A Culinary Success

Restaurants boom in the Big Easy

By: Cheré Dastugue Coen

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Guestrooms Ralph Brennan’s Bacco
is located in the French Quarter.
By the time of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, on Aug. 29, new data was unveiled that offers a look into the city’s economy. Some numbers continue to be grave tourism employment figures are slowly moving up but remain below pre-Katrina standards, for instance but others were quite surprising.

“We actually have more restaurants now than we did before Katrina,” reported Ralph Brennan, owner of several New Orleans restaurants, the Jazz Kitchen at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and a member of the Brennan culinary clan. “There’s been a real resurgence. According to the newspaper, all the numbers are down but the restaurants are up.”

Brennan admits he bases this good news on the Web site of Tom Fitzmorris, a local food critic, radio personality and cookbook author. Fitzmorris has been keeping tabs on the opening and closing of restaurants in New Orleans and finds 853 restaurants open now as opposed to 809 before the storm.

“That’s part of our way of coping,” Brennan explained, adding that he felt it was his duty to bring his restaurants online as soon as possible after Katrina since food is so important to New Orleanians. “We were a gathering place. There was a lot of hugging and kissing going on.”

Hoping that if they opened tourists will come hasn’t exactly worked for the restaurant industry, Brennan said. Weekends show strong numbers for leisure tourists but weekdays do not and Brennan is hoping for that tide to turn before having to make cuts and layoffs.

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Ralph Brennan
He cites the decrease in conventions and cruises as the main problem. Neither has rebounded to pre-Katrina numbers.

“The summer has been very slow. The peaks are not as high and the valleys are lower,” he said.

The perception that New Orleans tourism areas are still closed or rebuilding also keeps visitors away, he added.

“There’s a perception of the city that we’re still flooded,” Brennan said. “But the major tourist attractions in areas of the city where tourists come are okay. From a visitor’s standpoint, what you experience is 100 percent.”

While the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau heads to Mexico, Canada and Europe to encourage travel to New Orleans and the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism continues their ad campaign, Brennan is doing his best to build tourism from the bottom up. He is working on a pilot program, reaching out to restaurants nationwide due to his national reputation to encourage them to have their business meetings in New Orleans. So far, he has attracted two, he said, one of which consisted of 300 members.

“We’re at a point where we think this is a model that works and we’re going to reach out to other industries,” Brennan said. “This is grassroots at its best.” Getting past the second anniversary and through hurricane season will help as well, he added.

“If we get past this hurricane season I’ve targeted Oct. 1 then things should look a lot better,” Brennan said. “It will make more visitors think about coming down.”

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