Cafe Treme’s proximity to culturally rich Armstrong Park and community-connecting green space Lafitte Corridor will bring patrons in the door, and once inside, it is impossible to ignore the feeling that you are someplace special, participating in something special with an act as simple as sipping tea and saying hello to a stranger.
Owned by Alonzo Knox and Gladys Marigny, and managed by barista extraordinaire Collins Feeser, Cafe Treme offers the best in coffee brews, teas, and snacks. The three want the cafe to embody “the cultural richness of Treme, showcasing the look, sound, and feel of the neighborhood,” while operating to a standard nothing short of excellent for their fellow residents and community members.
All residents of the Treme, Knox, Marigny, and Feeser consider their business more than a cafe, but also a community and cultural center. The three work diligently to cultivate a safe place for conversation and celebration, offering residents and visitors an open invitation to experience the Treme during daylight hours, “providing a place to go and gather while the sun is up,” says Marigny. It is a place to “bring your friends and bring your ideas,” Feeser says, remarking, “Everything beyond the coffee is how people interact with one another.”
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Excited for the forthcoming bike trail and pedestrian access points, businesses along the Lafitte Corridor Greenway are ready for increased local and tourist traffic. At Bayou St. John, the enthusiasm is shared by more than business owners located along the bayou, but also by owners who consider their business’ home base to be more than along the bayou, but on the bayou.
Recreational business owners Jeff Lakey of NOLA Paddleboards and Rhonda Ardoin of Bayou Kayaks are two such local entrepreneurs who call the waters of Bayou St. John their unofficial company headquarters.
Lakey, a New Orleans resident and outdoor enthusiast, began his paddleboard business in April 2011. Paddleboarding on the bayou is great, he says, because it allows for “a new view of the city that lets people explore what has been an under-utilized section of New Orleans [Bayou St. John]” and “is a fun way to showcase the bayou as a community resource and special gem” unique to our city, he states. The arrival of the Greenway can only be a good thing for his business as it “adds exposure and helps the bayou blossom.”
Bayou Kayaks owner Rhonda Ardoin agrees. A New Orleans resident since 2005, she began her kayak rental business in May 2011 to “bring kayaking to Bayou St. John, Mid-City, and the people of New Orleans.” Calling the banks of the bayou her storefront, Ardoin commits to “keeping it beautiful by sponsoring regular bayou clean-ups.”
Says Ardoin, “We don’t use the bayou like we should, so I am glad I can offer the equipment to people who otherwise might not be able to experience kayaking or the bayou.” She anticipates the bike path will draw more visitors to the bayou, help revitalize a seemingly forgotten part of the city, augment “the outdoor-activity population, and help draw people to her business” to experience New Orleans afloat on Bayou St. John.
What does a healthy business environment have to do with a healthy environment? Everything, if you ask Mike Massey.
A local business owner and native New Orleanian, Mike is opening a retail location for Massey’s Professional Outfitters on North Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans in January 2008. Mike is keenly aware of the correlation between the environment and the business climate. His mantra is “Recreation means business.” His store’s Mid-City location on the Lafitte Greenway is ideal, and he anticipates reaping the economic benefits of his location.
“The Lafitte Greenway will solidify Mid-City/City Park’s position as the recreational epicenter of New Orleans,” says Mike. “It also creates a funnel for tourists wanting to explore deeper into the residential parts of the city, and a jumping off point for locals who want to head downtown. Our favorite part is that the city will enjoy the option of bicycle transport through numerous neighborhoods.”
Trails build local businesses. Bicycle tourists, a growing, affluent segment of the tourist market, contribute significantly to local businesses that are well-connected to trails. Along the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia, for example, visitors spend $1.59 million annually providing an estimated 27 new full time jobs.
Bayou Bicycles owner Charlie Doerr is well-positioned to fuel the bicycle tourist market by adding bike rentals to his bicycle retail business. “We moved Bayou Bicycles a few doors down from our original location specifically to have the back door access to the bike path that the new location affords us,” says owner Charlie Doerr. “We’ve also constructed a large window on the back that literally looks out on the future bike path.” Now, prospective bike buyers have a place to test ride before making a purchase, while bicycle tourists will have easy on-and-off access to the trail.
Jay Nix, owner of Parkway Bakery, is ready to serve up some tasty shrimp po-boys and frosty Barq’s rootbeers to those bicycle tourists, and looks forward to the prospect of other compatible businesses locating along the trail. “We’re part of the original trade route used by French traders, and, before them, the Indians starting at Bayou Sauvage and continuing around Lake Pontchartrain, down Bayou St. John, and all the way to the Quarter,” says Jay. “In addition to returning the natural beauty to the area the trail will, in a sense, reclaim the historic trade route by generating more business along the greenway.”
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, 2301 Orleans Avenue, is one of those quintessential cultural and economic assets that makes New Orleans a destination. The Chases appreciate the benefits they can expect from their restaurant’s proximity to the Lafitte Greenway. “Any time you bring good traffic, you benefit restaurants,” says proprietor Leah. “And wouldn’t it be wonderful to see other restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses take another look at this neighborhood and decide to invest here?”
The Chases see the Greenway as the perfect tie-in to the African American heritage not only of Dooky Chase’s, but of the Treme neighborhood surrounding it. “We have a proud heritage,” says son Edgar. “But we can do better. Improving the greenspace is a first step: something that can help us live longer and healthier, provide our grandchildren with a safe place to play, and provide all people from all walks of life—locals and tourists alike, with a place where they can come together to enjoy what is best about New Orleans.” Including, of course, a catfish poboy from Dooky Chase.
Musician Jimmy Robinson has received much attention and many accolades for his groundbreaking guitar work, both as a solo artist and with groups Woodenhead and Twangorama. Less well known, however, is his support and advocacy for the Lafitte Greenway. His affiliation with the area began nearly thirty years ago, when Robinson began using part of the massive warehouse on the 2900 block of Lafitte St. as a rehearsal space. A few years later, an opportunity arose for him to purchase the building, which he quickly took. Since then, he has not looked back.
Originally the National Sash and Door Company, the structure was constructed in the late 1800’s to serve as a manufacturing plant for doors, windows, cabinetry and other wooden components. It also served as a lumberyard. For a company heavily reliant on shipping, the location next to the then still existing Carondelet Canal was ideal. However, the first few decades of the twentieth century were not kind to the area, leading to the disappearance of National Sash and Door as well as the filling in of the Carondelet Canal. Despite this, the building has not only remained, but under Robinson’s stewardship, it has flourished, as it now houses close to 45 tenants—a mixture of small businesses, artist’s studios and rehearsal space for musicians.
One of these businesses, Royal Paper and Box Inc., has been a presence in the building almost as long as Robinson has. Specializing in providing packaging materials for both the retail and wholesale markets, Royal Paper and Box has spent roughly twenty-six of its forty nine years at 2919 Lafitte St. on the warehouse’s ground floor. Co-owner Joann Gravolet finds the space ideal for many reasons. “We’re ten minutes from Metairie Road and five minutes from the Quarter. Parking is great and Jimmy is the ideal landlord.”
Just down from Royal Paper and Box, you will find Arthur Mintz, joined by his collaborators Jacques and Renee Duffoure , hard at work constructing puppets and sets for an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’. Funded by the Contemporary Arts Center, the show is set to open November 26, 2009. Though their project is short-term —they began work in August and have to be finished in November—the trio was universal in their enthusiasm for the Greenway. Jacques Duffoure even suggested it would be great to see a restored waterway as part of the design, allowing people to once again travel from Lake Pontchartrain to the French Quarter by boat.
With over 20 years of work invested in the block-long warehouse, Robinson is pleased to see renewed interest in the area. In years past, parts of the Lafitte Corridor were almost derelict, serving as dumping ground for garbage, outdated machinery, and even the occasional stolen car. Now, with the impending construction of the Greenway, instead of blight, he sees opportunity. New Orleans’ vibrant music and arts scene provides an almost endless stream of prospective tenants in need of studio and rehearsal space. Coupled with the recently approved Cultural Products District designation, the Greenway will provide a boon not only to Robinson and his tenants, but also the city as a whole.
“Connecting the French Quarter with City Park would be a great thing for a lot of people,” Robinson says.
Located at 2401 St. Ann St., just two blocks off the path of the Lafitte Greenway, Willie Mae’s Scotch House has been a culinary institution for over 50 years. Willie Mae Seaton, the restaurant’s namesake and proprietress for most of its long history, originally opened the famous business in 1956 as a bar on Treme St. A year later, however, the young business moved to the corner of St. Ann and North Tonti St., where it has been ever since. For several years, this space held not only Willie Mae’s, but also a barber shop and beauty salon. When the latter businesses closed in 1972, Willie Mae’s expanded into their former space. This expansion allowed Willie Mae’s to begin offering restaurant service, and the modern incarnation of Willie Mae’s was born.
By 2005, Willie Mae’s was locally and nationally famous for its exquisite fried chicken, smothered pork chops, butter beans and other southern specialties. In May of the same year, the small, family owned restaurant achieved what most other eateries can only dream about—it was honored by the James Beard Foundation, dubbed the ‘Oscars of the Food World’ by Time Magazine, with the American Icon award for the Southern Region. Willie Mae Seaton was also honored at City Hall for her contributions to the city of New Orleans. Yet, only 3 months later, Hurricane Katrina flooded the restaurant, kitchen and bar with 4 feet of water, throwing the institution’s future into doubt. Help came in the form of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which assisted in raising $200,000 and mobilized volunteers from all over the country to help the Seaton family rebuild. Due in a large part to their efforts, Willie Mae’s Scotch House reopened in April of 2007.
Upon reopening, Ms. Seaton turned the daily operation of the restaurant over to the able hands of her granddaughter, Kerry Seaton. Since that time, the accolades have continued, and Willie Mae’s has been featured by the Food Network, which bestowed the honor of ‘America’s Best Fried Chicken’, the Travel Channel and Bon Appetite magazine. This increase in national attention has led to an increasing number of tourists stopping in for the famous fried chicken, though New Orleans natives still make up a large portion of the daily clientele. Celebrities, too, have made the pilgrimage to Willie Mae’s, including Spike Lee, Magic Johnson, R&B singer Genuine, rising hip-hop star Drake, and numerous actors and actresses. Tony Kornheiser, host of Pardon the Interruption on ESPN radio and former Monday Night Football analyst, referred to the Seaton family’s fried chicken on air as ‘the world’s best’.
The younger Ms. Seaton sees a bright future for Willie Mae’s Scotch House, but would love to see more traffic in the area. She envisions the section of the Treme and the Seventh Ward surrounding the restaurant transformed into a culinary and entertainment district, “where people come out in the evening and enjoy themselves, just like they do Uptown or in Mid-City”. An increase of interest in the area, due in no small part to the Willie Mae’s acclaimed cuisine, as well as the impending construction of the Lafitte Greenway, may soon make this vision a reality.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House is open from 11AM to 3PM Monday to Saturday and can be reached at (504) 822-9503.