Hometown Heroes

An extraordinary year of extraordinary work
Ellabrennan
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience “Stand Up for Your Hometown” awards namesake, Ella Brennan.

 

Like restaurants nationwide in a year like no other, the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award has pivoted for 2021. This year, in lieu of a single individual receiving this year’s New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (NOWFE) honor, 13 individuals and organizations will instead receive an Ella Brennan “Stand Up For Your Hometown” Award. 

“This past year, so many in our community stood up for others during a time of extreme stress that we simply couldn’t pick just one recipient,” explained Aimee Brown, NOWFE’s Executive Director. “We have created this new award to honor the unwavering love and extraordinary response from these 13 individuals and organizations that supported the New Orleans community.”

For Ti Martin, co-proprietor of the iconic restaurant Commander’s Palace and daughter of Ella Brennan, this decision makes good sense. “All these organizations did amazing work,” Martin said. “Our industry is pretty good about hanging together overall. But I think this is more the case in New Orleans than in other cities. The way our industry embraces each other in this city is extraordinary.”

In many ways Martin is an exceptional individual – those who know her swear that there must be more than one of her, given her astonishing energy and ability to seemingly be many places at once. But in other ways she is just another business owner. Commander’s Palace, like everywhere else, faced the same seemingly insurmountable situation last spring. And like other places, she and her management staff needed to pick their way through a surreal new landscape in order to survive. Commander’s began offering food to-go. They also built out a prepared food presence on Goldbelly, an upscale online food-shipping service. 

“It was something we had been on the fence about before COVID-19 – I wondered how our food would ship frozen – but I found religion real quick once everything shut down,” Martin said. Since then, they have been mailing quail and turtle soup nationwide. “Who ever knew there was such a demand for quail?” Shipping is now a part of their business model.

Martin also pitched in however else she could in her unofficial role as a nationally recognized hospitality professional. “I just did whatever people asked me to do whenever I could to help,” she said. “Like getting on calls with senators to back legislation to aid hospitality. This was a situation where I was not leading any particular effort, but I was getting behind people who were doing some important things.”

All the while from her window in an office upstairs at Commander’s, she kept an informal finger on tourism’s pulse. “For the past 11 months there had been no Garden District tours. Then all of the sudden they started up. Now there are multiple tours a day.” While a pragmatist about the road ahead, she nevertheless sees things are getting better, and fast. “I think this summer could be better than most summers, and this fall could be ‘Katy Bar the Door.’” But most of all she is proud of how her city rose to the occasion. “I know mom would be proud of how the city handled this past year.”


 

Ella Brennan “Stand Up For Your Hometown” Award Winners 2021:

 

Chefs Brigade 

The French were the first to pioneer the “brigade system” in organizing professional kitchens. Local residents Troy Gilbert and Robert Peyton used this as inspiration for the “Chef’s Brigade”, a coalition of independent restaurants, purveyors and chefs working together to provide meals to those individuals deemed “at-risk”, including the elderly, homeless and others with preexisting conditions. Partnering with FEMA and the City of New Orleans, to date Chef’s Brigade has served more than 1 million meals. 


Issac and Amanda Toups 

When the shutdown first happened, husband-and-wife team Isaac and Amanda Toups of Toups’ Meatery first responded by providing free meals to their staff. They soon expanded the pool to include any unemployed service industry worker, first responder, firefighter, and others in similar roles. Their free meal program eventually provided up to 500 meals per day to individuals on the front lines and most impacted by the pandemic. 


Phil Moseley and Ronnie Evans 

Hogs for the Cause might have been cancelled it 2020, but that didn’t stop Blue Oak BBQ founders Phil Moseley and Ronnie Evans and the rest of their crew. Their BBQ team helped spearhead a particularly compelling community feeding effort with other Hogs for the Cause teams. The groups came together to prepare “Bag and Beer” lunches for a drive-up inspired pop-up that took place weekly over the course of several months during the pandemic. 


Charles Armstrong

Recognizing the pivotal role that school-based lunch programs play in the lives of students, PeeWee’s Crabcakes owner Charles Armstrong took the initiative to launch his own self-funded feeding program during the shutdown. His service provided free plate lunches to kids city-wide. What’s more, Armstrong hosted a community “give back” day on Mondays where he provided meals to homeless individuals as well.


Al Copeland Foundation

Larger organizations stepped up in a big way during the past year. For example, the Al Copeland Foundation launched its “Be a Hero. Thank a Hero.” campaign to provide care packages to essential workers and first responders during the chaotic first few months of the pandemic. These packages included not just food but other essentials – like toiletries — that were in short supply early on. Through a separate initiative the foundation provided aid to Louisiana residents impacted by the catastrophic parade of hurricanes that pummeled the state over the summer and fall of 2020. 


Feed the Front Line and Feed the Second Line

Feed the Front Line and Feed the Second line, led by co-founder Devin De Wulf, has raised more than $1 million to not only feed front line workers, as the name suggests, but also to support locally owned restaurants, and provide food, love and employment to New Orleans culture bearers, musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, artists and more across the city.


Jennifer Kelley Killian

As the Executive Director of the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Jennifer Kelly oversees the multitude of support programs supported by this organization. Many of the programs fill gaps that are unaddressed by other programs. For example, The Hospitality Worker Crisis Grant Program provides emergency financial assistance to individuals dealing with emergencies outside of their control like unexpected illness, injury or disaster such as a house fire. What’s more, as bar owners were especially impacted by shutdowns and other restrictions, she also directed the South Louisiana Bar Owner Relief Fund which supported over 400 Louisiana bar owners with financial assistance.


Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts

Despite the financial pains of the shutdown on their own organization, local restaurant group Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts nevertheless donated 35,000 hot meals to hospitality workers and first responders during the early stages of the pandemic. Through a separate partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, they were able to help provide an additional 25,000 meals to individuals throughout the community. An ongoing series of additional initiatives with partners like the United Way and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Music Relief Fund demonstrates the group’s ongoing commitment to local cultural and hospitality-focused industries. 


Melvin Rodrigue

While Melvin Rodrigue is best known locally in his role as the president and CEO of the iconic restaurant Galatoire’s, he also happened to be the Chairman of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) right as the industry was hit with arguably its greatest crisis in history. Since then he has stepped up as a unified voice for restaurants, and his lobbying group helped revise the initial guidance for the Payroll Protection Program, allowing restaurants longer terms for spending the money while still qualifying for forgiveness. It is safe to say that many would not have survived without these critical adjustments to the essential program. 


Lauren Darnell

As the Executive Director of the Made In New Orleans Foundation (MiNO), Lauren has provided an array of services largely aimed at hospitality professionals of color. She partnered with Bumble Bee’s Pastry to create Bee’s Grocery Fund, which aided essential workers in purchasing groceries. She also created the Bounce Back Fund, which provided financial aid to hospitality professionals to help meet their basic needs. MiNO has partnered with donors and foundations to provide direct funding to affected individuals and has also provided critical professional support in assisting hospitality professionals with navigating the application process for other forms of aid as well as securing unemployment.


Erich and Jennifer Weishaupt

Jennifer and Erich Weishaupt are the founders of the Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group. Despite the hit that the shutdown put on their business, they nevertheless proceeded to establish the Lagniappe Krewe Emergency Relief Fund, Inc. Through this non-profit they put money back into the pockets of impacted hospitality workers to the tune of $500 grants. In the end, 100% of the $200,000 in funds donated went to help industry workers on need. 


Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski

From their perch as the principals of one of the city’s preeminent restaurant groups, chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski constantly stepped up as voices for the restaurant industry. Link in particular advocated for a return of New Orleans tourism and promoted the city as a safe destination, efforts that were paying off by spring 2021. What’s more, the Link Restaurant Group provided thousands of meals to staff and others in need throughout the community during the shutdown.


Port Orleans Brewing Company

Using a cleverly-structured initiative, the Port Orleans Brewing Company raised money through their non-profit POB United which they used to purchase ingredients from local distributors then paid local restaurants to prepare meals using them for hospitality workers and first responders. Meals on Wheels handled the final mile. By stepping in on the wholesale side they got more bang for the buck while also generating revenue for restaurants that needed help. In short, their initiative put money into the interrelated web of businesses that support hospitality as a whole. POB United ultimately raised $378,000 in their efforts.