer for Preservation in Print.

Before photo courtesy of Jake Zeairs, after photos by Dee Allen