James O’Byrne, director of content at nola.com, offered a presentation on Katrina. It’s impossible to understand the magnitude of Katrina if you weren’t here and his slide show only conveyed part of the story. 250,000 people were displaced from southeastern
Following the heartbreaking slide show was a panel that featured Brett Anderson, Ashley Graham,
Link evacuated the Saturday before the storm hit Monday. He was watching the storm tracker, and gets a call that plumbing is backing up. He went to the restaurant and the streets were empty. Link thought it was weird. No evacuation order was given, but Link decided to go and shut his place down. Other restaurateurs didn’t see a big deal. Link went to
Mandina was flying to
Graham had been with Share Our Strength for 17 years. She had been planning a 20th anniversary event, and was a regular at Jazzfest. Graham and her staff were watching TV and figuring out what they could do. The event became a fundraiser. They also created a Dine Out event to raise money for
Link was trying to figure out how to reopen his restaurant. People were saying it would be three to six months before they could return. Link fabricated a pass and came back into the city. Link’s goal was to get the meat out of the walk-in. Cleaning out was the most disgusting thing he had done. His uncle said he would have electricity in three weeks. He thought the water was OK, even though it was advised not to shower in it. They reopened on Oct. 5, the day the water was declared safe to drink.
Mandina said their two buildings sustained serious damage, including one sans roof. There was six to eight feet of water in the restaurant. The looters took no alcohol, but took a bag of coins. Mandina’s dad did not want to reopen. Cindy wanted to reopen and did after 18 months. The ruin stank and it was hot. The architect said to knock it down. They gutted it and redid it, which was an adventure. Fittings were expensive, and were often stolen during building. Mandina said some of her staff scattered and they even thought some were dead until they heard from them. The business has been better since the storm.
Graham said when she stayed at a local hotel, the woman who served her breakfast had lost the house she was selling, the house she was going to buy and her mother. Graham said she drew from that strength and the humor. Graham also brought corporate donors down and raised another $2 million from those trips.
Link said his customers were mostly locals who were delighted with the signs of normalcy that the restaurant being open indicated. Graham said dining out was a civic duty. Link said he’s done his best business since Katrina.
Although I was busy taking this down, I had to thank panelists for digging in when most people would have cut and run. New Orleans is a worldwide cultural treasure and its comeback needs to belong to all of us. Enough blatant editorializing. It's awards night and we're hungry. Winners will be posted on the AFJ site.