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Believing in Their City

Here in New Orleans, the United Fresh Produce Association has just kicked off its annual trade show and convention. After arriving yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend one of the afternoon Super Sessions and wander around a bit.

The city looks better than it did the last time I was here in 2007, a little less than two years after hurricane Katrina. Back then, I remember thinking Bourbon Street looked packed as ever with tourists and convention-goers, but there were hardly any cars driving on Canal. The city just felt empty. 'This week falls between two Jazz-Fest weekends, so maybe I'm getting a false impression. But, it just seems like there's so much more activity. More cars, more people.

The topic of the afternoon session was just that. Scott Miller, operating officer of local supermarket chain Rouses, and Ralph Brennan, proprietor or co-owner of local restaurants including Commander's Palace, Red Fish Grill, Ralph's on the Park and Mr. B's, discussed how their companies had come back after Katrina and, in 2008, Hurricane Gustav. And, of course, how they had managed challenges posed by last year's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Miller noted that supermarkets, in disaster scenarios, are essentially looked to as first-responders. People need food and potable water, and the supply chain has to be quickly re-established to meet those needs. Employees have to be tracked down, payroll has to be met. Brennan explained the importance of New Orleans' tourism industry, and how vital it was to send the message that “we're back” shortly after the storm.

In both cases, it sounded like a logistical nightmare. I'll have more on their conversation in an upcoming issue of SN. But, businesses like Rouses and Brennan's restaurant group still believe in the city and have helped preserve New Orleans and its culture through an unbelievably difficult period. Rouses famously doubled down on the city in 2007. As tourism returns, people will find the place as welcoming as ever.