Mason Hereford shut down the dining rooms of his two restaurants by a vote. Days before Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered restaurant dining rooms closed, Hereford gathered the staff of Molly’s Rise and Shine and Turkey and the Wolf, and, united and socially distanced, they elected to shift operations to take-out only. Hereford thought his establishments would operate this way for a week or two. They lasted only three days, before, with safety in mind, he shut them down completely. In 2017, full-service restaurant jobs constituted 7% of New Orleans’s workforce according to a report by The Data Center.
The following “Open Letter to NOLA” was posted on social media by Eric Cook, the owner and executive chef of Gris-Gris, a restaurant on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. It was addressed to “our friends, neighbors and family” and is published here with permission. As you know, we’ve been trying to fight the good fight through the past few months. Gris-Gris was one of the first restaurants to shut down when this whole thing began. We’ve been trying to keep everyone safe and do our best to keep our little corner of Magazine Street alive and well so we can keep doing what we love, and bring love to you guys every single day.
The once bare white walls of a South Carrollton Avenue storefront are now highlighted by bottles of red, white, rose and sparkling wines from France, the U.S., Spain and Italy, along with some select local and global spirits. If those walls could talk, they would tell of the journey Vino Wine and Spirits took, including delays due to COVID-19 pandemic regulations and the cyber attack on City Hall, as they were navigating the already arduous permitting process. Then there was the card reader that wasn’t going to arrive in time for the opening, and then when it did, it was in pieces to be assembled. The good news is that a new chapter began the last week of June, when Vino Wine and Spirits welcomed its first customers, card reader be damned. Vino Wine and Spirits is the realization of a dream of Allyson and Milton Hernandez.
The smell of sautéed shallots, butter browning, and sugar caramelizing hits your nose the moment you walk down the halls of Nicholls State University’s Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, the only post-secondary institution in Louisiana offering a four-year culinary degree. Your mouth is watering before you even see the state-of-the-art kitchens donated by Arlen “Benny” Cenac—Houma businessman and owner of Cenac Marine, Main Iron Works, Houma Machine and Propeller, and Golden Ranch Farms. Back in 2015, as soon as Benny Cenac learned that construction of the school’s new culinary arts building might not move forward due to lack of funding, he knew he had to act fast. The school needed additional funding to receive the match from the state of Louisiana to complete the cooking school renovations. Benny, ever the Cajun food aficionado and proud Nicholls alum, recognized the cultural, historical, and economic impact the culinary program had on both the local university and in keeping South Louisiana culinary traditions alive.
In 2015, Benny Cenac made a very generous donation in honor of his long-time employee and friend, Lanny D. Ledet, that led to the creation of a 33,000 square foot state-of-the art culinary facility, complete with six kitchens, lecture rooms, and a student study lounge. The Lanny D. Ledet Culinary Arts Building even features a full-size, 96-seat restaurant called Bistro Ruth, named in honor of New Orleans restaurateur Ruth Fertel.
Krewe of Red Beans, Rouses Markets, the Preservation Hall Foundation, Market Umbrella and the New Orleans Musicians Clinic & Assistance Foundation are partnering for a new effort to ease the pain of the pandemic, the Feed the Second Line program
On March 17, the Krewe of Red Beans, a group that holds a Lundi Gras walking parade, began raising money to buy food from locally owned New Orleans restaurants. Quickly, the effort grew. A month later, the Krewe of Red Beans was operating the largest such effort in the United States. As of April 19, the Feed the Front Line NOLA had sent over 60,000 meals to doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers engaged directly with COVID-19 patients, spending $566,000 in the local economy so far. 49 restaurants and coffee shops are being supported by the initiative.
For Part 2 of this two-part series on Magazine Street, Uptown Messenger takes a snapshot of restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. (Part 1 focused on local shops and galleries.)
Along Magazine Street, a gastronome can sample French, Indian, Vietnamese, Cajun, Creole, Chinese and homegrown flavors in myriad restaurants that dot the six-mile stretch. Bars, an important part of New Orleans social life and culture, can be temples of cocktail culture or beloved neighborhood hangouts. Coffee shops offer places to relax, visit, study or work and have their own individual vibes. Along with the mix of retail stores, these businesses have made Magazine Street a popular destination for tourists and locals.
District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso and District B Councilman Jay Banks are holding weekly food distribution events for those who find themselves in financial straits because of the pandemic. Giarrusso is teaming up with state Rep. Mandie Landry, District 91, and Second Harvest Food Bank to give out food on Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon in front of the Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School at 2901 S. Carrollton Ave. To sign up to volunteer or to get more information, contact Claire.Byun@nola.gov.
The District B food giveaway is hosted by Banks with assistance from Goodwill Industries, Second Harvest Food Bank, Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, BOLD (Black Organization for Leadership Development) and Culture Aid NOLA. It’s held at the Goodwill store at Tulane Avenue and Jefferson Davis Parkway on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until supplies run out. For more information or to volunteer, call 504-658-1020.
We’ll Be Right Back is a homegrown podcast that shares the stories of local business owners and employees in the service sector and gig economy at-large. Host Greg Tilton interviews professionals and organizations that provide relief and resources that help the industry manage through COVID-19. This series highlights the work, status and future of the hospitality industry in New Orleans. This week’s episode: “Night Life Policy” with Mark Schettler of Bar Tonique
Schettler and Tilton share the types financial relief available to small businesses, how the industry should work together and get involved in policy discussions, and how to solve a potential rent crisis on the horizon. Uptown Messenger supports media efforts and exposure to voices like these.
There’s a new podcast in town, and service industry professionals are offering up their voices for it. The weekly podcast, titled We’ll Be Right Back: The Future of Hospitality, features interviews with professionals and organizations providing relief and resources as the industry manages amid COVID-19. As stated on its website, We’ll Be Right Back will “tell the stories of local business owners and employees in the service/hospitality sector and gig economy at-large in the Greater New Orleans Area impacted by the economic blowback of the coronavirus, as well as highlight the resources available to businesses and individuals alike.” Play the latest episode featuring Rachel Billow Angulo of La Cocinita.
“It’s important for New Orleans to have difficult, but hopeful and productive discussions as we chart a path forward in the wake of COVID-19,” said Greg Tilton, host and producer of We’ll Be Right Back.
COVID-19 can live up to eight hours on cardboard takeout boxes and up to 72 on Styrofoam containers, straws, cups and plastic bags, says a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Airborne droplets can linger in the air for three to four hours after a person has coughed or sneezed. What does that mean for locals who are supporting our beloved local restaurants and coffee shops? It means risk. Takeout and curbside service is a risk to the health of the workers and the customers, but how much?
While some bars in New Orleans hoped they could survive the economic fallout of COVID-19 by selling alcohol to-go, city and state officials have clarified that they must close completely – leading to a peculiar situation where restaurants, breweries and even drive-thru daiquiri shops can sell alcohol to-go, but not regular bars. To stem the spread of coronavirus, on March 16 Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered all bars in the state closed until at least April 13. However, drive-thru daiquiri stores can still remain open and restaurants can still sell packaged beer or wine for curbside pick-up or delivery. Breweries can still sell their beer, though not from the tap. Some bars with kitchens initially thought that they could still employ some staff by selling alcohol and food to-go as well, but officials ordered them to stop.