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Where Y’Eat: After Brazen Attack, Community Rallies for Beloved Restaurant

Mandina's Restaurant in New Orleans, photo by Ian McNulty

Can comfort food bring something beyond just hearty gratification? Can it be a vehicle to express support and solidarity? It sure seemed that way at Mandina’s Restaurant in Mid-City this week, where people were packing into the dining room for lunch, dinner and for something more than a meal.

The beloved Mid-City restaurant was the scene of a brazen shooting a few days earlier that took the life of Mandina’s waiter Hilbert Walker III and wounded a customer, a visitor from Chicago. The restaurant remained closed for the weekend after as the family owners and Mandina’s staff began to contend with the trauma of the attack.

Mandina’s made a plan to reopen on Monday though, and even before the shutters were rolled back up people were congregating outside, lining up to be among the first through the door to bring support in the face of this.

Behind the scenes, the Mandina’s restaurant family has also been receiving an outpouring of such support from the community, especially other hospitality industry people.

The shooting occurred after the first day of Jazz Fest, always a very busy time for restaurants around the neighborhood, and that includes Mandina's.

In business since 1932 and known for its Creole-Italian cooking, Mandina’s is the definition of the New Orleans neighborhood restaurant, one that’s embraced by regulars no matter what neighborhood they actually call home.

The pink corner building trimmed in neon and the sight of families leaving with boxed-up leftovers is as much a part of Canal Street as the streetcars that rattle past it. It’s a bucket list destination for nostalgic expat New Orleanians on return visits and for tourists in the know.

Through those first meals back open, people convened groups to make special visits, lined the bar waiting for tables, and generally filled the old restaurant with their presence. It made the message as clear as the soft shell crab dish chalked on the specials board: for a restaurant valued in its community, that community was going to show up again.

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