Start boarding up the doors of this old blue house
Get ready for the storm, Get ready for the storm
Start cutting up the tape, turn the old rugs out
Sweep the dust off the drive, sweep the dust off the drive
– from the song THE FLOOD by NOLA Indie Band So Long Storyland
Hurricane Katrina (HK) was one of the most devastating and THE costliest natural disaster to occur in the United States. The total cost of damage was in the billions of dollars in property and economic loss and over 1,000 lives lost and even more dreams shattered of the good folks of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Although HK hit other parts of the United States and Canada, the biggest impact (in terms of total loss) was in New Orleans.
I remember watching the entire incident unfold on CNN. For those who may recall the scenes from that time: it was total chaos. New Orleans depends on tourism as it is one of the largest (if not the largest) sector for employment and economic growth. This industry was impacted immensely in the immediate years following HK disaster: with loss of tourism traffic and resulting businesses closures, several employees in this sector left the city, some never to return.
(Quick Fact: It was not the Hurricane itself that caused majority of the damage. Instead it was the flooding that occurred when the levee walls broke and caused the overland flow. The city is saucer bowl-shaped so good portion of it is below sea level. Thus the creation of the levees around the perimeter).
So in 2014 I decided to make my first jaunt to NOLA to see the city in context of how it had evolved, particularly with an emphasis on businesses involved in the tourism sector. I visited some local businesses as well as national and international chains to hear their stories on how HK affected their business and the employees and how they have fared over the years. Here are their stories:
Joe Spadaro was working at Landry’s Seafood restaurant in the French Quarter when the flooding occurred. Contrary to popular belief, the historic French Quarter of New Orleans was not affected to the extent that the other places did. I met Joe at the Landry’s Seafood located on Lakeshore Drive that fronts on to Lake Pontchartrain. Unless you knew about its history you would not think this place was on the first point of impact of the storm.
Joe described the state of chaos during the storm in a way that only a local could describe it. The water levels had risen up to the second level of the restaurant (see images above). I won’t get in to the specific details of what happened that day. As one might have expected, the restaurant suffered significant damage to property, inventory and business loss. Amazingly, the structures survived the brutal force of the storm. Today the business and location is back to normal operations.
Search for images of French Quarter or Bourbon Street online and you are bound to come across the photo of this building in the image gallery.
Antoine’s Restaurant has been operated by the same family, without interruption, for 167 years. That record nearly broke during the storm. Nearly! As I mentioned earlier, the Quarter was least affected by the storm or the floods so there was not direct impact to the restaurant. The disruption came from the restaurant staff whose homes and lives had been directly impacted during HK.
Antoine’s cuisine is original New Orleans with French and Creole backgrounds. This place is all about old school service and class. One of the classier things about New Orleans (and the southern culture of USA in general) is their continued tradition of dressing up even for the typical dining experience.
While a relaxed dress code is accepted at most venues to cater to the throng of tourists that pass through, a jacket is typically expected to be worn by the gentlemen, especially in the evening. Best to confirm with the restaurant host when making a reservation.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse is also located in the French Quarter. There are several steakhouses and fine dining establishments in the Quarter. So how exactly do I describe DB that would make it stand out from the rest of the pack. Well, let’s ask the locals.
Andrew Brott and Kellie Grengs are locals. Kellie heads up the Freret Street Improvement District (an uptown location of NOLA that was hit hard during the storm and now one of the upcoming trendiest places to visit and be seen thanks to the ongoing revitalization efforts – The New Freret). Kellie and Andrew invited us in to their house for drinks and snacks when we arrived at Freret to check out the locale. They asked us to stay for supper and we were to go visit a Vietnamese restaurant that opened on Freret. But there was a conflict. The conversation went something like this:
Andrew: “C,mon guys, stay for dinner. There is this really awesome Vietnamese place next door. Do you guys do Vietnamese?”
Us: “Ummm…yeah sure. We would love to. But we have a reservation at some place in the Quarter in an hour.”
Kellie: “Blah, you can always eat there later. Come stay for Vietnamese.”
Us: “uhhh…ok. Sure”
Andrew: “where is your reservation at?”
Us: “Unh….some steakhouse. Dicks, Dykes…something like that.”
Kellie: “Dickie Brennans?”
Us: “Yeah that sounds right.
Team Andrew-Kellie: “GO. GO. Dickie Brennans is one place you cannot miss.”
That pretty much sums up Dickie Brennans.
Old school enchantment is what this place (and most places in the Quarter) is all about. While dining, a trio (in suit and fedoras) serenaded the guests to classics upon request (“My Girl” for our table). As with most places in the Quarter, this restaurant did not face any direct impact of the storm. However, as with most other places, the employee disruption that occurred eventually stabilized over the years and I was told that nearly all the employees that were there prior to HK, are still there today!
New Orleans is a storytellers dream come true. Given its legacy and origins (and perhaps, in my case, author John Grisham to an extent) numerous stories abound. The people, the buildings, the streets, the venues, the locales – all have a different flavor in their stories as rich and varied as its cuisine.
Last year (2013) New Orleans tourism industry surpassed the peak level it had reached the year before Hurricane Katrina.
In the end, a place is only as good as the stories its people tell, the stories that visitors bring back home to share with friends and families, the stories that get written up on blogs such as this one you are reading.
In 2015, New Orleans will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That is going be one incredible story to share with the world. I look forward to reading some of those from other bloggers who plan a visit next year.
No more talk about the towns that won’t be saved
New Roads got washed, St. Rose got razed
Oh no, the flood is rising in the streets
Oh, too bad, too late, the flood is gonna break
The rain, the wind,
The house is caving in
Black cloud, no fair
I don’t want the flood to break
– from the song THE FLOOD by NOLA Indie Band So Long Storyland
Acknowledgement: This New Orleans visit was for my research on how some of the businesses that were impacted severely during Hurricane Katrina had recovered following the aftermath. A sincere Thank You to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for coordinating this media tour and to the participating businesses mentioned here for sharing their stories with me. I was not paid by any party to write this post and nobody has reviewed it prior to publication. All comments are my own. Check out my other stories on New Orleans here.
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