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New Orleans Restaurant Count Passes 1000

12 May 2009


Late last month, a restaurant named Madrid opened to serve Spanish food in the New Orleans neighborhood of Lakeview. When it did, for the first time in history–let alone since Hurricane Katrina–more than a thousand restaurants were open in the New Orleans area.

Madrid was an excellent restaurant in the suburb of Kenner before the hurricane, but didn’t survive the storm’s aftermath. Its new location is in a part of New Orleans that experienced flooding of eight to ten feet when the levees broke after the storm.

Madrid’s designation as Restaurant One Thousand comes from the New Orleans Restaurant Index, a list of open restaurants compiled on a food site called NOMenu.  The author, Tom Fitzmorris, a local food critic and celebrity began tracking the revival of the New Orleans restaurant community immediately after the storm, and the count of the number of restaurants open is widely considered definitive. On Sunday, May 10, 2009,  it showed a total of 1002. The index can be viewed here:

http://www.nomenu.com/RestaurantsOpen.html

The first edition of the index, in late September 2005, showed only twenty-two restaurants open in the entire New Orleans metropolitan area. Hurricane Katrina–the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States–flooded New Orleans so widely that many restaurants faced extensive renovations before they could return to cooking. With the city’s population evacuated, they had few customers to come back to and even fewer employees to serve them. But reopen they did, egged on by the returning citizenry, who couldn’t imagine resuming life in New Orleans without its vaunted resources of great cooking.

On April 14, 2007, a milestone was reached. The reopening of Mr. B’s Bistro brought the number of open restaurants to 809–the number of restaurants in the New Orleans Menu database just before the storm. That figure already represented a high-water mark for the restaurant business. So each new or returning restaurant after Mr. B’s set a new record.

To be included in the restaurant index, an eatery must cook, serve, and sell its food on the premises. Fast-food restaurants and establishments selling more beverages than food are excluded, as are institutional food services like school and hospital cafeterias. It does include poor boy shops and even the smallest neighborhood cafes. The list and the restaurant count attempt to assess the condition of the city’s unique culinary culture, not merely make an operational census.

The count bogged down in late 2008. It was thought that it would reach 1000 by the end of that year, but concerns about the economy–even though they were not significantly reflected in local restaurant-going–spooked new places from opening, especially at the higher end of the spectrum. It stuck in the neighborhood of 990 for months. 

One of the most interesting facts emerging from the New Orleans Restaurant Index is that the neighborhood restaurant is livelier than it has been in a very long time.  In fact, they were the ones that added most to the restaurant population after the hurricane. That was especially true in 2008.

Fitzmorris predicts that the restaurant population will remain leveled off at about this number, with a slow rise continuing in the long term. If there’s one thing that New Orleans restaurateurs know how to do, it’s weather a storm.

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One Response to “New Orleans Restaurant Count Passes 1000”

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