New Orleans-native Michael LeBlanc has been a pioneering achiever all is life. A “corporate refugee” (the first African-American corporate officer in the history of Polaroid and former president, Polaroid Asia Pacific, capping a legendary 26-year tenure with the company) Michael left to pursue a life of entrepreneurship, becoming principal owner of Brothers Brewing Company, the first African-American owned beer company. The experience planted in him the seed for creating a high-end, Black-owned restaurant, harkening to his roots and fondness for two of New Orleans’ renowned, soulful eateries, Dooky Chase and Chez Helene. Uptown Oakland’s award-winning Picán (Zagat; Michelin “Gourmand”; “Best Of“; etc.) was Michael’s first concept and the realization of phase one of his quest of becoming a restauprenueur. Hayward’s Plāyt is the newest entry on his resume.
Having lived in Boston, Hong Kong, Durham NC, Pittsburgh PA and Huntington on New York’s Long Island and through extensive travels throughout Europe, Asia and the occasional foray south of the border, Michael’s palate stretched far beyond the foods of his NOLA boyhood home; but in spite of having traveled far and wide (often carrying his favorite below-the-Mason-Dixon-line hot sauces in a briefcase), his tastes are still decidedly informed by Southern Foodways, but with a distinctive “twist” that defies absolute categorization.
His favorite part of running his own place is “being here” every day – the interaction with Plāyt’s dedicated Krewe and engaging with guests. Michael creates the “big Southern hug” experience for guests and Plāyt offers a warm, welcoming, inclusive environment that is distinctly Southern, casual, and genteel to its core.
He loves Gumbo; loves the taste, the texture, the smell and equates it to a special event of friends and family being together … “gumbo is a true ‘melting pot dish … a whole lot of everything, coming together; it breaks down all class and social barriers.” And if he’s sipping a bourbon, whatever is in the glass at the moment is his bourbon of choice, “because it means I’m drinking and that means I’m actually getting to relax a minute.” But if you catch him sipping Malibu Rum, Goslings, Blue Curacao and pineapple juice, all bets are off! He’s “spiritually in a Jamaican moment; I close my eyes and feel the breeze on my face.” His most “perfect sip” ever was “champagne shared with Yolanda at the house we built after getting married,” and the number one item on his “bucket list” is making sure she feels financially secure. And to this day, the most perfect bite of food he’s ever eaten is the Oyster Loaf in NOLA at a neighborhood sandwich shop…”It was a ritual between the time I was about 8 until 17. The food at Picán and Plāyt is unbelievable, but the combination of being a kid and the anticipation of eating that sandwich was magic…Damn!”
While he doesn’t have a LOT of spare time, Michael is an avid skier and a fairly decent golfer; he loves listening to anything by The Temptations, or watching Cosby reruns or thumbing through a well-worn copy of In Search of Excellence. His words to live by are “Be the person your dog thinks you are” (but it helps if you have a dog!), “Never, never quit,” “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal,” and “Vision is seeing the