Do you know your garbage man? Probably not, but if you’re a resident of the French Quarter and St. Bernard Parish there’s a good possibility that you’ve seen yours. His name? Sidney D. Torres IV. Even if his company, SDT Waste and Debris Services, doesn’t pick up trash from your home, you have no doubt seen him in the company’s TV commercials – behind the wheel of what looks like a very large street sweeper, which he really does know how to drive. When was the last time you saw your garbage man – albeit one who often looks like he just got off his private plane which jetted in from St. Barth’s – on TV? When was your garbage man good friends with Lenny Kravitz, for whom Torres used to work as his personal assistant? Yet, it’s not uncommon to see him on the streets of the French Quarter checking up on his employees – visible themselves in their Torres-approved uniforms of black pants and black polo tops with the distinctive bull logo – making sure the historic heart of the city stays clean. And it works – the consensus is that the French Quarter, where he also lives, is cleaner than ever. The New Orleans City Council even gave him a special commendation for his work with SDT. There has been a glitch here and there – there’s still conflict over the size of the garbage bins in the French Quarter – but he does have the ear of the city’s Department of Sanitation Director Veronica White, who called him during this interview.
Who better to be in charge of beautifying the French Quarter and other parts of the city than someone who started his business career renovating historic homes and buildings? And Torres is a local boy: he’s of Isleño descent, originally a family of trappers who settled in St. Bernard Parish, where his family still has a presence – his grandmother is the clerk of court.
So why would someone put on hold a career as a real-estate developer for one in … trash? Good question, as there’s more to Torres than meets the eye.
Age: 31 Family: Son, Sidney D. Torres V; Father, Sidney D. Torres III; mother, Alma Torres; brother Tony Torres; grandmother, Lena Torres. (Of note: Sidney and Tony share a birthday; Sidney is a year older.) Born: New Orleans Resides: French Quarter Education: Graduate of the Marvelwood School; one year at Louisiana State University, then went to work for musician Lenny Kravitz Favorite restaurant/food: I love the food at Irene’s Cuisine. They have a fish dish with jumbo crabmeat on it that I love; great pasta; and my favorite is their homemade chocolate ice cream with strawberries. Favorite musicians: Lenny Kravitz, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, ReBirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and James Brown Favorite Movie: The Aviator Favorite vacation spot: Bahamas Hobby: Work? Work is a hobby, that’s literally all I do. [But] I like my customized motorcycles.
What’s a typical day for you?
I’m up at 4:30 a.m. and check on the guys, check in with their supervisors. They call me their alarm clock. I try to go to the gym at least four times a week. Then I get to the office and find out what appointments I have for the day. I’m usually in meetings until 4 or 5 p.m. I get on the computer. I eat dinner – my mom will often cook for me. Then ultimately I go to sleep. I like to see local musicians like ReBirth or Trombone Shorty but I’m not the type that likes to hang out at bars.
How did you get started in business? My grandmother co-signed a $100,000 loan for me to start renovating houses. That first house is on Burthe Street. I love renovating old buildings. Throughout my career I’ve developed $100 million of property, mostly in Uptown and the French Quarter.
How many businesses do you currently have? About 25 LLCs [limited liability corporations] plus SDT. I have about 150 employees.
You developed a number of local hotels – Melrose Mansion and Hotel Royal, as well as the Rivers Inn, which you have since closed – is there any common aesthetic? I like modern, simplicity, though I like to mix it up. I hate too much clutter.
You’re a self-admitted fanatic to detail, too. I’m very hands-on. For SDT, I designed the company logo – in honor of the family’s bullfighting heritage. I saw a worker wearing an unapproved hat and I told the supervisor to tell him to take it off and put the right one on. The SDT trucks are cleaned at night. I worked with my employees cleaning up the French Quarter after Mardi Gras. It’s details that make a difference. [Ed. Note: The company just unveiled a new water truck that flushes the streets with a new lemon scented, biodegradable disinfectant, which will help during the summer.]
Why did you start SDT? It happened by accident. By nature I’m a problem solver. After Hurricane Katrina, I had a lot of hotel rooms that were empty. I knew a number of U.S. governmental agencies and the U.S. Marshals were coming to town for a while and needed a place to stay. So I told them to stop by and I had wine and cheese and a butler, which no one else had. They ended up staying at my hotels. But there was no trash pickup service and when I tried to get it, it was too expensive. So I bought a truck, dumpsters and went into business. I ultimately won the contracts for the French Quarter and St. Bernard Parish.
Are you planning to expand SDT? I’m now bidding on Kenner’s contract, and hope to do something in Atlanta.
If someone wants a contract with the city of New Orleans – how does one go about it? Times have changed. There are more opportunities for people to bid on contracts.
You are a big supporter of the community – are you doing anything in particular to give back? I plan to launch a program to help fund local musicians programs in schools.
Do you miss anything, now that you’re working nonstop? One of my favorite things was when Lenny [Kravitz] was on tour, I would go city to city with him. I don’t have time these days to hang out on the road like I used to.
True confession: When I was nine years old, I got to into the habit of eating Haagen-Dazs ice cream and my mom’s chocolate chip cookies before I went to bed. I ended up gaining so much weight, I looked like the Pillsbury doughboy.