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Where Y’Eat: How Central Grocery is keeping its famous muffuletta going despite hard times

The Central Grocery muffuletta, a New Orleans classic.
Ian McNulty
The Central Grocery muffuletta, a New Orleans classic.

Central Grocery, the best-known purveyor of muffulettas, has been closed since Hurricane Ida struck last summer.

But the famous French Quarter name is still in the muffuletta business, and that business is growing thanks to help from other local shops.

There’s a business angle here of course. There’s demand and money to be made for filling it. But it’s also an example of how tight knit the New Orleans food world can be and the ways people in the city find to support each other through our ever-growing experience with hard times.

For Central Grocery, the worst of it arrived literally like a ton of bricks, or perhaps several tons of bricks.

During Ida, the wall of an adjacent building collapsed, sending an avalanche of masonry through its roof and forcing a near complete rebuild of the shop.

A reopening date is elusive, but the family owners are hoping it’s before the end of the year.

Meanwhile though, Central Grocery’s staff is still working from a nondescript commercial kitchen tucked away in Kenner. They’re making muffulettas to feed orders from a national food shipping company that gets them to people’s doors coast to coast, and also now for regular deliveries to local shops.

Today you can find them at Sidney‘s Wine Cellar, which is right next-door to Central Grocery.

And then there are suburban groceries -- Acquistapace’s on the North Shore and Zuppardo’s in Metairie both now carry the Central Grocery muffuletta in their delis.

Because this is New Orleans, where one degree of separation is evidently too much to ask, the owners of Central Grocery and Zuppardo’s share family roots going way back.

They’ve always had a business relationship, and they say it made sense to expand that during Central Grocery’s hurricane travails. At Zuppardo’s deli you can even get your muffuletta heated – to heat or not to heat, such an existential question of muffuletta fans.

Of all the shortages making headlines these days, from Sriracha hot sauce to Pimm’s Cup cocktails, there is no imminent lack of muffulettas, and there are so many good ones out there.

But Central Grocery, given its history and the brand loyalty built within, is a different story. The way other businesses have come into the act, makes it a very New Orleans story right now.

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