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Where Y’Eat: Relying on Locals, New Orleans Restaurants Show Ripples of Support

Ian McNulty
New Orleans restaurants set the table for delicious food, and something that goes beyond the table.

Before the pandemic, visitors flocked to Willie Mae’s to try this Treme restaurant’s famous fried chicken. It seemed like there was always a line for tables.

Since Willie Mae’s reopened in the pandemic, locals long acquainted with that chicken can usually walk right in and sit down.

There’s a mix of gratitude for the local support here, and anxiety for when more business might return. That about sums up where many restaurants stand right now.

Future projections seem dire, with event and convention cancelations now extending well into next year. Adding to the angst are the complexities of trying to draw more visitors while keeping the virus at bay.  

Through it all, more New Orleans restaurants are still reopening, some for the first time since March. Many explain it as a now-or-never proposition, with no end in sight and no immediate relief on the way.

But New Orleans restaurants do have one thing they can still rely on, and it’s formidable. They can count on New Orleans people, with our famously robust appetite for good food and good living, and the relationships we maintain through our restaurants.

That’s why it’s important to remember just what restaurants are serving up, beyond delicious meals. To dine out again right now is to feel the restorative lift of convening around the table, albeit on a limited scale. If we ever thought we could take that for granted, clearly we can’t now, and just sharing a meal, sharing some time at ease, can feel like a small victory.

The crisis has also underscored just how far the money New Orleans people spend pursuing their culinary passions can go in this community. The fried chicken the locals are eating up at places like Willie Mae’s doesn’t just keep the lights on for another day. It circulates through the ecosystem of employees, suppliers and vendors, and ripples across the local economy.

The New Orleans restaurant relationship goes deep, and as we’re seeing more than ever now, it goes far beyond the table.

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

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