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Where Y'Eat: How New Orleans Restaurants Survive Is Up to New Orleans

Ian McNulty
Coquette restaurant in New Orleans

The coronavirus fight has been brutal for the New Orleans hospitality industry, with massive job losses and sudden business closures. Looming over it all, there’s anguished foreboding for what this part of our community will look like on the other side of this.

And yet there is hope. And that hope is us.

This crisis has brought suffering home to many doorsteps. One reason for special concern in the hospitality business is how, in addition to being a cornerstone of the local economy, it is an expression of our culture and identity as a city. It is what we sell, but it is also how we live.

Nationally, this industry needs sweeping support on a level fitting the sweeping disruption it has been made to shoulder. We don't yet have the tools we need to fight back from this crisis.

But here at home, we do have the assets deep in our heritage to determine what we’ll be when we come out of it.

Because this crisis is so widespread, because it’s not a regional disaster or even a national one, communities worldwide will have to pick up the pieces themselves.

That seems grim, but it is actually my prime consolation these days. It will be New Orleans people who rebuild New Orleans again and define what it will be.

Tourism feeds the hospitality industry. But strip it all down to the cypress framing, to the culture that fuels it, and New Orleans hospitality is built on New Orleans people, New Orleans flavor, New Orleans tradition, New Orleans families, the connections we recognize in this realm that bind us as New Orleanians. All of these things will endure, and all of these things will be there to pour back into the rebuild.

The culture and community that New Orleans builds through food and hospitality will survive because it has always and forever come from us. Right now “us” is all anyone has.

New Orleans, I wouldn’t want to go through this with anyone else.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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