Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who liked to cook. They cooked for their family and friends, and everyone said their food was wonderful. “Filling” said an aunt; “Hearty and delicious” said another aunt. One distant relative even described their food as “ambitious.” Everyone, or at least those who spoke most loudly, said they should open a restaurant.
So the man and the woman went to a moneylender and told him of their dream. “We want to open a restaurant where people can come and enjoy our food, and possibly also spend significant money on wine and other beverages.” After the man and woman pledged their home as collateral, the moneylender agreed to fund their venture, and they all lived happily ever after except for the man and the woman whose restaurant was six months behind schedule opening because the neighbors wanted more parking spaces, there were issues with the venting system, the plumbing regularly backed up and who the hell knew electrical work could be so expensive?
The restaurant, which the man and woman had named “Hope” closed in less than a year.
That’s the story where new restaurants are concerned, but with some exceptions that’s not the way it has happened in New Orleans, is it? We’ve gained a lot more restaurants than we’ve lost over the last 10 years, and the trend doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
I’ve asked a lot of people in the industry a question similar to the following: “How can New Orleans support so many more restaurants than before Katrina, when our population still isn’t what it once was?” What I most often hear is some variation of “it can’t last, but … ”
The truth is that while some restaurants have closed, the overall number opening continues to increase. I was talking to a restaurateur the other day about this and other topics, and he attributed the trend to the influx of young people who’ve come to New Orleans, and who seem to have a predilection for eating out more than locals. I don’t think that really answers the question, because there are so many restaurants that the number of new residents can’t really explain the increase in patronage.
But consider this: a lot of people lost their kitchens during Katrina; for these people eating out was not a luxury, it was necessary. I wonder whether a lot of those folks grew so accustomed to eating out that it became second nature even after they were able to renovate their kitchens?
I wonder, too, whether the increasing number of “casual” restaurants operated by fine-dining chefs has made dining out more attractive generally? Perhaps the lower price point has expanded the market?
I really don’t have an answer, and I don’t think any of the above explanations are adequate, but trends don’t live or die based on my understanding of them, so there you have it.
I’ll be reporting on new restaurants for the near term, anyway. Stay tuned to this space for something about Jared Ralls and Adolfo Garcia’s latest venture, Primitivo, as well as a report on the new Broadmoor spot, Kin, and likely something else opening in yet another neighborhood.