The cafe tables were empty at Loretta’s Authentic Pralines down in Faubourg Marigny and the display cases up front were barren. But in back, Loretta Harrison and her crew had the kitchen humming. Another batch of pralines bubbled in a copper kettle. The homey aroma of sweet potato pies in the oven filled the air. Harrison wore a pink facemask and a dusting of flour on her apron as she rolled more dough for the next round of pecan pies.
Loretta’s kitchen was busy preparing special orders to sell through the kitchen door to locals and to ship to a network of customers across the country, yearning for some connection to New Orleans.
It wasn’t business as usual, but it was business, and there was a feeling of gratitude around Loretta’s kitchen for it.
Shipping regional flavors has long been a niche industry, especially around the holidays. Now, it’s an effort of great urgency for many as the pandemic upends normal business. That’s doubly true in New Orleans, where the tourism drop has taken a drastic toll.
But while travel is off for most, cravings for New Orleans flavors persist. To satisfy them, more local businesses have found a way forward by shipping everything from gumbo and muffulettas to cocktail mixers for make-at-home specialty cocktails. Add the holidays, with many family travel plans nixed, and you have a new contingent of potential customers for some needed tastes of home.
Back at the Marigny praline shop, shipping and gift giving has thus far sustained a business Loretta Harrison started four decades ago with a family recipe for the classic Creole candy.
She built a wide following, including among people who see her each year at Jazz Fest. The loss of festivals this year was another big hit. But around Loretta’s aromatic kitchen, the crew remained upbeat. Christmas was just ahead, after all, and the pies were still rolling.