One might think that a car plunging through the fence and smashing into the front porch of your business is a major imposition, but in the topsy-turvy world that is New Orleans today, the owners of Café Luna at the corner of Napoleon and Magazine Streets were unfazed. In fact, Sara Mayeux and Ernesto Montano considered leaving the car as a permanent, unique decoration for the establishment. (They decided against it.)
These two young entrepreneurs returned to New Orleans on October 7th—before most of their friends and clients. It didn’t take long for their enthusiasm about returning to be dampened by the realization that life would not soon, if ever, return to the "old normal." In fact, they have since seen many of their friends drive back to town, pack up their belongings, and leave for less-hassled pastures.
Yet, Sara and Ernesto’s “new normal” is not so bad. Business is booming, in part because residents understand the need to frequent local businesses and in part because stores owned by some national chains –like the Starbucks across the street—have not yet reopened. Their pre-Katrina clientele (such as the students from Tulane and Loyola who used to live close by) are not back yet, but Café Luna has developed a new clientele.
Sara’s aunt, Ann Streiffer, who owns Blue Frog Chocolates a few blocks further uptown, reopened her shop during the last week of October, providing another necessity of life--chocolate. She's been busy "since day 1." As one of the first businesses in the area to reopen, Ann says, "people wanted to get out and tell their stories."
Since Ann's shop is both a candy store and gift shop, she is getting even busier as the holidays approach. She has many Chanukah gifts, including kosher chocolates and specialty items by the Israeli company Kakadu. Also, for those suffering from the Hurricane blues, she is featuring a "Katrina Relief Kit" with a chocolate chainsaw (for the pesky trees fallen on your house), a chocolate syringe (for your tetanus shot), and more. She says chocolate trash piles are on their way!
But running a business in New Orleans is not as simple as it once was. Getting supplies has been--in Ann's words--"a horror story." Specifically, UPS lost a plant and many of its trucks in the area, which has delayed deliveries.
On one occasion, when a bride had $1000 worth of favors being shipped to New Orleans and the truck could not get into the city, Ann and her crew came to the rescue, making favor boxes late into the night to replace the ones stalled outside the city.
Living in post-Katrina New Orleans requires more patience and better planning. There are fewer businesses open, and those that are usually have shorter hours, due to lack of qualified and trained employees.
But it is not only business hours that have shortened. So have tempers. Stress caused by job and money woes—which has always been a major source of contention in relationships—proliferates, and is taking its toll on otherwise loving couples and families. Dealing with insurance issues, home demolition, and reconstruction, usurps what used to be "free" time.
To deal with these strains and stresses, people in New Orleans need places like Sara and Ernesto’s café and Ann's chocolate shop, to get them out of their apartments and help them unwind.
By providing little daily luxuries--a great cup of coffee or a Belgian truffle--these Magazine Street business owners are making the “new normal” a bit more palatable for all of us.