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Where Y’Eat: After a Year of Pandemic What Keeps New Orleans Restaurants Cooking

Ian McNulty
A sazerac sarts another classic New Orleans restaurant meal.

For a year, New Orleans restaurant people have seen their industry all but closed and gradually re-opened. They’ve worked through restrictions that rise and fall like a tide they can’t predict. They’ve had their spirits crushed and revived, fears confirmed and faith renewed.   

But even in the darkest phases, what most New Orleans restaurants have done is hang on. Along the way they've built a three-part survival recipe, which I'll break down in a moment.

This week marks one year since dining rooms were ordered closed statewide in the coronavirus fight, reducing all to a desperate trickle of takeout. The same order closed all bars, casting a pall over their own future.

Sweeping layoffs swiftly followed. But the massive closure rates that many feared have not occurred here, despite heartrending individual closures.

The one year mile stone hardly signals an end to the crisis. Most restaurants still see only a fraction of normal business; many people are still jobless, coronavirus remains a grave danger.

But several factors point to the change in prospects around the industry.   

The federal relief bill President Joe Biden enacted last week over Republican opposition promises renewed support to get through the next few months, finally with funds tailored for restaurants.

Rising vaccination rates mean there's now a chance the country can stave off another surge as reopenings progress.

And so, right now, there is finally a growing sense of not just hope, but optimism

What will keep it going? I believe it comes down to that three part recipe I mentioned. It is the federal relief programs giving these businesses a financial bridge.
It is the support of local customers stepping up , with intentional purpose to keep them working through this.

And crucially, it is restaurant people themselves, the determination to preserve what they've built and its role in a city where hospitality is a way of life. It's their fight to somehow someway keep the stove lit, and that should light a fire in our own bellies.


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

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