New Orleans is a service industry town. A very large percentage of our economy is based on restaurants, bars and music venues. I believe New Orleans is the best food city in the country because the people who live here value good food.
The current crisis has left most businesses without an income stream, and it’s hitting neighborhood restaurants hardest. These are the places that define New Orleans, and I include in this category both mom and pop sandwich places as well as joints like Marjie’s Grill or Addis Nola or any number of places that make us what we are.
Then there are the folks who produce the food we eat and those who work front of house. These are the cooks and dishwashers and servers and bartenders and managers who have also been laid off by restaurants. In the majority of cases I’m aware of, those layoffs were to allow people to claim unemployment benefits as quickly as possible. But those benefits aren’t all that generous and we are facing the very real possibility that in addition to losing restaurants we’re going to lose the people who actually run our restaurants.
We will get through this as a city because we are resilient. We’ve done it before. I will never forget sitting in Memphis in the days after Katrina thinking that I was done writing about restaurants because what was the point? Who cares about the lunch special at Rene Bistrot when Rene Bistrot is underwater?
Turns out a lot of people were interested in what Chef Bajeux was doing and what was going on with restaurants all over town. People were asking questions and when I got back, I spent a lot of time just driving around and taking pictures of the restaurants people had asked me about. I knew then and I know now that restaurants are critical to New Orleans and our culture.
I have learned a good bit about food safety since the crisis began and I am very happy to report that the current thinking is that takeout food is every bit as safe as it has ever been. This comes from the FDA and the WHO and other acronymic organizations but the gist is that corona viruses are respiratory and are generally not transmitted through the alimentary tract.
You ain’t swallowing your way into Covid-19, is what that means. Or what it appears to mean; please don’t mistake me for a physician or an epidemiologist or anything other than a food writer already starting to mourn.
What I got out of that story and a few other is that it seems safe to order food from restaurants for delivery or pick up. That’s good news for all of us, and I hope you have a chance to take advantage of the deals that a lot of restaurants are offering on both food and wine. I’ve mentioned a project I’m involved in, Chef’s Brigade, and I am committed to seeing it through, but we can only do so much. Whether our restaurants come back from this will depend on how many people who live here are willing to go out and dine again. I believe we will be able to resume our lives before too much longer. I sure hope so and I hope to see you out at a restaurant.