You can hear New Orleans cheering each time another of its favorite restaurants reopens in the coronavirus crisis. What I’m dreading is when New Orleans hears a different sound: the dull thud of the other shoe dropping.
Finding a way to reopen does not signal victory in this fight. It simply means taking a position in the trench. What lies ahead is the real slog.
Simply put: Locals are not enough to sustain the New Orleans restaurant scene as we know it. That’s why normal summers, when tourism trails off, are so bad for the sector. The summer we are approaching will be worse. Tourism won’t be just low, it will be nil.
The restaurant sector is not getting the help it needs nationally. Locally, the events calendar these businesses rely on has been all but wiped clean through year’s end.
What does give me hope is the ingenuity, perseverance and generosity our restaurant community has demonstrated so often in the past, and has shown again in this crisis. They are tapping the networks of support that run through this town, and in some cases they're forging new ones.
And however this crisis plays out, they do have something potent in their corner. New Orleans people will go to the mat for what they love. They love New Orleans restaurants and the community they represent.
People who treasure this community need to be just as creative and nimble as the restaurants. We have to find ways to connect and support when the usual channels remain restricted.
Of course we cheer when another favorite restaurant reopens. It’s instinctive.
But as this fight unfolds, I’m reminding myself not to take anything for granted - not one meal, not one visit, not one interaction with the people in this community.
I’m trying to absorb the look of hope I see on their faces, visible over their face masks. I’m hoping that these moments of early return are not as good as it gets.