Duke’s Got Those Little Town Blues in the Big Easy

Duke Creative Marketing Solutions has undergone its second round of layoffs this year, downsizing from 14 employees to five on April 30.

In the first round in early March, founder Lana Duke nearly halved the workforce from 26. Duke cited a need to streamline operations to pursue new business after losing the New Orleans shop’s major account, Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

The agency’s doors were locked last week and its telephone was answered by a machine. But Duke insisted she will continue to operate as a full-service shop, albeit by freelancing much of the work. She will also continue to operate out of her year-old downtown office, into which she expanded last spring from her longtime base in the suburb of Metairie, La.

“I am not closing the agency,” Duke said last week from her home, where she was suffering from strep throat. “I am downsizing the agency, but I will continue to service all my clients.”

Known until recently as Duke Unlimited, the agency spent most of its 26 years helping build Ruth’s Chris from two local eateries to one of the nation’s largest upscale restaurant chains with $250 million in revenue and 68 locations.

Duke lost the $10 million account last fall to Earl Palmer Brown after owner Ruth Fertel sold a majority interest to Madison Dearborn Partners of Chicago. Also last year, the $1 million Singer Kitchens account left Duke for Keating Magee here.

In November, Duke replaced the Ruth’s Chris account with a $10 million account, the Marie Callender Restaurant chain based in Orange, Calif. Earlier this year, the agency added the $800,000 Sunset Station retail account in San Antonio, where Lana Duke owns two Ruth’s Chris franchises.

In March, Duke said the Marie Callender business had turned out to be a much smaller account than originally announced, necessitating the first round of layoffs.