Five years after the storm, there’s still no place like New Orleans — or anyone like its residents.
EXECUTIVE CHEF/VICE PRESIDENT OF YE OLDE COLLEGE INN RESTAURANT & BAR
What prompted you and your father to buy the historic Ye Olde College Inn in 2003?
“It was driven by our appreciation for a New Orleans icon and all the great old institutions we had growing up — and for the families that ran them. [My father owns] the Rock ‘N’ Bowl next door to Ye Olde College Inn, which had become one of those landmarks. So we felt like we had an understanding of what it was to be a part of that.”
Did reopening after Katrina mean a lot to locals?
“More than we ever imagined. It overwhelms me every now and then. We had regulars calling us, asking, ‘How’s this going to work? If I come back, are you going to be there?’”
What is it like being in the restaurant business in a foodcentric city like New Orleans?
“Everything revolves around where you eat next. At lunch, you talk about where you’re going to eat dinner. At dinner, you talk about where you’re going to eat tomorrow. It’s a pretty neat thing to be a part of.”
Priestess Miriam Chamani
FOUNDER/QUEEN MOTHER OF THE VOODOO SPIRITUAL TEMPLE AND CULTURAL CENTER
Why does voodoo fit in so well in New Orleans?
“It’s a city of people who take the initiative to transform themselves — not only to recover from personal sorrows, but also to be able to celebrate music and laughter. Many a major crisis and hardship has passed this way, and through all of it, people have looked favorably on life. It’s is the kind of place that, if you come with the right attitude, will add something to you. But if you come thinking you’re bigger than New Orleans, it will kick you back out the door.”
How do you think Katrina affected the spirit of the city?
“It was a wake-up call for us to find our true strength. We may be crying deep underneath, but on the surface, people see us celebrating. And that’s a good lesson for all of humanity: No matter if it seems like life has dealt you a bad hand, let your face shine with bright, excited joy so that your friends won’t see you crying. I’m very honored and very humbled at this moment in New Orleans.”
ARTIST/CO-OWNER OF ANTIQUES ON JACKSON
Your bright, quirky signs can be seen at restaurants, bars and other spots all over town. Why do you think people are drawn to them?
“Because they are conversation pieces. Because people go to a place or a restaurant where they have one of my paintings, and they say ‘I met him.’ Or then they come, and it’s part of their lives now. Every time, people tell me it brings joy to their houses.”
What’s your favorite piece?
“‘The one I just sold to you.’ That’s what I always say.”
What did you do when Katrina hit?
“I went to Baton Rouge, came back two months later and started painting right away. I decorated restaurants, bars, boulangeries. It was great. People were so open to everything.”
Have you ever thought about returning to France?
“I love New Orleans. I will never leave. I haven’t been back in 20 years.”
Washboard Chaz Leary
How has the music scene changed since Katrina?
“It seems like we have more kids coming in who are interested in traditional jazz; they’re even dancing to it. I mean, that was happening before, but it seemed like after the storm, we had an influx. In my short time here — I’ve been here since 2000 — I’ve seen that New Orleans always gets influxes of people, but right after the storm about five or six good bands popped up right away.”
Why did you decide to create Chazfest, a festival that runs at the same time as the popular New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (April 29 to May 8)?
“Chazfest was born after the storm out of frustration that a lot of local bands weren’t getting into Jazz Fest. It’s now in its fifth year. We’ve created a monster. Come out to it before it gets too big!”
What is it about New Orleans that makes it such a great spot for jazz?
“Look at this place, man. Music oozes out of the streets and out of these buildings. It’s just very conducive for the kind of stuff you can’t get anywhere else.”