Yesterday, the research team met for lunch to discuss our progress on Restaurant Row. I anticipated sitting down together and, after we each summarized our interviews and findings for our establishments, a coherent relationship between restaurateurs, patrons, and neighborhood would appear.
Ah ha! We would say, so this is Mid City! Our meeting, of course, did not go this way – we all have formulated different impressions about the row and its significance in the area. We don’t know how much camaraderie our restaurateurs feel with each other, or if they see one another as a threat to business. Intuitively, one would think that proximity alone would cause these restaurants to compete, but I am not sure they do, or that they even have the same regular clientele. The only owner to hint at the challenge of being a part of a restaurant row so well established was Monica of Eco Cafe. Her breakfast/lunch coffeehouse has been open a little over four months at the corner of Scott and Canal. When asked about her immediate business community, Monica told me it was at times very difficult and frustrating to be a part of. She is extremely focused on environmentally sensitive products ; the Eco Cafe uses biodegradable products when possible, recycles, and composts with Nola Green Roots. She is in the process of expanding the menu to cater to vegan clientele – something I would think would set her apart from, rather than put her in direct competition with places like Brocato’s or the Ruby Slipper. Frustrations aside, Monica said she loved Mid City and wouldn’t have started her business anywhere else. She is active in the community and intends to become more so by joining the Mid City Neighborhood and Business Associations.
Eco Cafe is quite a contrast to Venezia, the owner of which, Anthony, did not once mention a relationship the other restaurants or the neighborhood during our interview, except when talking about the past. I got the impression that he used to feel more connected with the row and the residents, but that after the storm, many of his regulars moved out of Mid City and now commute to his restaurant. As far as the Neighborhood Association goes, he told me that if I could tell him what the annual fee for being a member was, he would be able to recall if he was, in fact, a member. I asked if he was, then, not exactly passionate in participating in the association with the other restaurant owners. He laughed and said no.
My other establishments to research are Subway, which will not respond to my attempts to contact them (though in their defense, I am having just as much difficulty tracking down Jen and Erich of the Ruby Slipper – if you are reading please call me!) and the Red Door, a formerly rowdy, though reportedly calmed down favorite neighborhood bar. I have high hopes for these last two establishments to really tie it all together for me.