Berry and Brocato’s

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Midcity Market occurred on March 20, 2012.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu was present to commemorate the new development.

“Mid-City Market is critical for the continued revitalization of this important corridor. Though they were once blighted and vacant properties, this project will bring properties back into commerce and will interact nicely with Lafitte Greenway, which itself will spur activity and redevelopment across the city. Mid-City Market will bring hundreds of new jobs, new sales and property tax dollars and improved quality of life for Orleans Parish residents.”

As it is with most local development, we are reminded of the travesty of Hurricane Katrina, and how we, collectively as a city, are still in the process of recovery.  However, I believe that revitalization is not the appropriate word to use.  The area of our study has been prolific, profitable, and in my opinion, vital from the very beginning.  The new development will undoubtedly bring jobs and tax dollars to the city as a whole, however, there seems to be little consideration invested in the Midcity Market’s impact on the neighborhood itself.

Of the new shops and restaurants, one that is opening is a Pinkberry.  Based out of Los Angeles, Pinkberry offers a hip, healthy ice cream alternative in a very modern way.  Based on the original success of Red Mango, Pinkberry brought the frozen yogurt fad from Korea to America. The stores are often named a combination of an exciting adjective plus plant substance (PinkberryOrange LeafTutti Frutti, etc.)

Despite this time of economic hardship, these cookie cutter froyo shops have been materializing within developing cities at an exponential rate.  Much like Pinkberry’s neighbor, Whole Foods, businesses are capitalizing on people’s desire and ability to spend more money when they believe that their purchase is healthy.  Though frozen yogurt is not quite a health food, it has many less calories than its creamy competitors, and offering fruit toppings alongside the usual syrup and sprinkles reinforces their image. These self-service businesses are ultimately profitable, requiring only enough staff to operate a cash register and tend to the yogurt, while allowing customers to feel empowered in their yogurt selections.  Unlike most frozen yogurt establishments of a similar variety, Pinkberry does not allow guests to serve their own yogurt, although you are given free reign on combinations of flavors and toppings.  With prices as low as $.20 for an ounce of ice cream combined with deceptively large cups and theoretically ‘endless’ toppings, one snack can come out at around $10.  The neon colors, upbeat music, and ultra modern décor cater to a very stylized audience of hipsters and new agers, people who crave the ultra sleek empowerment that Pinkberry provides.


I presumed that the best way to understand the impact of the Midcity Market is to understand how the new and old will relate with each other.  To do this, I visited the preexisting Pinkberry, located at the corner of Magazine and Joseph St.  In accordance with my expectations, the space was very open and bright, with light blue walls and bright green accents.  The decorative colors seemed to reflect the beautiful summer’s day that was happening outside of the glass façade.  I asked for a modest blend of chocolate and salted caramel yogurt, which seemed like a boring dollop of island in the ocean of my paper bowl.  The couple ahead of me was ordering surplus kiwi for their shared bowl, while the school girls behind me seemed to be calculating a way to combine every form of chocolate available.  When checking out, the girl who greeted me asked if I had found everything I wanted, which I had, as it was excessively labeled.  She was quite friendly, but not exactly personable.  I got away only spending four dollars for a sizeable portion of ice cream, though I still felt somewhat guilty for wasting so much packaging on such a small meal.  There were not very many people there on a Monday afternoon, however, the area was bustling with the usual sort of people who populate the Magazine street shopping district. There were many men in business attire stopping for lunch and many SUV driving women fighting for a space in the Whole Foods parking garage, amid the sea of young girls boutique shopping.

My experience with Angelo Brocato’s was much different.  Unlike Pinkberry, there is no parking lot, and so I had to walk a few blocks from my car.  It was a Tuesday night and most tables were preoccupied with families.  There was a long line blocking the glass case full of treats, and the small space was very loud with many overlapping conversations.  The workers bustled around one another, each of them working together to quickly serve each guest. Unlike at Pinkberry, the people here seemed connected to each other.  The employees and the customers joked with each other, while families talked at their old wire tables.  I ordered the St. Joseph chocolate almond, and the woman ahead of me in line turned around and reaffirmed my choice by giving me a thumbs up and informing me that she too had ordered the chocolate almond.  The decorations were antique and quaint, much like a relative’s home.  The portrait of Angelo Brocato looked down at everyone from above the counter, yet everyone in the restaurant seemed very focused on the people they were out with rather than the surroundings, much unlike the ultra efficient and impersonal attitude of those at Pinkberry.  There were guests of every race and age, from the group of old women in the corner drinking coffee to the young teenagers on what looked like a first date.

The difference in seniority, style, and audience are very apparent within these two competing stores.  Pinkberry is run with a modern sense of business, primarily focused on profitability and speed, while Angelo Brocato’s retains the slow paced personal experience associated with an aging way of business.  The two stores offer similar wares, at relatively similar prices; however, Pinkberry has an entire franchise backing their success, while Brocato’s remains family owned.  Brocato’s has always thrived on being the only consistent place to get desert amid so many restaurants, but the introduction of Pinkberry will undoubtedly remove a large fraction of Brocato’s potential business.  In this way, Brocato’s is the most susceptible to adverse effects of the Midcity Market. Although there are obvious differences in the experience associated with Angelo Brocato’s and Pinkberry Inc., will the draw of nostalgia be able to keep Brocato’s business afloat?

Mid-City Market and Cafe Minh

            New Orleans has well deserved its superlative status in travel guides and top ten lists.  From most romantic destination to best place to party, the city works hard to present itself an interesting and inviting city.  When operating within a tourism economy, the standards regarding entertainment are tremendously high; locally owned restaurants, bars, and music venues have to offer something spectacular in order to remain in business despite increasing competition.  Our specific area of study focuses on 23 restaurants (excluding national chains such as Domino’s and Quizno’s) grouped within an area a little less than one square mile.  For example, there are no less than five restaurants serving pizza within spitting distance of each other.  In theory, such drastically intensified competition would drive potential businesses away, however, the clustered nature seems to have the opposite effect.  New restaurants are continuously opening in and around the area, while many of the restaurants we are studying have been in operation for decades. 

            The primary purpose of this project is to study what makes this particular intersection so desirable to restaurant owners.  Is there a relationship between the restaurants within the area? How do the excluded ‘fast food’ restaurants factor into these queries?  How do the post-Katrina restaurants fare in relation to those with historical ties?  Is there a relationship between ‘the restaurant row’ and the surrounding neighborhood?  Do these restaurants have an influence outside of mid-city?  What, if any, specific audience do these restaurants cater to?  Are they attracting more locals or tourists? 


            With better understanding the connections within the area, we can better speculate how new development will change things.  Construction will soon begin on “the last dead strip” located in the 300 and 400 blocks of North Carrolton Avenue.  The proposed Mid-City Market will incorporate four new restaurants into the area- Pei Wei Asian DinerPinkberry frozen yogurtFelipe’s taqueria, and Five Guys burgers and fries.  Each of these restaurants are national chains and have no direct connection to the city, and many fear that the increasing amount of chain restaurants will cripple the individuality of the existing restaurants.  However, in conjunction with The Lafitte Corridor project, the surge of new development will inevitably attract more visitors and locals alike to the area.  Our project aims to determine how these developments will impact the delicate ecology of the restaurant row.


         Moving on! For my portion of the project, I will be writing about Cafe Minh and Angelo Brocato’s along with my research partner, Chelsea Hines. Being that this is a revisited project, the history of Cafe Minh has already been covered, and is accessible here.  Cafe Minh is located at the corner of Canal and David, therefore removing it from direct spotlight.  With only a small sign hanging above the door, it can be difficult to differentiate Cafe Minh as a restaurant from the surrounding homes.  With the exception of the large windows, it appears that the exterior of the building was not renovated at all; Porch lights still illuminate the front step.  On the contrary, the interior of the restaurant was very clean and modern. The decorations seemed to be purchased wholesale from an IKEA-type store.  Poster sized prints of flowers and butterflies lined the walls, mixed with hazy black and white scenes of New Orleans more frequently seen in tourist brochures.   In accord with the large, illuminating windows, smooth jazz soundtrack, and freshly cut flowers arrangements the place felt more like an art gallery than an Asian-fusion restaurant.  We arrived late for lunch, and only a few tables were occupied.  The apparent crowd was that of business professionals on a break for lunch.  The staff was exceptionally friendly, and over the course of our lunch three different servers (not including our own) refilled our drinks.  Being a picky eater, I ordered only jasmine rice, while Chelsea got the duck soup.  Chelsea, along with the general population of yelp, said that the food was plentiful, though not fantastic, and therefore not quite worth the price.  Many reviews from locals claim that the quality of the food has decreased over the years, while reviews were more favorable from people who were visiting from out of town. 

            In my opinion, Cafe Minh is one restaurant that could potentially be negatively affected by the Mid-City market development.  For one, neither the décor nor the food itself particularly stood out. The cost of an entrée put Cafe Minh out of the price range to be a neighborhood favorite, while the prints along the walls seemed more relevant to pleasing tourists than drawing in locals. Although, in theory, Cafe Minh has the perfect formula in place for pleasing visitors, its location makes it easy to miss. In its defense, Cafe Minh is one of the few restaurants in our area of study that offer the white linnen experience, and the only of it’s genre do so.  Those who are just looking for a quick meal between office hours, or a cheap bowl of soup might be drawn more towards Pei Wei. Cafe Minh is the perfect venue for a date or a formal meeting, but it isn’t the type of place that you can bike to in the heat of the summer without feeling smelly and out of place.