We have used the tenth anniversary of Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the U.S., to review the need for small businesses to prepare for disaster and recovery. Such a series would not be complete without recalling the role in the city’s recovery of some of its most famous small businesses, its chef-owned restaurants. To help us recall that story, we called on an expert on the topic, business magazine publisher (and our friend) Romney Richard. A decade ago, one of the magazines Romney and her husband owned (but have since sold) was Louisiana Cookin’, a go-to magazine for keeping up with the restaurant scene in New Orleans and Louisiana. The couple’s home and office were both flooded and their staff was dispersed to five states. Even though it took them until November to get the green light to return to New Orleans, the magazine continued to be published and Romney and her staff were able to continue sharing the culinary talent of New Orleans’ chefs. But they also had another story to share: the story of how these New Orleans chefs took the lead in letting the world know that the city wouldn’t take long before it would be open for business—and pleasure. The following are recollections Romney shared with us.
Although the French Quarter was not affected by the floodwaters that came after Katrina, the restaurants there were without electricity, gas and water. The whole city was devastated and these types of services had to to be rebuilt. So without power, gas or water, all of the stored food, temperature-sensitive wines—literally everything perishable—was lost.
But even if those services had been available, it wouldn’t have mattered, because no one was in the city after the first few days. The city was closed until all the water was pumped out, and that took about three weeks. Once the water was removed the military, police, firemen and others started working to stabilize New Orleans.
Some of the most inspiring stories involving local chefs is how several of them, even before getting power back, were doing all they could to feed the early disaster relief professionals. Chefs and restaurateurs like John Besh and Drago’s started grilling outside and feeding the first responders.
Even when we returned and started rebuilding toward the end of November, there were only a few restaurants open. But I do recall how wonderful it was to have a Christmas Brunch at the Windsor Court Hotel restaurant. The group we went with had all spent weeks covered with dirt, sheet rock dust and paint from rebuilding our homes. So to get dressed up and have a great dining experience was fabulous.
Most business owners—not just restaurant owners, but all of the great small shops the city is known for—were not only rebuilding our homes but our businesses, too. It was a very challenging time.
“Today, through perseverance, hard work and believing in this city as a great culinary destination, there are more restaurants open now than before Katrina.” – Romney Richard
One more thing: If you’ve never been to New Orleans, please visit. Come enjoy our music, culture and the best restaurants in the world.