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Streetcar by Errol Laborde: Lady New Orleans

Imagine that your dad was known as “Jack the Cat.” That would have probably given you a little more standing on the school playgrounds, especially since dad was a radio DJ at a time when record spinners were idolized by the Boomer generation. Having The Cat as a dad should have given you at least footnote status in New Orleans cultural history, but there was so much more. In fact, if people got medals for cultural links, Kendra Elliott Bruneau, one of the Cat’s daughters, might be the ultimate New Orleans woman. Let us count the ways:

  • • In addition to being a popular disc jockey, Jack the Cat (Ken Elliott) also dabbled in record producing. His biggest hit will forever be heard during Carnival seasons. “Mardi Gras Mambo” was produced by Elliott and recorded by a group called the Hawkettes. The lead singer was 16-year-old Art Neville. If you’re keeping track, Kendra’s dad was a DJ who produced a Mardi Gras song that was recorded by Art Neville. The moment was a precusor to the evolution of the Neville Brothers.
  • • One of Kendra’s brothers, Ken Elliott II, once owned Barq’s Root Beer.

Ok, so far, we have: Popular D.J., Mardi Gras Mambo, the Nevilles and now the city’s most indigenous soft drink, Barq’s root beer.

There’s more. In 1985, Kendra Elliott Bruneau, and her husband Joe, bought Dixie Beer; not a six-pack but the entire brewery. They tried hard to rescue the business during an era when the big national breweries were dominating the market, but it was through. There was, however, an inspired moment. A specialty beer was created called Blackened Voodoo, which was made more mysterious by the addition of a smoky flavor. The beer might have been just another novelty item on the shelf until someone convinced the powerful in the state of Texas that the brew was obviously connected to the occult. That was all the Texans needed to hear. Blackened Voodoo was banned in the Lone Star state, but that became a big story which gained national attention and for a while, the Voodoo to-do created the most talked about beer in America, and it is still popular.

Add to the list:

  • • From the same lineage that gave us Barq’s root beer, came Blackened voodoo beer.

Then came Katrina. Despite the Bruneau’s best efforts, the badly damaged brewery had to be shut down. The Dixie brand existed, but it was brewed out of state. It just wasn’t the same.

But then in 2017 a new, very high-profile buyer stepped forth. The story is told that over poor boys and Dixies at Parkway Brewery, the Bruneau’s, who would stay as minority owners, agreed to sell the company to Tom and Gayle Benson.

So, the saga continues as though to a Mambo beat. Jack the Cat’s daughter sells the Dixie brewery to the owner of the Saints over a roast beef poor boy. Could that instant be any more New Orleans-centric? Maybe if the moment is depicted on a doubloon.


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