While we’re still packing boxes, spinning off furniture and generally preparing for our move, I’ve had to take time out to schedule one final Big Event while we’re still in New Orleans. While others get involved in White Linen Night or the Red Dress Run, I’m gearing up for the Louisiana Restaurant Association Expo at the Convention Center this weekend.
I love food shows, but the LRA Expo is more than just your average feed-me-for-free event. It’s part reunion, part discovery expedition and all playground for those of us in the food biz. It’s not just a gathering of folks from around Louisiana or the Gulf South, but also from around the country. Though each year brings some different offerings, we can always depend on tremendous hospitality from Wendy Waren and the entire LRA crew.
The show isn’t just a place for food vendors to taste out their latest offerings or show off their new machinery. It’s the show where plenty of deals are made, as buyers are placing orders for stuff that will be delivered through the holidays and into the next Carnival season and the spring. Entire company budgets are planned from the deals made here in New Orleans over a three-day period.
The coolest thing about the show for me is to see how well even the smallest companies can put together items that fuse down-home taste and appeal with mass production. The fact of the matter anymore is very, very few places can afford to hire a specialized baker or pastry chef, though we’re luckier with that here in New Orleans than most other cities. This means those tasty appetizer breads and or dessert cheesecakes are usually made someplace else, quick-frozen and shipped in. But it’s gotten to the point there is virtually no difference in quality, if you choose the right product. I’m impressed.
Having been a small-time specialty food producer, I know the total, company-wide effort it takes to even put up a display at this show. Not only must Mom and Pop front the membership and registration fees, but they sometimes have to gear an entire week’s production of the entire staff into making the samples they’ll simply hand out for free. If it’s a frozen or refrigerated product, they have to arrange the proper transportation (also not cheap) and then nail down hotel rooms and budget for meals and other expenses while here.
Basically, a lot of these small producers are placing a big wager on whether their product is going to be a hit. They won’t know until they get here or sometimes for months afterward if they’ve been successful. I admire these folks, because it takes a lot of self-confidence and a trailer full of optimism to make this kind of commitment with no guarantee of return.
I’m what’s known as a serial entrepreneur, periodically throwing ideas against a wall to see what sticks. As long as I can gin up the resources, I imagine I’ll be doing this kind of thing the rest of my life. The urge is nearly biological, despite the downside of what some call “failure.” I prefer to think of it as an idea that hasn’t yet matured – or maybe, as Edison once said, finding things that don’t work while searching for the one that does.
…so you’ll find me at the Convention Center this weekend, looking at others’ ideas and certainly finding The Next Big Thing in the food business.
Oh, and, um, enjoying a drink or two.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.