When I told a friend about the restaurants that would be the focus of our project, she lit up at the mention of Mandina’s. This is where her family has always gone immediately following the funeral of a relative. In fact, she told me, members of her family have become so accustomed to the ritual of post-funeral dining, that many of them now make a point to eat at Mandina’s after any funeral – family or otherwise. Eating one’s way through a difficult time seems to be characteristic of many New Orleanians – evidenced in the aftermath of the 2005 storms, when local papers and the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization posted almost daily updates on the projected reopening dates of the beloved Restaurant Row ; as if residents couldn’t wait to eat away troubled thoughts at Brocato’s or Venezia and be assured that all would be well because the restaurants were back.
Now, most of them are back and we are trying to establish what it is about them specifically that has so endeared them to the community. Why are these businesses flourishing and in such concentration? “Zoning,” was the response David Beriss got from a restaurant affiliate to this question – an answer a bit deflating for a few moments for us, who are hoping for something more curious and charming than zoning to explain the vibrant area. I gave this some thought, deciding that location in the row alone was not a guarantee of success for a food establishment. Our research team is now collecting stories of the early years of business for the restaurants as told by owners, employees, and customers. So far I am most impressed by the adaptivity of the establishments. One restaurateur told me she had to change her menu completely three times within the first months of opening earlier this year. She and her patrons are still trying to agree on what her restaurant should serve. Anthony of Venezia said that his restaurant used to be open till all hours for pitchers of beer and pizza. At that time they were drawing in a student crowd. Now he said they mostly do large parties and family gatherings. Maybe I should recommend my friend check out Venezia as another great after-death meal spot.