Page Turners

People to Watch 2010
JEFFERY JOHNSTON
Susan Woods and Becca Selvidge Fox

Scrapbooks usually connote old acquaintances, but not ours, which is filled with images of memories still being made. People to Watch we define as folks doing something new that we should be aware of. That is why they’re so watchable. Look through these pages and and gaze at the future, where there will be more scrapbooks to be filled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda McGillivray
Laboratory Research Technician, Tulane University School of Medicine

Amanda McGillivray isn’t afraid of germs; in fact, she loves them. As a laboratory research technician at Tulane University School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, McGillivray studies novel vaccine and adjuvant development – the latter of which is a necessary and often overlooked factor in the effectiveness of vaccines. In laymen’s terms, she works to prevent infectious disease through vaccines. “Currently, there are only a few FDA-approved adjuvants in the U.S. and these unfortunately do not work well with all vaccine formulations,” she says. “Therefore, it is very important to develop other safe and effective adjuvant alternatives.” Part of McGillivray’s job is to test the safety, structure, functionality and effectiveness of vaccine proteins. “I consider that my work is very relevant and important to human health as this protein might ultimately be used as a component of vaccines administered to humans,” she says.

McGillivray has always been interested in science, specifically microbiology. “I have an innate curiosity about why and how underlying processes occur,” she says. “I love learning about how organisms function in a particular manner. I especially enjoy studying how bacteria cause disease. There is something so fascinating about how an organism, such as a microbe, can cause severe complications.”

Her ultimate goal is to become a Principal Investigator (P.I.) and own her own research lab. To reach that goal, McGillivray must earn her Ph.D., a step toward which she’s already taking; she was accepted into the Biomedical Sciences doctoral program at Tulane, a feat that she says is both her biggest challenge and her greatest accomplishment. “I am very fortunate,” she says, “to be able to work in an environment that has allowed me to grow as a young scientist.”

Iftikhar Ahmad
Director of Aviation, New Orleans Aviation Board and the City of New Orleans

Iftikhar Ahmad wasn’t afraid to have his head in the clouds. And as Director of Aviation for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, he does just that. “I believe in living a life with purpose,” he says. “In leading airports I have found my purpose.” He sees MSY as both a literal hub of commerce and also a greater symbol of how travel effects New Orleans and the community. “I believe airports play a very important role as economic engines for their regions,” Ahmad says. “They add to the prosperity and quality of life of a community by connecting it to the rest of the world. When visitors come to this community, they stay in our hotels, go to our restaurants, use our gas stations and other venues where money changes hands and jobs are created. In the case of New Orleans, if New Orleans is playing zydeco, we are the accordion.” Ahmad’s professional goal is to properly equip the aviation industry to serve people in the future, though his personal goals deal not with work, but with his wife and two sons. “My long-term goal is to raise my children in a way that they would have a sense of duty, while encouraging them to reach the stars. I spend all my time with my children and wife when I am not working.”
 

Angela Watson Daliet
Founder and Executive Director, Save Our Schools NOLA

Angela Daliet, along with many New Orleanians, lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. One thing she couldn’t bear to lose, however, was an adequate public school system. “I didn’t grow up in New Orleans, but I moved here for college and fell in love with the city’s culture, funky vibe and openness to diversity,” Daliet says. “My small-town upbringing and mother’s continuous push [for me] to be a strong woman who stands up for what I believe led me on the path to become an advocate for people like me and my kids, public school parents and students.”

She started Save Our Schools NOLA in September 2005, determined to help reform the public school system through awareness, education, community and action. The group’s goals also include advocating for both policy and social change. “SOSNOLA is building parent and citizen demand for excellent public schools for all children in New Orleans by informing our community, organizing a constituency, and advocating toward educational equality and quality,” Daliet says.

She says her biggest challenge this year has been trying to balance work and a family of seven children, but she believes that both her professional and personal accomplishments are a result of such challenges.

While the demands of her job are strenuous and time-consuming, including late nights, early mornings and anything but a typical 40-hour workweek, Daliet wouldn’t have it any other way. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life,” she says. “That’s me. No matter what the future holds, I know I will always be working to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for our local children, families, businesses, neighborhoods, city, region and state.”

Elizabeth Teel Galante
Executive Director, Global Green USA – New Orleans

When it comes to “going green,” most people are all talk and little action. Beth Galante is not only all action, but she also works to encourage and enable the public to act. After working as an assistant District Attorney in New Orleans an a Deputy Director for Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, she took on the position of Executive Director for Global Green in January 2006.

“My favorite thing about my work is that I get to contribute to New Orleans’ renaissance as a model of coastal resiliency for the rest of the world,” Galante says. “We’ve come so incredibly far in the past five years, and the next five years promise to be just as inspiring.”

Global Green specifically works to “green” New Orleans Schools through outreach and technical assistance on a state and local level. “New Orleans’ public school system is now on track to be a national green schools leader in the coming decade,” she says.

Galante wants to bring environmental awareness to the public in a way that is relatable, accessible and beneficial.

“I want Louisiana to finally take advantage of its abundant renewable natural resources and create 50,000 safe, clean and good paying jobs in solar, wind, biofuels and river turbine energy,” she says. “In the short term, I’m working to bring funders, manufacturers and government officials together to bring a major renewable energy manufacturing facility to our state in the next two years.”

She says that now is the time to act. “I believe that the oil disaster has made many more Louisianians than ever before realize that, if we want our state and children to have a prosperous future, we cannot continue to rely so heavily on one industry, especially one that is employing fewer and fewer workers. There has never been a better opportunity to support clean, safe energy production in our state, and Global Green is going to work hard to help Louisiana make some great strides in that direction.”

Catherine Deano and Renee Maloney
Owners, Corks N Canvas/Painting With a Twist

Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney want everyone to be able to feel like an artist. “Everyone wants to be creative,” Deano says. “(Corks N Canvas/Painting With a Twist) accomplishes this in one evening.” The two women opened Corks N Canvas in 2007, offering beginner art classes where the students have a completed painting to take home at the end. The twist comes with the encouragement to bring a bottle of wine to the class. “Like we say, ‘A little wine, a little art and a whole lot of fun,’” says Deano.

Maloney’s favorite part of her job is seeing the reactions of the reluctant artists. “People are laughing, singing to the music as they paint,” she says. “They are so surprised at the end of the night by their accomplishment. We get phone calls all the time the next day saying, ‘My husband and kids can’t believe I did this!’”

Corks N Canvas has copyrighted more than 700 pieces of art to use in art classes, including everything from Louisiana and New Orleans-themed paintings to landscapes and more. Deano and Maloney soon opened many other locations, including franchises called Painting With a Twist, in Louisiana, Florida, Texas and more.

Corks N Canvas/Painting With a Twist also holds fundraiser classes, called Painting With a Purpose, the proceeds of which benefit local nonprofits.

Deano hopes to keep helping people get in touch with their inner artist. “Seeing the joy on peoples faces at the end of the night as they look at their completed painting is why I do it,” she says. “Knowing that we are exposing people who would have never picked up a paintbrush to actually create a work of art they are proud of is heady stuff.”

David Skinner
General Manager,Mahalia Jackson Theater and Saenger Theater

When it comes to big names, David Skinner has worked with the best of them. Skinner has been involved in entertainment and facility management his entire life – he’s even worked with Elvis and The Rolling Stones. But, ultimately, the big names couldn’t compare to home. “I know what the song says: ‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?’ and that is so true,” he says of his time spent away.

He returned home in the fall of 2008 to aid in rebuilding efforts, specifically in the re-opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater and the Saenger Theater. “Hard work for sure,” he says. “But extremely rewarding.”

Now the general manager, Skinner is continuing the effort to re-open the beloved local gem, The Saenger. “Our long-term goal is to continue renovation of the Saenger Theater and return this historic landmark to its 1927 grandeur,” he says. “The theater will re-open in late 2011 and, with an enlarged stage house, will be able to host shows that heretofore have passed New Orleans.”

More than anything, Skinner knows the importance of the Saenger to the spirit of the city. “The theater represents memories to every citizen in our community – it is a place where we all had our ‘first’ something … where we saw our first movie, our first play or our first concert. For New Orleans to return, the Saenger must be part of that picture.”

 

Dominik Knoll
CEO, World Trade Center – New Orleans

For someone whose life and career has been spent globetrotting, a position as CEO of the World Trade Center in New Orleans – the first of 300 World Trade Centers worldwide – is oddly appropriate. Originally from Italy, the 27-year-old earned an M.B.A. from Tulane University’s AB Freeman School of Business; a master’s degree in management from the Business School of the University of Innsbruck, Austria; and an Italian Ph.D. from the University of Bolzano, Italy.

Knoll worked in Germany, Italy, Austria and Denmark before serving as assistant to the CEO and project manager of Kronberg International and working directly with companies in Milan, Vienna, London and the U.S. He also published his first book in 2007, How Companies Successfully Enter Clusters, written in German.

Knoll then decided to focus his business acumen on New Orleans. “I came before Katrina to New Orleans and fell in love with it,” he says. “(I) love my job…I was always interested in international trade, which was and is highly important for Louisiana and New Orleans.”

Knoll officially began his role as CEO of the non-profit business, investment and trade organization on July 1. “I am looking forward to serving the WTC members and the whole community of New Orleans and Louisiana in promoting trade, and creating jobs and wealth in our area.”

Forrest Bacigalupi
Owner, Highwater Gallery and Arts Kinetic

Valentine’s Day 2009 was an important day for Forrest Bacigalupi, and not because of candy hearts and Hallmark cards. Feb. 14 marked the opening of Highwater Gallery, the culmination of 10 months of renovating one of the oldest and most dilapidated buildings in the Carrollton neighborhood. He defied a terrible economy and a “minimally visible location” at 7800 Oak St., ultimately finding success in an unlikely time and place.

“The quality and unique character of the artwork in this gallery has stood on its own,” Bacigalupi says, “and has kept a growing number of patrons and supporters participating in a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that has helped Highwater Gallery become a successful business. I decided from its inception that if I was still standing on the other side of this economic morass, I would be a much better businessman for it. I’m working my way towards that goal, daily.”

Highwater Gallery features rotating exhibits of eclectic folk art and other craftwork that showcase the uniqueness of New Orleans and its artists. Bacigalupi’s first major endeavor, however, was in 2005 with the launch of Arts Kinetic, a collection of art including whimsical and provocative vintage posters and handmade jewelry. Pieces from Arts Kinetic have been featured in local festivals and art markets since its inception.

“My long-term goals involve continuing to improve and develop in my craft, maximizing the impact of my artistic vocabulary, and to continue to respond to the ever amazing community, lifestyle and experience here in New Orleans,” he says. “My creative vision has been honed in New Orleans, and my hope is that my art reflects my experiences here with fidelity and insight.”

Susan Woods and Becca Selvidge Fox
Owners, House of Lounge

Becca Fox and Susan Woods know better than anyone that sex sells. The two women, who have owned House of Lounge since 2009, see the benefits of sex appeal every day. “I get to help people feel sexy and glamorous all the time,” says Woods, who also hosts Burlesque for Beginners for bachelorette parties and other events.

“(House of Lounge is) a place where you can indulge in fantasy, but also find what we refer to as ‘everyday glamour,’” says Fox. “Women deserve to have well-fitting undergarments that make them feel fantastic every day, not just on special occasions. After all, this business is instant gratification.”

The two want to encourage a positive body image and lifestyle. “My long-term goal is to spread the gospel of New Orleans,” says Fox. “As Louis Prima sings, ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.’ For me, that message starts with the first garment a woman puts on in the morning.” Woods says they also want to expand their private label line with designer Jill Townsend “and to be known as the best place in New Orleans for high-quality sexy unmentionables.” Fox seconds: “Doesn’t the rest of the world deserve a peek at what helps to keep New Orleans sexy?”

Lingerie is not, contrary to popular belief, all just fun and games. There are technical aspects as well. Woods says her greatest accomplishment is “learning how to fit a bra properly. Having a bra that fits well is the next best thing to money and diamonds, ladies!”

Fox and Woods have plenty of plans for House of Lounge on the horizon, including their annual Art for Art’s Sake party (“Think specialty cocktails, Fleur de Tease models in the windows, delicious light bites, etc.,” says Woods.)

as well as “more trunk shows, more special events and who knows? The possibilities are sexy and endless.”

Issa Abou-Issa
Artist

From the first moment Issa Abou-Issa stepped foot into New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at age 9 for a school field trip, she knew she wanted to be an artist. “These paintings spoke to me loud,” she says. “I took in every detail of these paintings. All I remember were Goya and Rembrandt – and the next thing, there was dead silence. I finally snapped out of my trance and realized I was alone. My classmates and teacher left to another room and I was surrounded by another school.”

Abou-Issa’s passion for art continues to this day, exhibited in her fervor (“I see art all the time in my head and in my sleep. Sometimes it’s maddening,” she says.) and in her versatility. She has studied and become proficient in ceramics, welding, pottery and glassblowing, as well as painting and furniture design.  Abou-Issa, a New York native who considers Louisiana her true home, works from a home studio, which suits her free spirit perfectly. “I can choose to work anytime I want, even in my pajamas!”

Her clientele is quickly expanding and now even includes celebrities; Abou-Issa recently completed commissions for a star of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” and a star of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

Her greatest challenges have come with trying to balance a career and family. Abou-Issa creates works for clients, designs her website, does her own accounting and public relations, and packs and delivers her works, all while raising two kids.

All the work is worth it, however, because she feels she’s following her dream. “When I feel something very strong, I waste no time in pursuing what I want,” she says. “I’m a risk taker. I would rather try and fail then to never try and wonder ‘What if? If only? I should have?’”

Andrew Wong, Egbert Ming and George Chin
Founders, Jazzmen Rice

It would seem as though the current economy would be the worst time to begin a start-up venture. Fortunately, George Chin, Egbert Ming and Andrew Wong disregarded naysayers when they founded Jazzmen Rice earlier this year.

“Our biggest challenge was to open a new business in a slow national economy,” says Chin. “Because of many business failures, it has been difficult to obtain financing and outside funding.” But, he says, “I like the challenges a new business brings.” Ming, who has also been a nurse anesthetist for the past 26 years, also found the risks of a brand new business thrilling. “To me, creating something from nothing is what it is all about,” he says.

Jazzmen Rice sells a U.S.-bred jasmine-type aromatic variety of rice called Jazzman – Americans have had to buy traditional jasmine rice imported from Thailand, until now. With the exotic strain now grown locally (and thus selling for less), Jazzmen Rice is expected to boost production from 500 tons in its first year to 63,000 tons by 2011.

The childhood friends find satisfaction in the venture’s potential to boost the local economy. “Jazzmen Rice is a new product to New Orleans and the rest of the country,” Ming says. “Growing this product creates jobs and helps the people of the state of Louisiana. The growth potential in limitless, and our goal is that this great product will also aide people in other states and – why not – other countries.”

“My greatest accomplishment is to see consumers realize that our premium rice is in fact better than many out there in the market,” Wong says. “In the near future, we would like to be all over the world,” Chin says.

  

Jolie Benson and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey
Founders and Designers, Jolie and Elizabeth

Jolie Benson and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey made it big in the fashion world – Benson was an intern for Betsey Johnson and a merchandiser for BCBG Max Azria Group in New York City; Dewey was her intern at BCBG. The two were in the Mecca of fashion, but decided to take their passion from the Big Apple to the Big Easy.

“We chose to start Jolie and Elizabeth because it has been a dream and a goal of ours to design, produce and overall base a fashion line in New Orleans,” they say. “We both have always been passionate about fashion and our home city of New Orleans … We knew our brand and our business idea could succeed.” They both have degrees from Louisiana State University in fashion merchandising and have used their knowledge to create a line of Southern designs, including seersucker fashions for women and  “Heart Nola” tees, benefiting the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. Benson is the head of creative design while Dewey heads public relations, marketing and sales.

“One challenge that we are most proud of overcoming is our goal to stay local,” they say. “In many ways, New Orleans is ahead of the trend with this. Using local resources, supporting local businesses, especially in a time of economic hardship is the clear way to sustain our city.”

Jolie and Elizabeth designs are featured in 20 boutiques locally and nationally, and will soon be unveiling a Spring 2011 line. They eventually hope to own a stand-alone flagship store in New Orleans and ultimately expand Jolie and Elizabeth nationally and internationally.

 

Kate Elizabeth Voisin
Freelance Designer and Illustrator

Kate Elizabeth Voisin can’t help but be an artist. “I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like sitting still without something to sketch on,” the designer and illustrator says. “My school notes are probably more doodles and portraits of my classmates than factual information. I just feel the need to create pictures all the time.” 

Although she has natural ability, she says that the difficulty lies in living up to her own expectations. “I am just now – as in the past couple years – getting to the point where I can clearly see a picture in my head and make that exact thing (or at least a close approximation) come out on paper,” she says.

Voisin paints digitally by using a Wacom Intuos4 tablet. “It works like pen on paper, except brush strokes on the tablet show up as brush strokes on my screen.” She can zoom into the virtual canvas and focus for hours at a time on minute sections of a work. “In a recent piece, I spent well over an hour creating these perfect little buttons for a picture that called for an upholstered sofa,” she says.

Voisin’s latest achievements include designing a cover piece for EatSleepDraw Magazine and having one of her pieces featured in the Czech gaming magazine LeveL. “2010 has been really good to me so far,” she says.

One of her long-term goals is to write and illustrate children’s books. “And like just about every other New Orleanian that I’ve met, I’m pecking away at that ‘Next Great American Novel,’” Voisin says. “If I don’t get published in the next 10 or so years, I’m either going to have to figure out an entirely new life plan or commit seppuku.”

At kate.isinyou.net you can view her portfolio and send her your commissions for greeting cards, album art, written pieces and more.

Liz Carrier
Rebuild Program Coordinator, Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana

Liz Carrier and Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (formerly the Office of Disaster Response for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana) recently reached a milestone that few programs achieve: their goal. The Rebuild Program raised over $60,000 towards the construction of eight brand new homes for displaced Katrina victims.

“This job feels meaningful every single day,” says Carrier. “Also, I get to work with great, motivated and enthusiastic people. What more could you ask for?”

The only things they could ask for, according to Carrier, are brand new goals to reach. She says her biggest challenge this past year was “transitioning from exclusively private funding to primarily public funding” as ESCLA’s Rebuild Program looks to develop new projects.

Carrier’s responsibilities with Rebuild run the gamut – from essential managerial tasks to the smallest chore. “In a nutshell, I oversee day-to-day operations and general direction of ECSLA’s Rebuild Program – everything from making the daily schedule to prioritizing homeowners, to changing truck tires, to overseeing our staff, to making sure we’re compliant to the terms of our grant, to talking to volunteers about Katrina and barriers to recovery.”

The Rebuild Program was born in January 2007, and Carrier became coordinator in June 2009 after a stint as construction coordinator and crew chief for ECSLA. She also participates in a bevy of local activities, from playing rugby with the New Orleans Halfmoons to playing women’s football with the New Orleans Blaze to arm wrestling for charity with New Orleans Ladies’ Arm Wrestling.

Lolis Eric Elie
Story Editor, HBO’s “Treme”

Writers are often advised to write what they know. As a former Times-Picayune columnist, Lolis Eric Elie got to know the city of New Orleans inside and out. “I love sharing my city with the world,” he says. “This city is misunderstood even within its boundaries … Still, I love sharing the glories of this city – our architecture, our food, our music and our joie de vivre.  Our ignorance, our parochialism, our envy of inferior cities is part of our charm.”

He was also a documentary producer for Faubourg Treme: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans. “The New Orleanians who we most want to see the film are local school children,” he says. “We didn’t know this history of New Orleans human rights struggles of the 1800s. We don’t want another generation of New Orleans students to replicate our ignorance.”

These experiences prepared him for his next task: as a story editor for HBO’s love letter to New Orleans, “Treme.”

“I love telling stories,” Elie says. “I cling to the belief that in telling our stories we can come to a better understanding of each other, a better appreciation for each other. I love language. I love the infinite variety of ways even the most basic information can be conveyed.”

Elie found that the medium of television was the perfect way to bring people together to experience the stories of New Orleans. “While we might be able to share the joy of reading a novel, seldom if ever do we read novels or essays at the same time as we watch television shows together.”

The medium of storytelling through television is also an ongoing one, luckily for “Treme” fans. “We start shooting Season Two in November … I’m looking forward to telling the evolving story of what happened to us a year after the federal levee failures.”

Michelle Weaver
President and Co-owner, Meltdown Popsicles

New Orleans is a town of tradition; we stick to what we know, whether it’s with poor boys, Sazeracs or even the mother of all summer indulgences, the snow ball. Our city’s many loyalties make it difficult sometimes to introduce something completely different, but in the case of Michelle Weaver, the proof was in the popsicles.

Weaver fell in love with Mexican-style popsicles called paletas, and decided to bring the frozen treat to New Orleans. “The flavor combinations intrigued me,” she says. “Most importantly I loved the fact that they were all natural and not chocked full of chemicals and air.” Weaver then began experimenting with flavor combinations using herbs and fruits. “The results were successful and I knew I had to turn this into a career. I thought this would be a great way to communicate unusual flavor combinations to the masses in a relatively healthy way.”

Weaver founded Meltdown Popsicles in July 2008, opening a store in the French Quarter in September of ’09. The unique flavor concoctions include strawberry basil, pineapple cilantro, salted caramel, lavender lemonade, Vietnamese coffee, saffron lemongrass and many more crazy yet complementary combinations.

“My favorite part of what I do is when kids come in to the shop and order a watermelon pop and say, ‘It tastes just like a watermelon,’” Weaver says. “That’s always the response. I think they expect it to taste like a watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher.” Weaver creates a healthy version of a typically treat lacking in nutrition by substituting natural flavors for ingredients such as Red No. 40.

“It’s a great creative outlet, it makes people happy, and I feel good about what I am serving.”

Mike Fennelly
Executive Chef, Co-owner and Creative Director, Mike’s on the Avenue

Mike Fennelly left his New Orleans restaurant, Mike’s on the Avenue, in 1999 to head a new restaurant in San Francisco. He then relocated to Hawaii before finally making his way back to the Big Easy in 2009 to recreate the 1990s restaurant with a new name, Mike’s East-West, an Asian-fusion eatery. The restaurant soon came full circle, though, when Fennelly and partner Vicky Bayley resurrected the original name, Mike’s on the Avenue, in February.

Fennelly says his biggest career challenge was “returning to New Orleans to open an Asian concept restaurant that in the process became Mike’s on the Avenue.”

Fennelly’s menu features New Orleans cuisine with an Asian-fusion twist. While Mike’s on the Avenue kept the old name, the new restaurant includes several new features, including a sushi bar and cocktail bar called Twist at Mike’s.

All of the effort and reinvention is all for the public and his loved ones, Fennelly says. “I live and create from my passion to make others happy, which makes me happy.” He says his greatest accomplishment was “realizing that I can listen to the voice of my customers and meet their needs” and that he’s most looking forward to “being involved and engaged in the city of New Orleans – personally and professionally.”

Aaron Miscenich
President, New Orleans BioInnovation Center

Aaron Miscenich began as President of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center in 2004, and already major progress has been made.

The center works to develop bioscience entrepreneurship in the Greater New Orleans area, specifically by commercializing technologies from local universities, including LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane Health Sciences Center, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University.

One start-up venture of note for the BioInnovation Center is also Miscenich’s proudest accomplishment, the creation of NuMe Health, LLC. “This is a company formed around a technology that was discovered through a research collaboration between Tulane and the USDA,” he says. “Through the work of the BioInnovation Center we were able to introduce the research team to experienced management, to funding sources and to others that helped in the development of the company. This marked the first time that the programming of the BioInnovation Center helped to create jobs in New Orleans and helped to advance a technology that could help better the quality of life of millions.”

Miscenich hopes to support entrepreneurship in New Orleans not only in the field of life science, but inclusive of multiple fields of technology, all to boost the local economy and technological standing.

The New Orleans BioInnovation Center is set to officially open in April 2011 on Canal Street.

Monica S. Ramsey
Owner and Manager, Eco Café

Monica Ramsey always felt a desire to start her own business, especially in the hospitality industry. Her parents owned and managed a hotel and restaurant in Ecuador, and her business degree from the University of New Orleans concentrated heavily on hotel, restaurant and tourism. However, there was one hurdle: “Being in a city with such a deep love for food makes this a real challenge – expectations are high,” Ramsey says. “I was waiting for the right time and a unique concept before breaking out on my own.”

Despite the challenge, Ramsey opened Eco Café in April 2010, though the difficulties were far from over. Ramsey converted the Hurricane Katrina-damaged property (“a deteriorating eye sore”) at 3903 Canal St. into usable commercial property, which included apartments and a café. Her priority, however, was to keep the renovations and the building functions as environmentally friendly as possible. “Taking an old, storm-damaged shell of a building and transforming it into my own café, Eco Café, has been very satisfying for me,” says Ramsey. “Opening day, April 6, 2010, was a huge milestone.”

Ramsey maintains her eco-conscious business model by using biodegradable materials instead of Styrofoam and minimizing energy usage, which includes using mostly fresh foods and very little frozen. The result is a café that boasts fresh, light salads; sandwiches; iced coffee; and the other usual coffee shop accoutrements, but with a green twist.

“I really enjoy interacting with customers, whose expectations are high, but whose enjoyment of the café experience equals my joy in providing it,” she says. Ramsey’s long-term goal is to own and operate a larger business, such as a bed-and-breakfast, with a similar business model and philosophy as Eco Café.

Monique delaHoussaye-Breaux
President and Principal Buyer,POSH Exclusive Interiors and BuyPOSHrooms.com

When Monique delaHoussaye-Breaux walks into a room, she doesn’t simply see walls, a floor and some furniture.

She sees design, potential and maybe some window treatments. The principal designer at POSH Exclusive Interiors for 17 years, her interest in design spans longer than that. “I have loved design since I was a little girl,” she says. “It’s in my blood. A real designer can never turn design off. It’s in my life 24/7.”

DelaHoussaye-Breaux, who was listed as one of the top 60 designers in North America by Panache Publishing and was featured as a designer on HGTV, says she can conceptualize a finished room before the work even begins. “It is a talent, so when I work I am constantly seeking applicable resources to execute my design since I already know the final design outcome,” she says. “I feel a sense of freedom when I am designing and my clients can see it in my face when we are meeting.  Design is about what you feel inside, not about what you see.”

Her most recent endeavor has been to expand the POSH business into a web-based company that brings interior design to the client’s doorstep, literally. BuyPOSHrooms.com provides completely designed rooms, including furniture and accessories, on a budget. “Servicing our exclusive clientele with a POSH lifestyle environment while providing all clients with unique, one-of-a-kind designs is my ultimate goal,” she says. “I love what I do and BuyPOSHrooms.com is my outlet to make America beautiful one room at a time.”

 

Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty
Pastor, Good Shepherd Parish; Seminary Teacher; and Archdiocese Judge

Monsignor Christopher Nalty believes that he did not choose his profession, but that his profession found him.

“Jesus once told His disciples, ‘it is not you who have chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ That’s how a vocation to the priesthood happens,” he says. “I don’t why God chose me, but I do know that becoming a priest wasn’t initially part of my ‘career plans.’”

Nalty spent six years practicing law before having second thoughts. “With all due respect to my lawyer buddies, I guess six years practicing law can make anyone question his vocation! It was after a long period of discernment and prayer (that) I decided to give it a shot in seminary.”

Before coming to New Orleans to serve as pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, the combined parish after the closure of St. Henry and Our Lady of Good Counsel parishes, Nalty served for five years as an official of the Roman Curia in the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican. He also served as chaplain to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order, and taught Apologetics at the Rome campus of Christendom College.

While Nalty feels that he’s achieved his long-term goal of becoming a pastor (“In 10 years, I hope to be doing the same thing that I’m doing now, with the same people being in a different stage of the cycle of Christian life.”), he says he strives daily to fulfill other goals. “I find my mission in the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Before I can preach those commandments, I have to follow them.”

Nannette V. Jolivette Brown
City Attorney, City of New Orleans

Many New Orleanians were excited about the election of Mayor Mitch Landrieu – the promises, the possibilities, the change. But few are aware of all the players behind the scenes who work with and advise the mayor, making his promises possible.

As the City Attorney for New Orleans, Nanette V. Jolivette Brown, directs and supervises the city’s legal affairs and provides Mayor Landrieu and his council with legal advice. The former partner at Chaffe, McCall, LLP, enjoys being directly involved with the people and with the administration. “My favorite thing about my job is the interaction I have with the citizens of New Orleans and the opportunity to work with the talented, yet selfless, staff that Mayor Landrieu has put in place,” she says. “I am grateful to serve in his administration as I have always known Mayor Landrieu to be a tireless and committed public servant.”

Brown says that the changes that needed to be made – including existing practices, litigation, contracts and business deals – were many when Landrieu took office. “I welcomed this challenge not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to find innovative and creative ways to renegotiate and resolve these myriad issues,” she says.

She considers her greatest accomplishment to be balancing such professional responsibilities and pressures with a family and spiritual life, and is hopeful for the possibilities to come in New Orleans. “I am looking forward to being a part of the real institutional, sustainable change in city government and to earning the respect of the people of our city who have endured so much over the last five years.”

Susan Taylor
Director, New Orleans Museum of Art

With more than 20 years’ experience as a museum director, Susan Taylor is primed and prepared to take over the legacy of the New Orleans Museum of Art. As of Sept. 1, Taylor is the sixth director of NOMA in the museum’s 100-year history, and she says she couldn’t be happier.

“I am fortunate that my passion is also my profession,” says the former director of the Princeton University Art Museum. “The museum provides the opportunity to think about art in the context of culture and history – to look at history through the lens of art and look at art through the prism of the humanities. The museum is a cultural crossroads where art, history, music, literature and all aspects of the humanities meet. This broad perspective reveals as much about art as it does about a moment in history or a period of time.”

Taylor hopes to engage the museum with the history, culture and creativity of New Orleans by encouraging. “As the city’s oldest art institution, New Orleans Museum of Art should be a cornerstone and catalyst for the city’s vibrant arts community and the citizens-at-large,” she says. “Education and visual learning are just one way museums and other arts institutions can impact a community. NOMA is uniquely positioned for such efforts.”

The new director specifically looks forward to the museum’s upcoming landmark centennial celebration. “In 2011, NOMA will celebrate a century of art. It will be a year full of special events highlighting the extensive NOMA collections and commemorating the accomplishments of John Bullard who retires as one of America’s longest-serving museum directors. Two priorities for NOMA will be its focus: education and technology.”

Robbie Vitrano
Partner, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, NakedPizza; Chairman and Co-founder, Trumpet Ventures

Robbie Vitrano wants New Orleans to get naked – at least with its pizza. Vitrano, along with Jeff Leach and Randy Crochet, founded NakedPizza in 2009, utilizing a brand new business model that took advantage of social media in a way that many have tried to replicate.

NakedPizza was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s “10 to Follow” and The New York Times’ “Top 10 Small Businesses in Social Media” due to its innovative use of and relationship with Twitter, including using the networking site for communication with customers and creation of sales. Most notably, NakedPizza is said to be the first company to use its billboard as a venue for advertising its Twitter.

NakedPizza also aims to change the way people eat, specifically in a venue that’s traditionally devoid of nutrition. Their pizza is made of prebiotic dough and probiotics for digestive health, bone health and weight management; its ingredients are all natural; and there are no trans fats and no butter, thanks to skim-milk mozzarella.

Vitrano’s biggest challenge in the past year has been “surfing a tsunami of opportunity particular to this post-recession, post-mass media business environment. There are entirely new expectations (and) opportunities around investment, entrepreneurship, business corporate responsibility, sustainability, health, technology, etc.”

Vitrano’s long-term business goal is “to help demonstrate, by example, that innovation applied within business can be profitable and have positive, transformative impact.”

And the best is yet to come. “NakedPizza is a company literally drowning in opportunity,” he says. “I’m curious and have a need to be useful and creative.” And his favorite part of his job? “It’s never boring.”

Robert X. Fogarty
Executive Director, Evacuteer.org; Founder, Dear New Orleans, LLC

Most people have written a love letter in their lives; but what about a love letter to a city? Robert Fogarty founded Dear New Orleans LLC, a for-profit event photography and creative studio, in 2010 to help fund one of his other creations, Evacuteer.org, a site geared toward hurricane preparedness and volunteer coordination for evacuation and re-entry. He developed Evacuteer.org after serving as former Mayor Ray Nagin’s volunteer coordinator in 2007. He also has a third enterprise, Dear World, LLC, founded in July 2010.

Dear New Orleans gives people the opportunity to write a love note to New Orleans on a less-than-traditional medium: their bodies. Hundreds of subjects, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu (“One team, one fight… One voice, one city”), Dr. John (“Chew my drawers, BP”) and Susan Sarandon (“Stay strong; we are with you”), have written their sentiments for the city on their hands to be photographed.

“While everyone else is sleeping, I’m sure I’m not the only one scribbling blurry-eyed, first iterations of a better, wonderful world,” Fogarty says. “Many of the people I’ve met who feel the same way I now consider friends. This is my favorite thing about entrepreneurship. It’s no fun (when) you’re on the ride alone.”

Fogarty enjoys juggling his many endeavors, but his greatest accomplishment is creating “a safer, stronger and more engaged city in terms of emergency preparedness with Evacuteer.org.”

More than anything, though, he strives to keep improving. “I want to do better today than I did yesterday.”

Sonia Perez
President, AT&T Louisiana

Sonia Perez was named President of AT&T Louisiana in March of this year, an accomplishment that she says is both rewarding and challenging. “Doesn’t everyone want to work in a position where you combine community activism and engagement with the unlimited possibilities of technology?” she says. “I am very lucky, and I am also grateful.”

Perez’s main goals as newly appointed president include bringing the state into a competitive standing both regionally and globally. “I can do my part by working to ensure the climate in our state encourages competition and continued investment in enhanced broadband infrastructure,” she says. “The more we can facilitate the ability of Louisianians to use the Internet everywhere they live, work or play, the more all our lives will be improved.”

Perez and AT&T’s motto is “Re-Think Possible,” a notion she says comes to fruition through marrying technology and communication. “I am able to make a difference in the lives of Louisianians by working to give them access to competitive, advanced products and services that connect them to their workplaces, friends and neighbors and improve their lives.” Such technologies include U-verse® TV, mobile broadband and new applications and products, including phones and networks.

Perez finds satisfaction in both her personal and professional achievements.  “My greatest personal accomplishment is raising three great children with a wonderfully supportive husband,” she says. “Professionally, my greatest achievement is working in a leadership position for a Fortune 7 company that values the contribution I make to provide AT&T customers the products and services they demand.”

Tess Monaghan
Executive Director, Build Now Foundation

With the recent five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many may have forgotten the impact on so many families in New Orleans. Tess Monaghan and the Build Now Foundation, however, have not. Monaghan, executive director of Build Now, has helped build nearly 20 energy-efficient homes for families whose houses were destroyed by Katrina. “We are proud of the quality and design of our homes,” says Monaghan, “and many of our families would not be able to rebuild and move back into their neighborhoods without our assistance.”

Build Now services pre-Katrina homeowners by helping them cut through bureaucratic red tape and find financing through government programs and private funding. The homes created by Monaghan and Build Now are meant to reflect classic New Orleans architecture, with nine-foot ceilings and deep front porches, so that rebuilding doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of architectural history or identity.

Monaghan was working in New York City at a management-consulting firm when her New Orleanian father founded Build Now. “I was ready for a change – personally and professionally – and jumped at the opportunity to move to New Orleans and take the reins at Build Now. (I was excited) to move from the corporate world into the non-profit sector.”

She says Build Now is continuing to work toward its goal. “While New Orleans has made great strides over the past five years, we have a long way to go – especially in flooded residential neighborhoods. It is an honor to be part of New Orleans’ recovery and to have the opportunity to fight to shape the city’s future.”

While Monaghan feels she has a long way to go in terms of recovery for the city, she enjoys looking at the progress thus far. “My favorite thing about what I do is that every day I see the tangible impact of our work,” she says.

“Many of our families would not be able to rebuild and move back into their neighborhoods without our assistance.”

Tim Bryant
President, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Tim Bryant was the Vice President of Operations and Finance at Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino when he realized he was ready for something different, something new. He then accepted a position as President of the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. “We sometimes become comfortable with where we are at and the company that we work for,” he says. “If I did not have the courage to at least consider the possibility of a change, I would not have been afforded the opportunity at the Fair Grounds.”

Bryant especially enjoys the team he works with at the Fair Grounds. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction providing support and direction to the team in order to accomplish our property’s goals and their personal goals,” he says. His greatest feeling of accomplishment comes not from success in business, but success with people. “Several people have told me that I have left an impression upon them that has helped grow their career in each of my management roles,” he says. “I hope that this trend continues as it truly brings me an abundance of satisfaction.”

He also thrives on the challenges of leading the Fair Grounds in its present and future endeavors. “I love the strategy that is required to run a complex business … I really do feel that the Fair Grounds has a great racing season to look forward to along with some great night racing experiences.

Tom Piazza
Novelist; Non-fiction Author; Writer, HBO’s “Treme”

Tom Piazza has an undeniable passion for this city. From his writing to his personal life, Piazza expresses the struggles and virtues of New Orleans. His novel City of Refuge, which won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, follows two fictional families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He’s published other works about the city, including the short non-fiction piece “Why New Orleans Matters.” His fervor for the city extends beyond his career, however. When asked what his biggest challenge was this year, he said it was “resisting the desire to fly to BP headquarters and punch out their chairman, Tony Hayward.”

But his most recent expression of his feelings for the city is his role as a writer for the HBO series “Treme,” a job that, along with writing his new novel, is both challenging and satisfying. “I’m happiest when I can work every day on a novel, so I’m looking forward to the periods when I can do that,” Piazza says. “I also can’t wait to get back to the “Treme” writers’ room and help shape and write this upcoming second season.”

For Piazza, a love of writing is enhanced by, and maybe even born from, the challenge. “I think most writers, myself included, write for many different reasons. Writing is the most challenging thing I know how to do. When it goes well, it is also the most satisfying.

Piazza has no plans of slowing down any time soon. In addition to new novels and work with “Treme,” he’s releasing a collection of nonfiction writing next year called Devil Sent the Rain. “My long-term goal is to last, as a writer, and to write well up until the end.”

Virginia T. McCollam
Filmmaker, location Manager and Scout, HBO’s “Treme”

Location, location, location. This mantra is especially true for Virginia McCollam, who served as location manager and scout for HBO’s “Treme.” McCollam’s film experience is vast – from writing (“I love language and I love ‘our’ language.”), to directing (“I love constructing space in moving images.”), to producing (“I love bringing minds together to create.”) to scouting locations, she’s becoming a Renaissance woman of the movies.

“When I find an incredible building in New Orleans or in south Louisiana that I haven’t seen before and get to use it on…that’s great,” she says. “With ‘Treme,’ I loved what the writers and producers had to say and I loved the way they were looking at the city – they were looking at it as I always had.” McCollam knew she couldn’t pass on an opportunity to give her city a voice. “If at last someone really wanted to see, hear and feel New Orleans, the New Orleans that a lot of us know, I was going to sink them in deep.”

While McCollam’s skills will be put back to work for Season Two of “Treme,” she continues to pursue other areas of film. “I’d like to spend more time writing and directing,” she says.

Ultimately, though, she wants to do it for New Orleans. “I have hope for this city and I have found new hope in people and the endless possibilities of what people can do and achieve together,” she says. “The act doesn’t have to be earth shattering or award winning – that’s more about you – what it has to be, in my new opinion, is to be done completely, done whole heartedly and done with heart. We have a lot of heart in this town, in this part of the world, and I like to lend more of mine to the effort.”

Michele Baker, Libby Bryan and Keith Porteous
Owners, Swan River Yoga

The first time Michele Baker practiced yoga, in 1996, she says she felt complete. “It inspired me to want to be of service in my community in providing creative, diverse ways to interact socially and artfully,” she says. She was the first to bring a style of yoga called Jivamukti – a modern style of yoga that incorporates breath-synchronized movement with yogic philosophy – to New Orleans. She then founded Swan River Yoga in 1998 and now has two partners, Keith Porteous and Libby Bryant, and three locations, including the latest in Mid-City.

Porteous decided she wanted to pursue yoga as a career after experiencing what Buddhists call “renunciation” after Hurricane Katrina and the death of her father. “Renunciation is like a wake-up call in which you realize that the things you’ve been looking to for happiness and the things you see as ‘permanent’ in your life are not what you thought they were at all,” she says.  Yoga, specifically Swan River, was the answer to her crisis. “As a teacher, my greatest satisfaction comes when I see students find answers to their problems, whether mental or physical, on their own through the practice,” says Porteous, who has studied with the Dalai Lama.

Bryan discovered Jivamukti yoga in New Orleans before relocating to Austria to teach it. “I teach yoga because I love sharing what I have learned and witnessing the growth in confidence, strength, empowerment and compassion in others,” Bryan says, adding that she finds the practice of teaching invaluable. “My yoga practice helped me through some of the most challenging times in my own life and has become a constant source of stability and happiness within.” She returned to New Orleans in November 2007 and immediately got involved in Swan River.

“My long-term goal is to inspire New Orleans and the entire Gulf Region, from Texas to Florida, to be a thriving medicinal Mecca of natural self-rule by honoring the health of our bodies, minds and hearts,” says Baker. “This will raise the bar of standards we give ourselves to our quality of living both with our bodies, relationships, homes, neighborhoods and our Gulf environment.”

 

Categories: Entertainment Features, LL_Feature

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