Someone recently asked me why there are so many new restaurants in New Orleans. The simple answer is to confess that I don’t know, but why let ignorance stand in the way? Since this is our Best New Restaurants issue, here are some guesses.
1) People are eating out more. Especially in households where all the adults work, it’s often easier to eat out than to fix a meal. That can get pricy but not so much more than fixing a meal from scratch. The experience lacks the comforts of home, but dining out can be time and cost efficient, plus there are no dishes to wash.
2) Tourism. We are blessed with an active tourist economy and that helps justify some of the newer high-end restaurants, the sort of places that might be a once a year special occasion places for us, but that draw visitors every day for whom being here is already a special occasion.
3) Opportunities for Ethnics. The restaurant business can provide a quicker path to assimilation. Dining is the one business where having an ethnic identity is actually an advantage. Look around your neighborhoods. There are likely eateries that are Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Central American and, no blarney, Irish pubs. Where the Creoles and Sicilians pioneered, others have moved in.
4) Opportunities for 40-somethings. To that whole generation of New Orleanians (many of whom are from elsewhere) food service offers an opportunity for recognition and advancement. The work is hard, very hard, but it also provides prestige and recognition. For someone trying to make a name for him or herself those are good things to have.
5) Pizza. I once asked a restaurant executive why so many places were making pizza. He said because it’s inexpensive to make so the profit margin is very high. Yet it’s a fun food for which there’s a large demand. Have you noticed there are more pizza places than ever, plus some mainstream restaurants have added their own pizza ovens? At places such as Domenica, pizza is even high-end. Another advantage: For those who don’t feel like leaving home, it’s one food with a precedent for delivery service.
During the month after Hurricane Katrina, as the recovery crept along, success was often measured by restaurant openings. An accounting firm or a lawyer’s office could reopen its doors and no one would notice. A restaurant reopening was big news. For all the reasons above there’s a special place in our lives for dining out. Fortunately, our plates are full.