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Into the Future

New Orleans Magazine People to Watch 2011

(page 2 of 4)

Charles Callan Mary IV and Charlotte McGehee
Co-Owners, Debbie Does Doberge

Take a classic concept, shoehorn it into a burgeoning culinary fad and slap a vaguely pornographic name on the enterprise and you get the curious genius of Debbie Does Doberge. Co-owned by the boyfriend-girlfriend team of Charles Mary IV and Charlotte McGehee, “Debbie” creates eight-layered cupcakes out of the kitchens of Twelve Mile Limit in Mid-City (which they share with Shortall’s BBQ).

The cupcake mongers are both veterans of New Orleans’ food and beverage industry, Mary from Le Foret and McGehee from WINO, where she jokingly referred to herself as a “wine wench,” and where she “sold wine and mopped it up when spilled.”

“Each and every cake is a great accomplishment,” says Mary. “All Debbie’s cakes may not be created equal, but I love them all the same.” “Debbie” will soon be selling her stratified confections – available in many more flavors than their cake-pan predecessors – out of a refurbished 1970 VW bus, the couple’s new “mobile cupcake truck.”

Demetria Christo and Travis Cleaver
Co-Owners, EcoUrban, LLC

In November Demetria Christo and Travis Cleaver will celebrate their fourth anniversary as co-founders and owners of the sustainable landscaping group, EcoUrban, LLC. It was during the wake of Hurricane Katrina that the two friends, who had attended Tulane University together,  were motivated to promote an eco-friendly future for their adopted hometown that’s known, among other things, for its lush foliage.

Through native and edible garden design, organic landscape practices, cistern rain-harvest technology and artisan soil production, EcoUrban facilitates adaptation to regional environmental challenges.

“My favorite aspect of my job is taking an overgrown or barren property and turning it into a productive and beautiful outdoor space,” says Cleaver.

While their business may have started small – like many others post-storm – they’ve seen expansions in different areas. “Meeting demand has been a great challenge this year,” says Christo, a self-described urban ecologist who recognizes demand for a multitude of green services. “We’re overhauling our infrastructure to accommodate more projects. It’s been hard to keep up, even during our slow season!”

The pair has worked on both residential and commercial spaces, and recently they even caught the eye of the mayor’s office: “Our greatest accomplishment so far was installing landscaping for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Inaugural Ball,” says Cleaver.

The upcoming year holds promise as the forward-thinking duo continues with their mission. “We hope to expand our garden soil production throughout the upcoming year,” says Cleaver. “Supporting locally grown food, through home, school and community gardens is one of our biggest priorities.”

Gregor Fox and Sean Gerowin
Chief Financial Officer and Writer/Director, Backyard Shed Films, LLC

Sometimes the hardest part can be finding the right location. Gregor Fox and Sean Gerowin of Backyard Shed Films, LLC, know this from experience. Locating a trailer park for their newest film Trailer Park Jesus, meant scouting “over 60” locations until they “were led to Dude’s Trailer Park in Port Allen,” says Gerowin.

“Filmmaking is a team sport,” says Gerowin, who serves as writer and director. Not only that, but, “filmmaking, for me, is an artistic outlet (and) I feel very lucky to patronize and be a part,” says Fox, who serves as CFO of the company. Fox and Gerowin work closely together to create low-budget films, such as Let’s Rob the Cheese Shop, which received a Silver Medal at the Indie Gathering Film Festival in 2009, though they also have other professions. They do “for-hire” work through Backyard Shed Films, LLC, and hope to begin producing high-budget pictures in the future.

Bernard Griffith
Head Coach, Men’s Basketball, Dillard University

Bernard Griffith worked as a coach, teacher and principal at St. Augustine High School for a quarter of a century before taking his new post at Dillard University. He has also taught and coached at Jesuit High School, Xavier University, Southern University (Baton Rouge), Sarah T. Reed High School and L.B. Landry High School. He has even coached the Dallas Mavericks.

Griffith strives to teach his students and players that “where you start off in life is not where you end up,” and that “excuses are not acceptable.” And neither is simply hoping for success. “A dream without a plan is only a wish,” he says.

The new Dillard coach views education as an investment in the students’ futures, and treasures his students’ stories of success. “It is an amazing experience to talk with and relate to the children you taught and coached 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he says. “They remember the sparks you struck,” and he gets to “witness the stars that they have become.”

Happy Johnson
President, TeamHappy.org

As president of TeamHappy.org, Happy Johnson is a social innovator and leader who teaches and prepares children and pre-teens about humanitarian relief, disaster preparedness and coastal restoration.

Johnson, whose biological father died because of gang-related violence and whose mother abused drugs, is clearly no stranger to tragedy, but his compassion for kids in dangerous situations has fueled his mission to improve the world. “I seek to positively impact a greater amount of students and young adults through our Youth Preparedness Campaign and Coastal Restoration Campaign,” he says.    

These programs teach children aged 4 to 12 how to prepare for hurricane season; there’s also great emphasis on the importance of reading, financial literacy and sustaining the environment through wetland restoration. “I am grateful and humble for the talents and gifts I have,” says Johnson. “Not that I have everything, but because I try to find good in all things, so my purpose in life is to be an advocate for neglected children, give back to the community and empower youth.” This year, in addition to reaching out to more than 1,000 students through partnerships, Johnson has also published a children’s book, with plans for another one in 2012.

Ira Solomon
Dean, A.B. Freeman School of Business and
Debra and Rick Rees Professor of Business, Tulane University

Ira Solomon spent over three decades living and working in Illinois, where his most recent post was as the head of the accountancy department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. Having made the long move down Interstate 55, he will now be the dean at Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business.

Solomon considers his greatest administrative accomplishment as being able “to create and implement a new model for university education in accountancy.” In a recent Times-Picayune interview he announced his intention to steer the Freeman school towards a more historical and community-minded approach to teaching business.

Solomon, a proud husband and father of three, looks forward to refining Freeman into a school known for “innovation and excellence in its educational programs, its leading-edge scholarship and its engagement with all facets of society.” He regards higher education as “society’s most effective institution for transforming young people’s lives in ways that prepare them to become full and contributing members of society.”

Ben Jaffe
Creative Director and Tuba Player, Preservation Hall

For Ben Jaffe, creative director of Preservation Hall and tuba player in its eponymous jazz band, music is a raison d’être, not just a career choice.

His parents opened the venerable French Quarter music location in 1961, and Jaffe grew up around the corner. His first music teacher was the late Walter Payton, an iconic jazz bassist alongside whom Jaffe would later perform.
Carrying on the musical torch is one of Jaffe’s goals. “I believe our music makes the world a better place,” he says.

“I want to ensure kids today have the same opportunities I had: to learn from and be mentored by the older generation of New Orleans musicians. New Orleans music isn’t always about the notes – it’s about the way we live, walk and talk. You can’t teach that from a book.” Recently Jaffe has added fusion into his repertoire by having the house band play with the Del McCoury bluegrass band, even making a joint appearance on the David Letterman Show. Jaffe, with tuba in tote, has also backed McCoury on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Small in size, Preservation Hall is grand in reputation and, like any good party in New Orleans, is always welcoming. “Don’t let the line fool you; we always have room for one more,” says Jaffe. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but what I’m doing.”

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