FINANCIAL TIPS FOR 2022
Local experts weigh in P. 26
COPING WITH THE ARTYOU CAN EAT “NEW NORMAL” This charcuterie 4 Strategies to Use Now P. 34
startup is a must see, and gift P. 60
TOP I0 STORIES DECEMBER 2021
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Everyone’s story is different. The specific influences, motivations, and support networks a leader accesses on his or her way to the top not only mold a person’s leadership style, they also tell the story of who that leader is. New Orleans is home to a diverse and active business community, and much of its energy comes from the top, the executives whose actions and decisions move companies forward despite some of the most challenging economic times in history. Biz New Orleans is diving into what drives those decisions and actions with this exclusive section, which asks local executives about how they arrived where they are today and what they believe drives company success.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
December VOLUME 08 ISSUE 03
FE ATURE S
FROM THE LENS
08 EDITOR’S NOTE 09 PUBLISHER’S NOTE 12 ON THE WEB
BANKING+FINANCE. . ... 26
Top financial tips for 2022 REAL ESTATE+
CONSTRUCTION . . ......... 28
IN THE BIZ
Local real estate and construction professionals share their expectations for 2022
GREAT WORKSPACES . . ........................................................... 56
M.S. Rau renovation and expansion brings world-class jewelry gallery to the Quarter
How one local chef went from pandemic frustration that captured national attention to opening a second restaurant
MSY garners awards and builds flight offerings throughout a challenging year
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?........................................ 60
Former brewery tour operator Elizabeth Choto’s pandemic pivot into charcuterie — Graze Dat! — is keeping her plate full EDUCATION . . ................... 32
New classes/ programs on the horizon for 2022
GUEST. . ............................. 34
SPORTS .......................... 20
Saints’ success, dome reopening boosting local sales
2021 featured enormous entrepreneurial successes… and challenges
A tight labor market, new tech — today’s business challenges require new strategies
Top 10 Stories It's undoubtedly been a challenging year, but we've also had a surprising number of big wins.
ON THE JOB............................................................................... 64
Ole’ Orleans Wines brings the cheer with its locally produced and bottled fine wines
Malaise Musings REMEMBER HOW LAST YEAR AROUND THIS TIME WE WERE THINKING, “WELL THIS YEAR WAS A TOTAL
dumpster fire. Next year has to be better, right?” Then 2021 comes around and — as Crystal Hot Sauce CEO Pepper Baumer noted on a podcast I recorded with him in October — essentially says, “Hold my beer.” How do you top a global pandemic? You throw in a Category 4 hurricane. It’s been a rough year to live in New Orleans, to say the least, which makes it no surprise that there’s been a good amount of talk around the city — even among regular cheerleaders like our mayor and Michael Hecht — about a general post-Ida malaise. I’ve definitely felt it. My family has lived here almost 11 years, and in that time I’ve definitely had some “bad New Orleans days,” like when I punctured a tire running over a pothole — not once, but twice in the same day; or the countless boil water advisories and times I’ve parked a car on a “neutral ground” to make sure it wasn’t flooded. These are all things I never experienced living in California, or Washington, or Colorado, or Nebraska, or Canada. However, I’ve also yet to wake up before dawn to shovel snow here (cursing up a storm and unable to feel my toes), or struggled to breathe while I evacuated from yet another wildfire, or spent three hours stuck in a traffic jam. Every place has its issues. And when I look back (and isn’t the last month of the year a great time to look back?) my list of “things I never experienced before living in New Orleans” includes a lot more positives than negatives. We all know what those things are too — the food, the culture, the people — they’re what make this city unlike any other in the world, in a good way. The problem is the pandemic took away so many of these good things that make the problems worth dealing with. But I have faith, enough to have just bought a house, that those good things are on their way back, and that this city will continue to grow and change in positive ways, like is evident in many of this year’s top stories. A few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “New Orleans: We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.” It made me laugh out loud. Maybe we are all just a bit crazy for staying here, but I’m OK with that. Life without some crazy is just the vanilla ice cream — no bread pudding or bananas foster. No thanks.
Publisher Todd Matherne EDITORIAL Managing Editor Kimberley Singletary Art Director Sarah George Digital Media Editor Kelly Massicot Associate News Editor Rich Collins Contributors Ashley McLellan, Chris Price, Jennifer Gibson Schecter, James Sebastien, Melanie Warner Spencer, Poppy Tooker, Katherine Torres, Keith Twitchell ADVERTISING Sales Manager Caitlin Sistrunk (504) 830-7252 Caitlin@BizNewOrleans.com Senior Account Executive Jessica Jaycox (504) 830-7255 JessicaJ@BizNewOrleans.com Account Executive Meghan Sumrall (504) 830-7246 Meghan@BizNewOrleans.com RENAISSANCE PUBLISHING MARKETING Coordinator Abbie Whatley PRODUCTION Manager Rosa Balaguer Senior Designer Meghan Rooney CIRCULATION Subscriptions Jessica Armand Distribution John Holzer ADMINISTRATION Office Manager Mallary Wolfe Chief Executive Officer Todd Matherne For subscriptions, call (504) 830-7231
2021 Gold Magazine Design Gold Best Explanatory Journalism Gold Feature Design Silver Best Feature Bronze Best Use of Multimedia 2020 Silver Best Recurring Feature 2019 Gold Best Recurring Feature Gold Best Explanatory Journalism 2018 Gold Most Improved Publication Silver Best Recurring Feature 2017 Silver Best Recurring Feature Bronze Best Daily Email 2016 Bronze Best Feature Layout
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BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Biz New Orleans is published monthly by Renaissance Publishing, LLC, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005; (504) 828-1380. Subscription rate: one year $24.95, two year $39.95, three year $49.95—foreign rates vary call for pricing. Postage paid at Metairie, LA, and additional mailing entry offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Biz New Orleans, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005. Copyright 2021 Biz New Orleans. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the consent of the publisher. The trademark Biz New Orleans is registered. Biz New Orleans is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photos and artwork, even if accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope. The opinions expressed in Biz New Orleans are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the magazine or owner.
December Debut THE EMAILS AND NOTICES KEEP COMING.
It started last month and continues into December, and I hope more will continue to appear into 2022. I am talking about the business events that are filling up my calendar. All the chambers are now hosting in-person breakfast, luncheons and networking events, along with JEDCO, JBC, ACG, JA, EO Louisiana, GNO, Inc., and so many other business organizations. It’s great to see my calendar with something scheduled other than a Zoom call. Now I must lose the Covid-15 (really 20) and get back to fitting into my suits. This month I am excited to attend the December 2, JEDCO annual luncheon at the Airport Hilton. Jerry and his team are great economic development leaders in Jefferson Parish and throughout the entire New Orleans region. This event will also be the first opportunity where the Biz team will showcase the 2022 New Orleans 500. Thanks to our JEDCO partnership, everyone in attendance will receive a copy. This will be followed by the leader in regional economic development with the GNO, Inc.’s, Emerge Summit, a young professional development conference on December 2 & 3 at the Pan-American Life Conference Center, where there too attendees will receive a copy of the New Orleans 500. If you would like a copy of this exciting new publication, simply go to BizNewOrleans. com and order one today, or call Jessica Armand at (504) 830-7231. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Todd Matherne
MEET THE SALES TEAM
Caitlin Sistrunk Sales Manager
(504) 830-7252 Caitlin@BizNewOrleans.com
Senior Account Executive (504) 830-7255 JessicaJ@BizNewOrleans.com
Meghan Sumerall Account Executive
(504) 830-7246 Meghan@BizNewOrleans.com
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
ON THE WEB BIZNE WORL E A NS.C OM
"There are myriad distilleries that produce bitters in the U.S. with grain neutral spirit bases and facilities that blend and bottle extracts sold as ‘bitters.' But El Guapo is the first to create a brewing process for 100% alcohol-free bitters and build to scale with brewing technology." Christa Cotton, El Guapo Founder and CEO, announcing that the company plans to build a bitters brewery at 3300 Gravier Street.
BIZ TALKS PODCAST
Bucha is Booming Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Austin Sherman and Alexis Korman founded Big Easy Bucha seven years ago to create “healthy beverages spiked with New Orleans flavor.” Sherman shares the origins of his business, the details of the acquisition by Latin American drink maker Beliv, and why the market for kombucha and other health drinks is booming.
PHOTO BY GREG MILES
Crystal Hot Sauce CEO Pepper Baumer Has Been Feeling the Heat
“The Lucid exit is the capstone on over a decade of effort within our startup community. Patrick and his team have been all home-town drive, creativity and class, and it is wonderful to see the payoff. Combined with the recent success of Levelset, and many other recent exits and recent rounds, the Lucid exit is a ‘drop the mic’ moment for our entrepreneurial ecosystem. It means validation, it means wealth creation, and it means the fly-wheel of entrepreneurial success is beginning to spin for Greater New Orleans.” Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO, Inc., on the news that tech startup Lucid is being purchased by Swedish company the Cint Group for $1.1 billion, making Lucid the region’s first “unicorn.”
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Since taking over in January of 2019 Alvin Adam “Pepper” Baumer III has been battling to lead Baumer Foods through the pandemic. Here, he shares the big lesson he learned from aunt and great aunt Ti Martin and Ella Brennan about handling adversity and how his leadership differs from his dad’s.
THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY IS TALKING ON BIZNEWORLEANS.COM Catch all the latest news, PLUS original reporting, people on the move, videos, weekly podcast and blogs, digital editions of the magazines and daily Morning Biz and afternoon newsletters. If it’s important to business in Southeast Louisiana, it's at BizNewOrleans.com.
Video Game Industry Vet Jeff Strain on His New Studio Launch In this week’s episode, Jeff Strain explains why he chose New Orleans to launch his new studio, Possibility Space, expected to create 75 jobs with average salaries over $100,000.
In The Biz
AP PHOTO/GERALD HERBERT)
BIZ COLUMNISTS SPE AK OUT
DINING How one local chef went from pandemic frustration to opening a second restaurant.
TOURISM MSY garners awards and builds flight offerings throughout a challenging year
SPORTS Saints’ success, dome reopening boosting local sales
ENTREPRENEUR 2021 featured enormous entrepreneurial successes… and challenges
IN THE BIZ DINING
The Art of Survival How one local chef went from pandemic frustration that captured national attention to opening a second restaurant. BY P OP PY TO O KE R
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
by incredible culinary talent, Chef Eric Cook has survived the challenges of the past years and is looking forward to a brighter 2022. The former Marine — who saw active duty during the Gulf War — had no direction in his life after the military until he landed a job at Brennan’s Restaurant. Once at work peeling shrimp and potatoes there, the native New Orleanian felt right at home. Cook thrived under the discipline inherent in the leadership structure of a professional kitchen, easily transitioning from the “Yes sir” of the Marines, to the “Yes chef ” of his new career. Under the watchful gaze of Chefs Michael Roussel and Lazone Randolph, he was well schooled in the traditional canon of Creole cuisine. Next, Chef Tory McPhail tapped Cook to join Commander’s Palace post-Katrina reopening crew. After Brennan’s tiny French Quarter kitchen, the gleaming, brand new expanse of space was dazzling. Cook credits Commander’s with his approach to hospitality. “I learned to see from the front door to the back door – not just what to do, but why to do it,” he reminisced. On days off, he cooked collaboratively with South Louisiana friends who helped him perfect the velvety, dark brown roux that is a trademark of his gumbo today. C o o k’s s i s t ers , m o m a n d w i fe constantly urged him to consider opening his own place until finally Robyn, his wife, insisted, “It’s time.” The first time they walked into the empty, triangular building at 1800 Magazine Street. Robyn turned to her husband in tears and said, “This is it! This is you!” In the space, formerly home to the ultra-Modernist Square Root, Cook felt compelled to “throw away the sous vide machines and cook with fire; to cook what I ate growing up — grits and grillades, my mom’s chicken and dumplings.” To acquire the required financing, the Cooks, along with Eric’s parents, mortgaged their homes, a move he remembers as “Going to the cliff, saying, ‘Let’s hold hands and jump!’” Gris-Gris quietly opened in August 2018 with such a tight budget that by the end of September, Robyn warned, “If things don’t pick up soon, we can’t make payroll next week.” Luckily, soon after New Orleans discovered Gris-Gris — where signature dishes like humble turkey necks are elevated with a 96- hour fortified
veal stock showcasing Cook’s powerhouse French technique and discipline. When the pandemic forced the restaurant’s closure, Cook retreated to his Algiers home and quarantined with his wife and daughter while their business hemorrhaged money. When a costly attempt to reopen in spring 2020 was aborted due to an employee COVID-19 scare, the former Gulf War veteran sat down at the family breakfast table broken by powerlessness and desperate for direction. “I just wanted someone to say, ‘Hey, follow me!” he recalls. Unbeknownst to Cook, his daughter, Liz, recorded the entire rant and with her mother’s help transcribed his desperate words and shared the message on social media. The response was immediate, with more than 240,000 shares, becoming briefly the most searched MSN story in the country. The Restaurant Revitalization Act brought a brief glimmer of hope, yet after hundreds of hours pursuing the money, it never came, despite Cook’s supposed preferred status as a veteran. Banks refused his attempts to borrow the funds for reopening, citing high risk. Finally, Cook remembers he “shook off the negativity,” saying to Robyn, “Let’s grind! I was determined to work every day ’til I couldn’t work any longer.” Each night as they went to bed, Cook asked his wife, “Can I go to work tomorrow?” The answer was always yes and Gris-Gris prospered. Now the pair seems unstoppable — opening St. John, their second restaurant, in September, despite Hurricane Ida’s challenges. The storied French Quarter location on Decatur Street is turning heads with dishes like Oysters St. John, a rich combination of cream poached oysters, crispy fried oysters and a classic, New Orleans oyster stuffed patty shell. Chef Cook sites sustainability as his greatest pandemic life lesson. “The restaurant is my job and I want to be there for a long time,” he said. Today, instead of pursuing lunch and dinner business seven days a week, both restaurants close Monday and Tuesday. “By Sunday, you can look forward to time in your garden,” the chef philosophizes. “That’s how we can come back every day and make it better,” which is Cook’s secret to success.n Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.
I L L U ST R AT I O N B Y T O N Y H E A L E Y
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
THROUGH BACKBONE AND GRIT ACCOMPANIED
IN THE BIZ TOURISM
Flying High MSY garners awards and builds flight offerings throughout a challenging year BY J E NNIF E R G IB SO N SCHE CT ER
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
the New Orleans Aviation Board’s investment in a new terminal facility was well worth it.” Additionally in 2021, MSY announced industry awards including being named the most efficient airport in North America among airports serving 5-15 million passengers per year by the Air Transport Research Society, as well earning Best Hygiene Measures in North America by Airports Council International World’s 2020 ASQ Program. The formal recognition of MSY by both customers and the airline industry is important in attracting and retaining airline service. Beyond leisure travel, increased service at MSY also allows more business travel. MSY currently has 18 airlines with 65 nonstop destinations. This month a critical international flight will resume on British Airways, offering nonstop flights between MSY and London Heathrow three times a week. In November, Canadian airline Air Transat restarted its nonstop service connecting New Orleans to Montreal twice a week. National flights are growing as well. Alaska Airlines is starting a seasonal direct flight between Portland, Oregon and New Orleans on Dec. 16. In July, an important new carrier, Breeze Airways, launched service in New Orleans to nine destinations and made New Orleans an operations base. According to a release, Breeze Airways will make a capital investment of $6.6 million at MSY and will create 261 new direct jobs, with an average salary of $65,000, plus benefits. Flight crews, maintenance staff and aircraft are based in New Orleans. Breeze Airways flights arrive and depart at Concourse A, connecting MSY to Akron/Canton, Ohio; Bentonville/Fayetteville, Arkansas; Charleston, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Norfolk, Virginia; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Richmond, Virginia; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. New regional connections this year include Boutique Air, connecting New Orleans to Greenville, Mississippi, and Silver Airways, which began nonstop twice weekly fights from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida. For the latest travel and safety information, visit flymsy.com and your airline carrier’s website for specific flight information. n
I L L U ST R AT I O N B Y T O N Y H E A L E Y
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.
IN A YEAR OF UPS AND DOWNS FOR THE
tourism industry, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) was mostly flying high. Airport leadership, spearheaded by Director of Aviation Kevin Dolliole, spent 2021 nabbing awards and rebuilding its connectivity with new and returning airlines. The challenges of COVID-19 on airlines and airports have been (insert synonym for “unprecedented”). MSY was well positioned to meet them successfully with the new $1 billion passenger terminal that opened in November 2019, which consolidated the security checkpoints for three concourses and 35 gates, added two new parking garages adjacent to the terminal, and built an amenities program of more than 40 different food and retail vendors that focus on Louisiana cuisine and culture. These innovations were most recently recognized by J.D. Power, which ranked MSY as the No. 1 large airport in North America for customer satisfaction based on the 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study released in September. The annual study surveys airline passengers in six categories that are ranked in order of importance: terminal facilities; airport arrival/department; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail. In addition to the overall ranking, MSY was also No. 1 in food, beverage and retail services. “This honor from J.D. Power is a testament to our tireless efforts to deliver safe, efficient and clean facilities and services to the passengers at the New Orleans Airport,” said Dolliole in a release. “Following the historic success of opening of our new $1 billion terminal complex, we faced unprecedented challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all, our team has never wavered on our commitment to providing unmatched customer service.” The airport kicked off 2021 by being ranked third by the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award program in the Best Large Airport contest. It was nominated with 12 other airports and came in behind only Denver International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “It is an outstanding achievement to have our airport named as one of the top three in the country,” said Judge Michael Bagneris, chair of the New Orleans Aviation Board, in a release. “This is proof positive that the city of New Orleans and
IN THE BIZ SP ORTS
Tis the Season Saints’ success, dome reopening boosting local sales BY C HR I S PR ICE
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
front as we enter prime Christmas shopping and the last quarter of the Saints’ 2021 season. A year ago, the New Orleans Saints may have had the most talented roster, from top to bottom, in team history, but because of COVID-19 safety precautions and surges in positive coronavirus cases during the season, only a few thousand fans were allowed in the Superdome on game days. That led to a malaise in excitement among Saints fans that local retailers said extended to their shops. For more than a decade, Fleurty Girl’s multiple retail stores and online shop have been a haven for Saints fans to get outfitted with unique styles and accessories, but 2020 was a different year. Without fans in the stands or in the shops the company missed its projected numbers in August 2020. “Saints football is at the core of Fleurty Girl,” company founder Lauren Haydel said a year ago. “This is the first fall, the first football season, that we are not head to toe in Saints gear at Fleurty Girl. The customer demand isn’t there. It’s very unusual. We can’t compete without football.” The offseason brought a lot of question marks to the team and shop owners, too. The Saints had to cut $111 million in player salaries to get below the league-mandated $182.5 million salary cap, which dropped from $198.2 million in 2020. That resulted in the departure of several key veteran players and fan favorites, and led to questions about how the team could build a competitive roster. Of course, Drew Brees retired, and for the first time in 15 years debate about who would play quarterback emerged. But there were encouraging signs for the 2021 season. With the advent of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, attendance restrictions were lifted, and fans have filled the stadium to its capacity of 73,000. While the Saints lost a lot of talent, most of their starters remained. Where they did lose players, their deep roster and solid draft allowed players to step into new roles. The defense has been among the top 10 in the NFL and the offense has found ways to win. “Black and gold stuff is front and center again. All of our stores have a Saints table right when you walk in the door,” Haydel said. “Last year it was pretty stagnant. We just had one round of purchase orders,”
she said. “Last year we didn’t order any clear purses. We just had our leftover inventory from the previous year. So, entering this season, we weren’t sure what was going to happen with football and if people were going to get into it. But now it’s like every week we’re reordering black and gold. We’re reordering, reordering and reordering. Clear purses — now, we can’t keep them in stock this year. So, that is a telltale sign that things are definitely changing and moving again.” Even though her numb ers are rebounding they haven’t fully made a recovery. “We’re not doing 2019 black-and-gold sales, but we’re doing better than we were in 2020.” Haydel said she not concerned with season-ending injuries to QB1 Jameis Winston or WR1 Michael Thomas affecting her business because she focuses on team-related merchandise and doesn’t produce many items dedicated to individual players. “I’m worried about jinxing them,” she said. “Once a player is injured, you know, no one wants to buy it. No one,” she stressed, “wants to buy it. So, it’s really just one of the things you have to be so careful [about] before you print a bunch of garments. I can’t take the risk, not when you’ve only got certain amount of square footage in your shop, and you want to fill it with what’s going to turn.” Haydel said she anticipates strong Saints-related sales through the Christmas season and, hopefully, into the postseason. But, she says, she’s diversified her inventory with items that reflect the COVID-19 hangover. “Everybody loves the dark humor. You know, it’s just our state of mind right now,” she said. “A lot of things that are geared toward television series that they’re into. We’re selling ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Squid Games.’ We’re still selling ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ They’re buying things [that] we’ve never had. The trend is just different, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people are at home or have been at home more and gotten more into television shows.” n
I L L U ST R AT I O N B Y T O N Y H E A L E Y
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.
THERE’S GOOD NEWS ON THE SPORTS RETAIL
IN THE BIZ EN T REPRENEUR
A Year of Extremes 2021 featured enormous entrepreneurial successes… and challenges BY KEI T H TWITCHE LL
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
I L L U ST R AT I O N B Y T O N Y H E A L E Y
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.
Compounding this was Hurricane Ida, which displaced many people for weeks it’s a good time to remember the biggest entrepreneurial stories of a year that most – with some still unable to return home – and interrupted cash flow for many operof us want to forget quickly. Between Ida, the delta variant and everything else, ations that were already teetering on the brink. Unfortunately, businesses across perhaps the biggest story of the year is all sectors found Ida to be the last straw that we all survived! and have announced that they will not One bright spot in 2021 was the “Silicon reopen. Micro-entrepreneurs appear to Bayou.” Levelset, a New Orleans software have been particularly impacted by the firm, sold for a local record $500 million storm. Ironically, this may help alleviate to a California tech company. Progress workforce issues for businesses that do in establishing our region as tech hub survive, as employees and owners alike has been inconsistent, and this event is a find new jobs. potential accelerant for opportunity and Hurricane Ida also put a glaring spotinvestment in the sector. light on infrastructure issues that plague Video game development retained its the region, particularly the power grid. leading role in the local tech industry, with While the storm devastated areas west established firms such as inXile, Testronic of the city, the immediate metro area did and Turbosquid continuing to thrive. In October, nationally known video game devel- not suffer grave damage, and the big story was power remaining out for a week or oper Jeff Strain announced that he would be launching his next venture, Possibility Space, longer in many places. For companies with national clients and connections, from in downtown New Orleans. investment firms to manufacturers, this While opportunities for entrepreneurs kind of interruption is more than just a of color and female entrepreneurs still hardship. lagged in general, the gap in New Orleans Indeed, going back to where we started, is less than many other cities, and success when asked whether Levelset would stories including Nelson Burton, Keiana continue to maintain its headquarters in Cave and Troy Henry (whose team was New Orleans, founder Scott Wolfe made recently selected to develop the former Six Flags site) helped demonstrate the diver- it clear that such would be his preference. But he cautioned that an unreliable sity of opportunities here. Taking this one infrastructure could force the company to step further, Dr. Calvin Mackie, founder of STEM NOLA, began expanding his inno- reconsider. How the infrastructure issue is vative methods of bringing STEM educaaddressed will be one of the biggest stories tion for young people of color to other of the next few years. The good news is cities, while also launching a community that the rebuilt levee system held. Progress technology hub in New Orleans East. seems to be occurring, albeit slowly, at Another sector experiencing notable the Sewerage and Water Board. However, expansion in 2021 was hotel/motel, with despite increasing calls to strengthen the everything from national chains to local electrical grid – particularly by moving boutique hotels opening their doors. With more of the power lines underground – the hospitality industry still struggling Entergy has yet to announce any specific considerably, each new venture represents plans, and has previously indicated that it a strong statement about the future of considers underground lines prohibitively tourism in New Orleans. One major challenge confronting hospi- expensive. The creativity and perseverance of tality and many other sectors continues entrepreneurs in metro New Orleans to be staffing shortages. A recurring story continues to be tested, and so many still throughout the year was workers who manage to follow their dreams and inspiused forced time off during the pandemic to explore better employment opportuni- rations. We can all hope that 2022 will bring fewer obstacles and far more success ties. In addition, some of the workforce stories. n continued to stay home rather than face COVID-19 exposure. For many restaurants, retail operations and other lowerwage businesses, the resulting worker shortages have led to curtailing of hours and even outright closures. AS WE ENTER THE FINAL MONTH OF 2021,
Perspectives HOT TOPICS IN SOUTHE AST LOUISIANA INDUSTRIES
BANKING+FINANCE What are your top financial tips for 2022?
REAL ESTATE+CONSTRUCTION Local real estate and construction professionals share their expectations for 2022.
EDUCATION What new classes/programs do you have on the horizon for 2022?
GUEST A tight labor market, new tech — today’s business challenges require new strategies
PERSPECTIVES B A NK ING+FIN A NCE
Jason Bezou President & Founder Bezou Financial Planning Group Looking, let’s say, at tax advice for retirees, I would advise that after building after-tax cash reserves this year, you can then spend those funds in 2022 and reduce taxable income without impacting your lifestyle. This might drop you to a lower tax bracket and qualify you for national health care if you are retired and under 65, freeze your property tax value if 65, or qualify you for 0% capital gains or 0% tax on Social Security. Ask your CPA to work with your CFP. Also, ask your advisors for alternatives to traditional fixed income or bond funds.
What are your top financial tips for 2022?
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
P. David Soliman, CPFA Managing Partner Faubourg Private Wealth Whether it’s COVID-19 risks or uncertainties from Congress, variables have been increasing at a remarkable pace. Further complicating matters is the fragmented advice available to individuals who may be dealing with multiple advisors who aren’t communicating for tax, investment, legal, and insurance issues. This is why it’s crucial to have comprehensive financial planning, not just a financial plan. Planning is a proactive, ever-evolving engagement. Find a planner who recognizes this need and is willing to coordinate a team of experts on your behalf.
Insurance Agent Northwestern Mutual
Senior Vice President, Chief Commercial Lending Officer Metairie Bank
Pay attention to any new potential tax changes and how they will affect your investments. Changes in capital gains taxes can alter your selling decisions. If we get an environment of sustained rising interest rates, the world will look very different from an investment standpoint than it has over the past 30 years. Previous relationships, correlations and solutions to old problems might breakdown. Make sure to understand how your portfolio works together, what your objectives are, and what is the purpose of each asset within the larger context of your portfolio.
My top tip for small businesses is to watch both your costs and your profit margins. Too many businesses assume they are making money if sales are strong; I suspect many will discover in the next six months that their margins have suffered. Don’t forget your labor costs when analyzing this; labor costs are on the rise. Also, be prepared for taxes to rise and incorporate this into your overall costs. Consult with your CPA on what to expect tax-wise in 2022. And finally, don’t forget to have your CPA explore your eligibility for the Employee Retention Credit when filing your payroll taxes.
PERSPECTIVES RE A L ES TAT E+C ONS T RUCTION
Brighter Days Ahead? Local real estate and construction professionals share their expectations for 2022. BY JA M E S SE B ASTIE N
T H E PA S T T W O Y E A R S H AV E H A D T H E I R
ups and downs, perhaps more downs. Drew Brees retired, ZZ Top is now one man short, and COVID-19 is still hanging around. However, there have been some bright spots. ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ ended, The United Nations declared 2021 the international year for fruits and vegetables, and the mask mandate has come to an end — at least for now. One word comes to mind above all others when describing 2020 and 2021 — survival. With a global pandemic and natural disasters, life has made most days a tough go for us all. People lost their jobs, businesses and spirit at times. “Any South Louisiana small business still standing in the last quarter of 2021 deserves commendation given the pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 hurricane seasons, the questionable state of New Orleans leadership, the supply chain hang-ups and the labor woes,” says Ryan D. Mayer, owner of Mayer Building Company. “I would consider my company’s success has more to do with internal reflection than project completions or profits earned this year.” In order to survive the past two years, Mayer’s team placed an emphasis on three things: leadership, effort and patience. “In any business, leadership must be present, and effort and patience must be employed, or the business will not thrive or last,” he says. “This year, all three are being tested, here, and likely everywhere. As the owner, I am the leader, sure, but the courage to demonstrate leadership in every superintendent, technician and manager is worthy of attention. We are being patient with ourselves, with the collapsing supply chain, the vendors and stakeholders. Our efforts are based in
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customer advocacy, pushing against labor shortages, prevailing human angst and uncertainty.” ROBUST RESIDENTIAL MARKET
I would consider my company’s success has more to do with internal reflection than project completions or profits earned this year. Ryan D. Mayer, owner, Mayer Building Company
Despite shutdowns, Hurricane Ida and a general fear of instability, the real estate market held strong in 2021 with further success predicted in 2022. “2021 was robust despite Covid, [and] a temporary slowdown due to Hurricane Ida,” says Gigi Burk, owner of Burk Brokerage Real Estate. “The lack of inventory created a strong seller’s market in 2021. This seller’s advantage is projected to continue into 2022, but at a less aggressive pace. Our 2022 market is looking very strong, with a 10-15% increase in values within a more balanced market for buyers and sellers.” Burk Construction and Development, owned by Burk’s husband, Billy Burk, has several new luxury projects slated for Lakeview and Old Metairie. “The company expects to see continued demand in its top tier of luxury homes, where price points start at $1.25 million,” Gigi Burk adds. “High buying power, enabled by low interest rates and confidence in continued market value increases, has created the perfect incentive to buy or sell. This is framing up to be a once-in-alifetime opportunity, one that we are sure to reflect on for years to come.”
CONSTRUCTION ON THE RISE, ONE SHINGLE AT A TIME
Material shortages and limited selection have not stopped Earl J. Mackie of Mackie One Construction from flourishing in 2021. Mackie says his company has already doubled its gross revenue from 2020, with sales exceeding $1 million. Mackie One construction also increased its workforce by 50%. Mackie believes his company’s success will continue to grow in 2022. “We strive to be the most reliable and respected roofing company in our market,” he says. “We will also continuously strive to provide a high level of value and customer service to our clients throughout the New Orleans metropolitan region.” The company’s new projects include a Treme location of Ma Mommas House of Cornbread and Chicken & Waffles. Mackie also plans to “dig deeper into the residential home improvement market and penetrate into the small commercial roofing industry.” LEASE DEALS VS. SALES
Richard E. Juge, CCIM, SIOR, president of RE/MAX Commercial Brokers, says most of his team’s success has resulted from lease deals vs. sales in 2021. “We see a lot of office tenants rethinking their office needs, and still doing longer-
term deals,” Juge says. “lndustrial has been on fire for years, and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon.” However, Juge believes that New Orleans lacks new quality products, which has left companies scrambling to find viable options. “There’s trepidation in the sales market that’s twofold,” he says “‘A’ sellers are concerned about proposed tax changes by the Biden administration specifically related to capital gains taxes and limitations proposed on 1031 exchanges. If those go into place, there is no doubt transaction volume will decrease dramatically, which spills over to banks, title companies/attorneys and hundreds of others involved in these transactions.” According to Juge, while the market rebounded a bit in 2021, we have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. “Unlike residential, COVID-19 really stymied commercial transactions — it seemed like the markets were frozen for three to six months,” he says. “The impact has been greatest on retail, and more specifically, hospitality-related [businesses] in the city. [The Louisiana Commercial Database] shows major absorption of property in the New Orleans Metropolitan Service Area. The inventory of retail-for-lease options fell 20.35% from this month vs. the two-year average, and the number of office buildings available for purchase fell 16.31% in the same time frame.” While the news was not good for 2021, Juge expects 2022 to be a recovery year for New Orleans. “We’re working on 20-plus months since COVID-19 shut this city down, and my sense is there is tremendous pent-up demand,” he says. “While tourism doesn’t immediately impact office and industrial, it would be a big boost to the psychological recovery of this market.” Juge also predicts good things for the energy industry in the coming year. “I do feel like the energy sector is about to see a return to prosperity,” he says. “It’s been shrinking for a half dozen years, but we are seeing activity return and I predict a resurgence.” A couple of projects Juge says are worth keeping an eye on include the revamp of Clearview Mall and the new logistics hub in Luling, the latter of which is designed to provide quality inventory to the industrial market. But the biggest project of 2022 might be Bayou Phoenix, the development project selected to revitalize the old Jazzland site in New Orleans East. “I’m really hopeful that the Bayou Phoenix development can get inked,” he says. “That truly should be transformative for the East, which has been stuck in a rut since Katrina. The plans for that development seem to have a good balance of distribution, retail and entertainment.” n 30
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Our 2022 market is looking very strong, with a 10-15% increase in values within a more balanced market for buyers and sellers.” Gigi Burk, owner, Burk Brokerage Real Estate
PERSPECTIVES EDUC AT ION
Paulo Goes Dean, A. B. Freeman School of Business Tulane University At the graduate level we will continue our focus on building innovative offerings in the areas of analytics, energy and entrepreneurship. At the undergraduate level, we are planning to launch a new series of classes for non-business students to gain a solid foundation in business disciplines and earn a new business minor. We believe business is the connecting hub for great collaborations. We also see opportunities to introduce new online graduate degree programs that build on what we’re doing on campus to offer great flexibility and value to the vast population of working professionals.
What new classes/ programs do you have on the horizon for 2022?
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Tony S. Cook, M.A.
Provost and Senior VP of Academic Affairs Xavier University
Director of Communications and Marketing Delgado Community College
Starting in January of 2022, Xavier will offer a Bachelor of Science in Robotics and Mechatronic Engineering degree program, a fouryear program designed to address the need for diverse and modern engineers in a rapidly growing field with multidisciplinary applications across varied industries. The program will focus on the fundamentals needed to design intelligent systems and products that combine mechanization and control. Graduates will be valuable in numerous industries, including aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, communications, defense, electronics and healthcare.
In 2022, graduates of our culinary arts program will find exciting career opportunities as the regional economy begins recovering from the pandemic. In allied health — where we educate many of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and regional healthcare in general — our respiratory care technology program leads to excellent employment opportunities, and credits are transferable to a four-year program. Graduates receive of the two-year program are eligible to take the national credentialing exams — which they typically pass with flying colors.
Dr. Cherie Kay LaRocca Vice Chancellor for Education, Training and Student Success Nunez Community College Nunez Community College offers a variety of programs and classes to help students achieve their goals. We offer short-term credentials that can be used in the workforce, alongside associate degrees and transfer credits that can be applied to a four-year university. Our high-demand programs include nursing, process technology, coastal studies, GIS technology, emergency medical service education, and industrial maintenance. Nunez also offers the only aerospace manufacturing technician program in the state of Louisiana.
PERSPECTIVES GUES T
feat. Business leaders must also prepare for unplanned employee turnover. While we are all hopeful that the inevitable turnover will be infrequent and occur during a time of stability and smooth sailing, this is rarely the case. Tip: Look for scalable support for key tasks, even if your team is managing well at the moment. Implement cross-training programs between and amongst functional teams. Put additional safeguards into place by engaging an outsourced partner who can get to know your organization’s strategy and needs. Transparent communication with your advisor about your organization’s current state and future plans can uncover new opportunities. A proactive partner will ready their staff to augment your critical teams in times of need. This extra support may be in the form of assistance with day-to-day processes, extraordinary projects, or items of technical depth such as compliance, taxation or systems. PROCESSES
Four Tips for Coping With the “New Normal” A tight labor market, new tech — today’s business challenges require new strategies B Y KAT HE R INE TO R R E S, CIA
YO U R C U S TO M E R E X P E CTAT I O N S A N D
demands have shifted dramatically. A tight labor market means certain teams are understaffed. The business landscape is still leveling off, but countless rapid changes have reset the perspective for companies, employees and consumers. Even with a much-awaited resurgence, many business leaders are struggling to split attention between managing the ever-changing present and planning
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strategic initiatives for the future. The “old” methods of addressing business challenges are no longer enough. While the phrase “new normal” is common, the truth is we are still working to define what that means in the long term. There is huge demand for scalable support, accessible information and clear options.
Emerging with Clarity
While it’s impossible to return to the world as it was in February 2020, organizations can be realistic about the challenges that they face today. Rather than constantly shifting to accommodate a “new normal,” concentrate your organization’s focus on three core building blocks — people, processes and systems — under the lens of short- and long-term strategic goals. Current gaps can be addressed with thoughtful strategy and investment in effective resources, allowing your organization to seize its potential for growth. PEOPLE
Challenge: A tight labor market Whether your organization is developing a new role or reviving positions that were cut due to the impacts of the pandemic, the current labor market is highly competitive and managing critical functions while adapting to evolving challenges is no easy
Katherine Torres, CIA, is a director in P&N’s Consulting Services Group whose career has been focused on management consulting services. She primarily helps clients manage opportunities and challenges that may result from compounding growth in the marketplace. P&N’s experienced, multidisciplinary teams are well-versed in supporting Gulf South organizations through change and strategic growth.
Challenge: Modified controls and processes As the world experienced rapid change, organizations adapted processes, technology and resources to address needs as they arose. How has your organization’s adaptation to the “new normal” impacted your control environment? As you consider this question, you will likely discover modifications and additions that must now be vetted for suitability and security for the long-term. Tip: Ask your professional services advisor for a business process review. It’s time to take a full inventory of modified processes, new technology and vendors, and any changes to your current control structure due to evolving business operations. Evaluating the current state of your processes at a high level while connecting the dots between the deploment of your people, processes, and systems can help you understand any immediate areas of concern while identifying areas for future improvement and efficiency. SYSTEMS
Challenge: Technology evolution and adoption Many organizations are implementing cloud-based tools that were not previously considered high priority. Technology has evolved at breakneck pace to keep up with the demand for remote and hybrid work.
It can be a huge undertaking to evaluate options and then roll out a new or complementary systems. Tip: Enlist help to assess your return on current technology investments and evaluate future opportunities. Consider where your organization is spending the most effort for the least return. Cloud software isn’t just about the technology—it can provide adaptability, accessibility and efficiency that can sharpen your organization’s competitive edge. Working with a software selection partner can take some of the burden off your own team, and even modest investments in cloud computing can have a significant impact. Challenge: Facilitating data processes in the “new normal” COVID-19 underscored the importance of having tools that support accurate and timely decision-making in a crisis. Accessible, immediate, and meaningful data analysis is crucial. Organizations that lack current, accessible and automated reporting should consider revamping data capture and aggregation processes. Tip: Thoroughly assess manual processes and current systems before selecting new technology. While many organizations have made investments in robust accounting systems, adoption and ongoing training is crucial. Work with your professional services advisor to evaluate technology solutions that streamline manual processes, fit into your existing business operations, and provide accessible, always-current data to help finance leaders understand the state of the business quickly and develop forward-looking strategy.
Addressing business challenges with a holistic approach
No one knows what the future holds, but a strong relationship with a professional services advisor can help proactively address gaps in key functional areas — people, process and systems. This type of support puts necessary strategies and best practices into place so that services can scale to meet your needs, especially when change is happening quickly and strategic goals seem out of reach. Connect with your advisor now and talk through your organization’s current challenges. Such professionals have an extended network available to help, and often work with other clients in similar circumstances. n
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every business story in our Top 10 related back to the biggest issue in the world: COVID-19. It was an unprecedented year, to be sure, and one we were all happy to see end, the prevailing hope being that next year would surely be better. Unfortunately, not only has the pandemic continued to rage in 2021, on August 29 — the 16th anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made its arrival — the region was slammed by one of most powerful storms ever to hit the United States. Hurricane Ida’s Category 4 winds and storm surge knocked out power, caused widespread destruction and even temporarily reversed the flow of the Mississippi River. In its wake, the city struggled with basic services like trash, electricity, and water, along with mass evacuations that further disrupted schooling and exacerbated workforce issues, as well as supply chain problems. So much for 2021 offering relief to struggling businesses. However, as the Biz New Orleans editorial team sat down to go over the contenders for the top business stories of the year, what we found were a surprising number of bright spots. For one, both the film industry and residential real
BIG ANNIVERSARIES IN 2021 I65 Tujague’s I25 Port NOLA I25 Kingsley House I00 Delgado Community College 70 Adams and Reese 65 Landis Construction 65 Friends of Cabildo 60 Preservation Hall 60 Stennis Space Center 60 American Tile & Terrazzo/
30 Firmidible 25 Deveney I5 Rennaissance Publishing I5 Red Group 10 Team Gleason Foundation
STORIES estate industries continued to break records. Then you had the boom in hotel construction in and around Downtown, including the much-anticipated arrival of the city’s biggest luxury offering to-date, Four Seasons New Orleans, whose penthouse sales also broke residential real estate records. This year we also had big global players showing their interest in the Crescent City. While Caesars took over naming rights to the Superdome for the next 20 years and announced a rebranding and $325 million in renovations to Harrah’s Casino, other massive companies like Shutterstock, Procore and Cint bought up three of our homegrown tech companies in deals that just got bigger and bigger, finally reaching the $1 billion “unicorn” status. Plus, in another long-awaited win, after sitting dormant with no plans since 2009, the former Six Flags site in New Orleans East finally has a future. Yes, our region still has its challenges — including some that have really hit breaking point levels this year — but we are also heading strongly into new directions, continuing to diversify our economy and create new opportunities for the future. Here’s to a (dare we hope for it) brighter 2022!
OF 2021 BY RICH COLLINS CHRIS PRICE KIMBERLEY SINGLETARY KEITH TWITCHELL
01 Three Big Tech Exits Take the Local Startup Industry to New Heights
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OUTHEAST LOUISIANA HAS LONG BEEN
fighting to diversify its economy, and a big part of that has been a focus on building up a strong entrepreneurism sector, including a support system for startups anchored by organizations like Propeller and Idea Village, as well as a strong technology and media sector, in part through a digital media tax credit program that offers companies a 25% credit for qualified in-state payroll. While the region has experienced multiple wins in the startup and tech sectors, in 2021 three New Orleans-based technology startups sold for large sums; included among them was the region’s first “unicorn,” a startup valued at over $1 billion. The first sale took place January 26, when Turbosquid — an online marketplace for 3D digital models created by New Orleans natives Matt and Andy Wisdom in 2000 — sold to New Yorkbased Shutterstock for $75 million. Turbosquid had grown to be the largest marketplace in the world for online models. At the time of the sale, the company employed about 40 people in New Orleans and another 40 outside the region. Turbosquid held the title of largest tech startup exit until September, when Levelset — a company created in 2012 by New Orleanian, lawyer and entrepreneur Scott Wolfe with the goal of revolutionizing how payments are made and received in the construction industry —announced that it was being purchased for roughly $500 million by California-based software company Procore. In less than 10 years, the Lower Garden District headquartered company has grown to include nearly 300 employees worldwide (165 in NOLA) and has additional offices in Austin, Texas, and Cairo, Egypt. Wolfe noted in September that more than 250,000 users have deployed Levelset on more than 6.5 million construction projects. In an interview with BizNewOrleans.com in late September, Wolfe spoke about the effect he hopes the sale will have in the region, both in the short and long term. “This is a very innovation-driven, product-driven acquisition with a lot of appetite for continued growth for Levelset,” he said. “New Orleans is the heartbeat of Levelset … We’ll have another publicly traded company with a very large office in New Orleans that has room to grow. And it’s a lot of money that’s being spread across the New Orleans angel community, so I’m excited about the halo effect this should have on the New Orleans ecosystem.” Boosting the ecosystem even further, just over a month later, marketing technology company Lucid snagged the grand prize when it sold to Swedish company Cint for more than $1 billion in cash and stock. The deal made Lucid the area’s first “unicorn.”
Founded at the New Orleans co-working space Launch Pad in 2010 by Patrick Comer, Lucid makes software that “helps organizations access survey takers who contribute authentic responses to their studies, providing valuable data for their insights.” The company, which has been growing year after year, said it has more than 130 employees in New Orleans and a total of approximately 550 employees globally, including offices in London; Delhi, India; the Middle East; and Africa. “The Lucid exit is the capstone on over a decade of effort within our startup community,” Michael Hecht of GNO, Inc., told Biz New Orleans in October. “Patrick and his team have been all home-town drive, creativity and class, and it is wonderful to see the payoff. Combined with the recent success of Levelset, and many other recent exits and recent rounds, the Lucid exit is a ‘drop the mic’ moment for our entrepreneurial ecosystem. It means validation, it means wealth creation, and it means the fly-wheel of entrepreneurial success is beginning to spin for Greater New Orleans.”— KS
PATRICK COMER LUCID $1 BILLION
SCOTT WOLFE LEVELSET $500 MILLION
MATT WISDOM TURBOSQUID $75 MILLION
ANDY WISDOM TURBOSQUID $75 MILLION
While the Hospitality Industry Struggles, New Orleans Sees a Boom in New Hotel Offerings
WHEN THE TOURISM INDUSTRY does return to New Orleans in full force, visitors will have more options to lay their heads in between adventures thanks to a flurry of big hotel openings over the past year, the most noted of which was the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences New Orleans’ official launch on July 21, 2021, following a $450 million renovation of the 1968 building that began in 2018. Occupying the former headquarters of the World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street, the first Four Seasons property in New Orleans also represents many other firsts, including the city’s first five-star hotel and first hotel-serviced residential building. Sales of the 92 residences also made headlines, including when one of the penthouses sold for a reported $13 million to Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger, former CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Saints coach Sean Payton also made news when they purchased residences. Inside the 33-story building —plus 34th floor observation deck and rooftop pool — there are 341 guest rooms and suites, 29,000 square feet of event MAY 11 Kimpton Hotel Fontenot reopened
JUNE 22 St. Vincent Hotel opened
space, spa facilities and four chef-driven food and drink options, including restaurants operated by two well-known local chefs, Donald Link (Chemin a la Mer) and Alon Shaya (Miss River). In addition to the Four Seasons, this past summer featured three additional big hotel openings. Kimpton Hotel Fontenot officially opened on March 13, 2020, but then closed very shortly after due to the pandemic. The 202-room boutique hotel opened again May 11, 2021, at 501 Tchoupitoulas Street, which most recently housed a Staybridge Suites. The hotel’s opening marked the Kimpton brand’s return to the city following a 16-year absence. The result of a $22.5 million renovation of a building that once housed the St. Vincent Infant Asylum on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District, the St. Vincent Hotel opened June 22 boasting 75 guest rooms, two restaurants, a swimming pool, outdoor verandas, several bars and an event center. The project is a joint venture between Austin-based hospitality veterans Larry McGuire, Tom Moorman and Liz Lambert, along with locals Zach Kupperman and Jayson Seidman. On Aug. 18, Virgin Hotels New Orleans officially added a new hotel option in the Warehouse District at 550 Baronne St. The hotel features 238 guest rooms and two penthouses — one of which, “Richard’s Penthouse Flat” — named for Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group — features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown New Orleans. The hotel also includes multiple dining and drinking outlets, including Commons Club, Dreamboat, the Pool Club and Funny Library Coffee Shop. As of late October, yet another hotel project still lay on the horizon for 2021, The Frenchmen Hotel, the first project of a partnership between New Orleans-based hospitality group Angevin & Co. — founded by restaurateur and entrepreneur Robert Thompson — and Massachusetts-based hotel company Lark Hotels. The Frenchmen is currently undergoing renovations to all 27 guest rooms and public areas, including its two bars and outdoor pool deck. When the property reopens later this year, the hotel will debut redesigned interiors and a new bar program.— KS JULY 21 Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences New Orleans’ official launch
AUGUST 18 Virgin Hotels New Orleans officially added a new hotel in the Warehouse District
03 RECORD FILM BUSINESS
Hollywood South is officially back and running at full steam. New Orleans is once again a hotbed for filming: just in the first three quarters of 2021, the industry brought $753 million into the city. At the time Hurricane Ida hit, New Orleans was hosting a record number of film productions and holding the title of fourth-largest production hub in the country, behind Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. Speaking on an episode of the BizTalks podcast on June 8, Second Line vice president Trey Burvant spoke about the effect the pandemic had in boosting film production. “COVID created a lot of demand for content,” he said “… and now there’s a huge tidal wave of work coming to be made because they’ve got to fill those gaps. … It’s going to be one of the best times for this industry in the state and in New Orleans. … My phone is ringing off the hook. There are so many shows being greenlit right now. And there’s actually not enough soundstage space in the world to accommodate all of the production that is trying to go to camera.” After pausing a bit following Ida, filming quickly resumed in the city, and on the Oct. 5 episode of BizTalks Carroll Morton, director of Film New Orleans — which, among other things, handles all the permitting for films in New Orleans — said the city currently had 16 film and TV projects filming and is capable of crewing up to 18 major projects at a time. “New Orleans has one of the most well-respected, deepest crews in the United States…[We] can crew up to 95% of a project, so 95% of the people who are on the streets and are producing all of this are local people. They live here,” she said, explaining that the city is continuously growing its studio infrastructure, and its reputation as a production hub, not just a city attractive for filming, has been growing. “[People in the industry] know when they make phone calls here,” she said, “be it to our film office, be it to the local industry here, that we are able to help them very quickly to bring them here.” — KS
New Orleans has one of the most well-respected, deepest crews in the United States…[We] can crew up to 95% of a project, so 95% of the people who are on the streets and are producing all of this are local people. They live here.
Real Estate Standing on Shaky Ground
VER THE PAST YEAR, the only certain thing about real estate in the greater New Orleans area has been uncertainty. With a few category exceptions, commercial real estate was severely disrupted by the pandemic. Post-Ida, even the robust residential market faced potential negative impactors. On the residential side, the market broke records in 2021, especially at the higher end. Average prices were up 13% over the previous year, running as much as $400 per square foot in many New Orleans neighborhoods. With many people working from home, buyers sought larger spaces, while pandemic-related uncertainties reduced the number of sellers. Meanwhile, supply chain issues increased construction costs for new dwellings and renovations, a problem made far worse by Hurricane Ida-inflicted damage. Throughout the year, residential was unquestionably a seller’s market, which not surprisingly exacerbated longstanding affordable housing issues.
Toward year-end a few potential negative factors emerged. Mortgage rates began to creep up slightly and are forecast to continue rising. Less certain but potentially more impactful, Ida revealed deep infrastructure issues (although the levees did hold), as well as caused many permanent business closures. Together, this could cause more homes to go on the market, while correspondingly reducing demand. Many factors combined to impact commercial real estate, negatively in most cases. E-commerce, which was already putting pressure on brickand-mortar retail, doubled during the pandemic. Staffing and supply chain issues, COVID-19 fears and finally Ida caused many stores and restaurants to close; vacancy rates for retail properties were nearing 20% by year-end. Vacancy rates for office space also rose, less dramatically, though long-term leases may be artificially slowing the pace. Many businesses continued to offer work-from-home options throughout the year, either full or part time, a transformation that most observers believe is permanent. Reduced
CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT BETS BIG ON NEW ORLEANS
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demand also drove down office rental rates, while the absence of workers in downtown areas had ripple effects on nearby businesses. Tourism-related properties, particularly hotels, faced serious challenges, especially after the summer COVID-19 surge. Room occupancy rates were below 50%, and another key metric, revenue per room, fell by more than half. Whether business travel and hotel stays will ever fully rebound is questionable, as many companies embraced video conferencing. Despite this, multiple new hotels opened in New Orleans, generating at least some optimism for this sector. Bright spots included industrial properties, especially warehousing, manufacturing and logistics centers, which benefit from the e-commerce boom. Multi-family housing also did well, fueled in part by rising rents and prices in the residential market. As vaccination rates and employment data both go up, there is hope in the real estate sector — particularly commercial — that thewild ride of 2021 will yield to somewhat smoother sailing in the year ahead. — KT
Caesars Entertainment is going all in on New Orleans. In late 2020, the company announced the rebranding of the Harrah’s Casino at the foot of Canal Street to Caesars New Orleans, accompanied by an estimated $325 million in renovations. The project, estimated to be completed by 2024, centers around construction of a new 340-room hotel. Other aspects include new food and hospitality attractions, development of the vacant area on the second floor of the current building, and substantial modifications throughout the interior and exterior of the property. Two recent announcements further expand on the details of the project. First,
portions of the hotel and the featured new restaurant will carry the Nobu brand, first launched in New York in 1994 by actor Robert De Niro, celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and businessman Meir Teper. The restaurant’s cuisine is a fusion blending Peruvian ingredients with Japanese recipes, while the hotel — which will apparently not encompass the entirety of the new tower — will feature luxury rooms and high-end amenities. The second announced aspect of the redevelopment is the inclusion of a live performance theater, in partnership with theater company Spiegelworld. The company’s performances are generally adult-oriented, and include acrobatics,
06 Entergy Battles City Council
Entergy New Orleans’ infrastructure was the first to crumble in the wake of Hurricane Ida followed by its relationship with its regulator, the New Orleans City Council. Following the storm that left parts of the city without electricity for days after part of Entergy’s power transmission system fell into the Mississippi River, the council’s Utility Committee passed a resolution to study the future ownership of the electric and gas operations in the city of New Orleans, including municipalization, or a cityowned and managed utility. “We need to do everything in our authority to reform our power delivery system, build clean resiliency into everything we do, and hold Entergy accountable to limit the damage to our community from future storms,” Council President Helena Moreno said in a press release. Entergy New Orleans responded with four options to move forward: 1. A merger with Entergy Louisiana to establish one company for all Louisiana customers. This could lead to lower rates in the city and spread the
comedy, music and vaudeville. New Orleans will be one of three Caesars properties, along with Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to feature Spiegelworld productions. With a lease in place for the Canal Street property through 2054, Caesars Entertainment is clearly treating the New Orleans location as a top priority. The current investment is anticipated to create 600 jobs during construction, and lead to another 500 permanent positions after the renovation is completed. In July, Caesars doubled down on the city, announcing a 20-year agreement for exclusive naming rights to the Superdome. Along with Saints home games and other staples such as the Bayou Classic and the
risk of storm costs across a larger customer base. It would be regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. 2. A sale or merger of Entergy New Orleans with another public utility or private entity. The City Council would retain regulatory authority. 3. Establish a standalone company without Entergy Corporation’s ownership. The City Council would retain regulatory authority, but physical and financial risks are plenty. 4. Municipalization of Entergy’s assets by the City of New Orleans, with direct management of the electric and gas systems. This could result in higher financing costs and additional operational expenses. Entergy New Orleans currently provides power to 207,000 electric customers and 108,000 gas customers in the city of New Orleans, representing $633.8 million or approximately 6% of Entergy Corporation’s total operating revenues, for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2020. The subsidiary owns more than 1,800 miles of electric distribution lines, 144 miles of transmission lines and approximately 640 megawatts of power generation. The company also owns 36 miles of natural gas transmission lines and more than 1,700 miles of natural gas distribution lines. “It is obvious that we have reached a critical juncture in our relationship with the City Council,” said Rod West, utility group president of Entergy Corporation. “While we believe that the actions of Entergy New Orleans have always been in the best interest of our New Orleans customers, some members of the council have publicly expressed a different opinion. “The council’s expected resolution will require it to make an important choice: Will the city continue with Entergy as its energy partner or pursue another alternative?” — CP
Essence Festival, the Superdome will be hosting the NCAA Final Four in 2022 and the Super Bowl in 2025, ensuring that the Caesars brand will experience high visibility early in the agreement. While there are currently some issues around state support for the Superdome, these will most likely be resolved successfully, given the overall economic impacts of the building. Combined with the casino renovations, Caesars Entertainment is establishing possibly the highest profile of any corporate entity in New Orleans. Placing this big a bet on the future of local tourism, and the city in general, is a welcome vote of confidence as the region’s economy attempts to recover from the ravages of the pandemic. —KT
The council’s expected resolution will require it to make an important choice: Will the city continue with Entergy as its energy partner or pursue another alternative?
GLOBAL VIDEO GAME DEVELOPMENT STUDIO OPENS IN NEW ORLEANS In 2021, New Orleans was home to several major tech “exits,” which is the industry term describing the acquisition of a startup by a bigger company, but there was also one notable entrance as well. In October, video game industry veteran Jeff Strain officially announced that he was relocating from the West Coast and opening his new video game development studio, Possibility Space, in New Orleans. An icon in the industry, Strain is the founder of Undead Labs, which makes the State of Decay video game series, and co-founder of ArenaNet, makers of the Guild Wars online role-playing game. Regional economic development officials, who lobbied Strain to come to New Orleans (and offered incentives), said Possibility Space will become the latest addition to an “interactive entertainment cluster” in the city that includes inXile, a Microsoft Xbox Game Studio; High Voltage Software, part of Keywords Studios; Testronic; and Turbosquid. Electronic Arts, meanwhile, has offices in Baton Rouge. Strain and his economic development partners estimate the new venture will create 75 new permanent jobs in Louisiana with an average annual salary of $100,000. “The arrival of Possibility Space further secures our standing as a leader in interactive entertainment development, which continues to offer high-paying tech jobs for Louisiana residents,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards when the news was announced. “With an industry innovator such as Jeff Strain at the helm, this project could be a game-changer for video game development in Louisiana.” For his part, Strain said he’s long been looking for an opportunity to settle in New Orleans, a city he’s visited frequently ever since his wife attended Loyola University New Orleans. “After two decades of building successful video game studios, I’m delighted to be starting my next company at home in Louisiana,” he said. “We’re building relationships with our customers and want to give them the best experience possible. We’re building relationships with our team members, and want to give them an environment that’s productive, safe and healthy. … This great state has a joy and a strength to it that makes it the perfect place to both raise my family and build my business. I’m appreciative for the vision of the state Legislature and the governor as they work together to support emerging tech businesses like mine.” — RC
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Six Flags Redevelopment May at Last Take Flight
A RARE LOSS FOR DREW BREES could translate into
a big win for the city of New Orleans. Brees and several other partners lost out when the city chose a competing firm to redevelop the Six Flags site in New Orleans East. The decaying former amusement park, severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina, had become emblematic of the city’s struggles to create highlevel economic development, particularly in the East. The city took over the troubled 227-acre property in 2009; since then, RFQs were issued and withdrawn, proposals were submitted and rejected, and endless debates over the future of the site were the norm. The most recent iteration of the process began in December 2020, when yet another RFQ was issued. Six proposals were submitted in response. Three, including the Brees-affiliated group (which also included current Saints linebacker Demario Davis), were invited to follow up with more detailed plans. While the Brees partnership scored highest initially, it ran into headwinds from a longstanding issue relating to the site: conflicts between the
preferences of area residents and the city’s goal of maximizing the economic impact of the redevelopment. On the other hand, a competing group led by local entrepreneur Troy Henry, and including the Louisiana-based construction company TKTMJ and Dallas developer Hillwood, conducted extensive community outreach, both to inform their proposal and build support for it. This approach paid off when the group, operating under the aegis of Bayou Phoenix, was selected in November to take on the project. Community support was one factor cited by the city when the decision was announced. Additional pluses for Bayou Phoenix were its strong financial position and its commitment to including Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) in the work. The proposal sets a goal of 40% DBE participation. The winning proposal includes both residential and entertainment uses. While there are positives and negatives to the location, one plus is access to major shipping routes — I-10, rail and the Mississippi River — and the plan includes warehousing and business logistics components. On the entertainment side, a sports complex and a water park are contemplated. A hotel and travel center are also in the plans. The final piece is locating a community STEM facility on the site, in collaboration with STEM NOLA founder Dr. Calvin Mackie. Along with the Six Flags site, the proposal includes redevelopment of the nearby Eastover Country Club and Residences. The former Six Flags has long been an albatross around New Orleans’ neck, but if Bayou Phoenix can deliver on its proposal, this will transform into a true story of resurrection. — KT
CONSOLIDATIONS CONTINUE IN HEALTH CARE
THE HITS JUST KEPT COMING IN HOSPITALITY
INCE THE PANDEMIC HIT in March of 2020, many industries have been hit hard by mandatory shutdowns and supply chain issues, but among the hardest hit was the hospitality industry, including the restaurant industry — New Orleans’ largest employer. Among the casualties of the pandemic so far have been bars and restaurants including: Liuzza’s Restaurant and Bar, Li’l Dizzy’s Café, Meauxbar, Gasa Gasa, Circle Bar, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, DTB, Cake Café and Bakery,
The two largest health care providers in the Greater New Orleans region continued the recent trend of growth through mergers and consolidations. In June, Ochsner Health announced a merger with Meridian, Mississippibased Rush Health Systems to become final in mid-2022 pending regulatory approval. Ochsner currently has 40 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and specialty hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi, plus more than 100 health and urgent care centers. Rush, which will be known as Ochsner Rush Health after the merger, owns six hospitals in east Mississippi and one in west Alabama, along with more than 30 clinics. The two systems have had a strategic partnership since 2019.
Morton’s the Steakhouse on Canal Street, two Robert LeBlanc-owned ventures — Cavan and Longway Tavern — Korea House, Trolley Stop Café, Avery’s on Tulane and Upperline. This past summer, however, business had begun to rebound a bit as restrictions lessened due to lower COVID-19 numbers. As cases rose, though, Mayor LaToya Cantrell instituted a vaccine mandate for those dining in and working in restaurants. In an article in the October 2021 issue of Biz New Orleans, Tony Saltaformaggio, general manager of one of Felix’s Restaurant Group’s two New Orleans locations, said that after being forced to close the French Quarter restaurant for over six months early in the pandemic, 2021 sales were looking really good.
“We have tremendous respect for Rush Health Systems and the work they have done to advance care in Mississippi. The announcement today is a natural progression of our existing partnership with Rush,” said Warner Thomas, Ochsner’s president and CEO. The merger is expected to expand access to specialty and sub-specialty services on the Gulf Coast, including cardiovascular surgery, specialized stroke care, and cancer treatment. “We are excited to join Ochsner Health and work with them to continue to improve quality and decrease costs while enhancing access to highly specialized care closer to home,” said Rush President and CEO Larkin Kennedy. In October, LCMC Health finalized its
“We were actually doing 30% over our 2019 sales,” he said. “Employees and guests were returning. But then the vaccine mandates hit, and everything just stopped dead. Suddenly, we had zero guests coming in the door.” Saltaformaggio said the company quickly moved to offer a $200 bonus — $100 for each shot — to encourage staff to get vaccinated, and it worked for 75 of the restaurant’s 104 employees. Business, however, he said, didn’t pick up for the next week and a half, and then Hurricane Ida hit, and the restaurant was forced to shut down again, this time for a week and four days before opening to limited hours. The arrival of a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29 was yet another blow to the already hobbled industry. Speaking to Biz New Orleans in October, Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA), said closures were continuing. “I talked to a guy yesterday who told me he’s been forced to close one of his restaurants permanently and just heard from another person on the Northshore that they have to do the same thing,” he said. “For every big restaurant in this state there are 20 small ones that employ maybe 15 people or less and they just don’t have the capacity to adapt as quick to all these changes.” Moving forward, the hospitality industry continues to battle workforce issues and supply chain challenges, while holding out hope that tourism and festivals will return, and that the worst of the pandemic remains behind us. — KS
acquisition of East Jefferson General Hospital after 95% of Jefferson Parish voters were in favor of the proposition in the August election. The agreement calls for LCMC Health to buy the hospital for $90 million and invest $100 million over the next five years. “East Jefferson General Hospital becoming part of the LCMC Health family ensures the residents of Jefferson Parish will continue to receive high quality health care,” LCMC Health CEO Greg Feirn said in a press release. “Receiving the overwhelming approval of the voters was a testament to East Jefferson’s commitment to the well-being of our community and we look forward to all we accomplish together in the years to come.”
EJGH joins LCMC Health’s five other hospitals, which include Children’s Hospital New Orleans, New Orleans East Hospital, Touro, University Medical Center New Orleans and West Jefferson Medical Center. “East Jefferson General Hospital will continue to bring an unmatched level of health care to the residents of Jefferson Parish, now with the support of a large, locally-operated hospital system,” said Gerald Parton, EJGH president and CEO in an issued news release. “This partnership ensures the continuation of our legacy and the retention of thousands of jobs for some of the finest healthcare workers in the region.”— CP
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Thibodaux Regional Health System
Thibodaux Regional Health System has been providing compassionate, quality care for more than nine decades. The Medical Center has successfully navigated a number of local and world crises, and has continued its forward progress despite the extensive challenges of the last two years. CEO Greg Stock’s unique ability to adapt to challenges and learn from them allows him to lead his team with confidence, navigating rough waters with focus and relative calm. Adaptability and innovation are in part what’s led Thibodaux Regional to its recognition as a national healthcare leader. The hospital ranks as a 50 top cardiovascular hospital in the country by IBM Watson Health, has received the Healthgrades Outstanding Patient Experience Award for 14 years in a row, and is the recipient of the Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence Award, to name a few recognitions. “We’re continuously growing to meet the healthcare needs of the region and consistently look for ways to enhance and improve the care that we provide,” says Stock. Evidence of its growth and innovation, Thibodaux Regional’s state-of-the-art Cancer Institute will deliver an 80,000-square foot dedicated facility for advanced cancer care close to home. Meanwhile, Thibodaux Regional’s growing Wellness Center is in its second phase of expansion. The Center’s existing WellFit initiative integrates wellness with clinical care, offering individuals the ability to achieve the highest quality, most active lifestyle possible. The expansion project will complement its current amenities with a multipurpose field, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, and more. “The new facilities will enhance our current sports and wellness programs while offering opportunities to host outside events and tournaments, potentially increasing the economic impact to our area,” says Stock.
Pictured (Seated L to R): Dr. Derek Neupert, Neurologist; Jane Lyles, PT; Dr. Lindsay Lasseigne, Neurosurgeon; Jay Voisin, CRNA (Standing L to R): Dr. Brian Parker, Pulmonologist/Critical Care; Melissa Brown, RN; Greg Stock, CEO; Nikay Fletcher, RT, BS; Dr. Omer Khokhar, Medical Oncologist
602 North Acadia Road, Thibodaux 985-447-5500 • Thibodaux.com
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From The Lens SOUTHE AST LOUISIANA BUSINESS IN FULL COLOR
WORKSPACES M.S. Rau renovation and expansion brings world-class jewelry gallery to the French Quarter
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Former brewery tour operator's pandemic pivot is keeping her plate full
ON THE JOB Ole’ Orleans Wines brings the cheer with its locally produced and bottled fine wines.
FROM THE LENS GRE AT WORKSPACES
Finely Crafted M.S. Rau renovation and expansion brings worldclass jewelry gallery to the French Quarter BY M E L A N IE WAR NE R SPE NCER PHOTOS BY SAR A E SSE X B R ADLEY
IN NOVEMBER, THE OWNERS OF M.S. R AU
completed a multi-year renovation and expansion at the French Quarter fine art, antiques and jewelry gallery known for its museum-quality exhibitions. The final stage included the addition of 10,000 items to the jewelry gallery. “Our goal for this phase was to provide a showroom for our jewelry offerings that matched the quality of the jewelry we offer,” says Scott Ferguson, M.S. Rau’s CFO. “To that end, we really feel like we met the challenge.” The resultant eye-popping space has sophistication and atmosphere to spare, which will come as no surprise to the company’s well-heeled clientele. Ferguson and members of the construction design team at Palmisano recently visited with us to share some of the process, trials and triumphs of creating this new, one-of-akind space.
What were your goals for the design and why?
Adam Zander: To create the most prestigious, unique and world class gallery that would house only the rarest and finest jewelry in the world.
What, if any, was the biggest design challenge, and how was it overcome?
Scott Ferguson: This is a project we deferred for over a year due to COVID19. Like any old building, you don’t really know what you are working with until demolition is completed. We discovered several walls that were severely out of plumb, two lengths of footings that had to be replaced and water encroachment from the walls we share with our neighbors. The un-plumb walls caused a real problem when installing the vault with 4-inch-thick rigid walls, but the team worked around the clock to complete the work success-
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
M.S. Rau — the French Quarter fine art, antiques and jewelry gallery known for its museum-quality exhibitions — recently completed the final stage of an extensive renovation and expansion that included the addition of 10,000 items to the jewelry gallery.
AT A GLANCE LOCATION
M.S. Rau Jewelry Gallery, 630 Royal St. NUMBER OF YEARS IN BUSINESS
December 2020 to November 2021 SQUARE FOOTAGE
630 Royal St., 7,000 square feet; all gallery space, over 40,000 square feet NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES
PERSONS IN CHARGE
Bill and Rebecca Rau, owners; and Scott Ferguson, CFO ARCHITECTURE
Architect, Office of Jonathan Tate, Jonathan Tate and Rob Baddour; Contractor (construction design build partner), Palmisano (Brad Shannon, Trevor Adam, Adam Zander, Jason Martin) INTERIOR DESIGN
Truitt Brand Design, Scott Truitt
“M.S. Rau is a place where you will encounter some of the finest art, jewelry and antiques ever made, says Scott Ferguson, M.S. Rau’s CFO, "and will also likely find something that you didn’t know existed.”
fully. Milan, Italy, was one of the cities in Europe that was hardest hit by COVID-19, which caused huge delays in the manufacturing of the casework. Compounding this was the sudden increase in the price of wood, shortages in construction materials and labor. Topping this off was the kink in the global supply chain and the limited shipping opportunities to get things from Milan to New Orleans, plus the significant additional costs to do so.
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As is typical in a renovation such as this, there were hundreds of small issues to be vetted and resolved by the members of our construction team.
What is the standout feature of the design and why does it stand out?
Ferguson: The new space is designed to exclusively operate as a jewelry gallery, so the floor plan is very open and bright. Our casework was manufactured by our
“As leaders in the company, we keep [a positive work atmosphere] at the forefront and work on it constantly — things change so quickly that if you are constantly thinking about your employees then you fall too far behind to catch up,” says Ferguson. “Our human resources department plays a big role in promoting and developing a positive atmosphere through ongoing development of managers and employees.”
partner in Milan, Italy and features very sophisticated lighting and access controls … But, in the end, our jewelry is the star of the show, and it is displayed 1,000 percent better than it was before. Zander: The "Glass Closing Room" is an oval- ellipse- shaped room, created out of a combination of lower base and upper display cabinets. It is wrapped with 3/8-inch laminated, curved glass and crown molding and is only accessible through a special key fob.
How would you describe M.S. Rau to someone who hasn’t ever visited and define its core clientele?
Ferguson: A blogger once referred to us as ‘a museum done up by P.T. Barnum where every object has the most amazing provenance.’ Others refer to us as a ‘museum with price tags.’ M.S. Rau is a place where you will encounter some of the finest art, jewelry and antiques ever made and will also likely find something that you didn’t know existed. Our clients are sophisticated but typically understated and have an appreciation of the finer things in life and the financial wherewithal to afford these things. They love us because of the
level of service we provide along with our unique, one-of-a-kind offerings and our one-stop shopping experience.
How did you set yourselves apart from similar businesses in New Orleans?
Ferguson: The new space speaks for itself — there is nothing like it in the city of New Orleans. This uniqueness is in our DNA, and we strive daily to cultivate our staff, our retail space and our inventory to meet this desire to offer things that no one else can offer.
Palmisano Project Manager Adam Zander says the team’s lofty goal was, “To create the most prestigious, unique and world-class gallery that would house only the rarest and finest jewelry in the world.”
How do you promote a positive work atmosphere for the M.S. Rau staff?
Ferguson: As leaders in the company, we keep this at the forefront and work on it constantly — things change so quickly that if you are constantly thinking about your employees, then you fall too far behind to catch up. Our human resources department plays a big role in promoting and developing a positive atmosphere through ongoing development of managers and employees. We set quarterly and annual financial goals and our employees earn bonuses based on hitting these goals, which helps keep us rowing in the same direction and adds a bit of fun to the daily routine.
What are your biggest challenges?
Ferguson: Sourcing inventory is always a challenge since we can’t simply call the factory and order another Picasso or 10-carat blue diamond. We are trying to add staff now to help with the acquisition side of our business, but it is a unique position requiring a broad mix of knowledge and skills, so it has proven challenging. Continuing to find the right mix of employees is an ongoing challenge, but we have a great team now so making sure we are giving them what they need to make them happy, productive and successful is a terrific goal and challenge.
Biz: What goals do you hope to meet in the next 12 months?
Ferguson: We are on pace to break another annual sales record in 2021, so we will set that goal a bit higher for next year and strive toward that end. We are always interested in diversifying our inventory offerings and our business as well so we will be spending time and energy on both of those in the next 12 months. n
FROM THE LENS W H Y DIDN’ T I T HINK OF T H AT?
Adult Lunchables Former brewery tour operator Elizabeth Choto’s pandemic pivot into charcuterie —Graze Dat! — is keeping her plate full. BY A S HL EY MCLE LL AN PHOTOS BY SAR A E SSE X B R ADLEY
NEW ORLEANS CULINARY ENTREPRENEUR
Elizabeth Choto transformed a love of food and a need to soak up some boozy nights, into a burgeoning catering business with the launch of Graze Dat! charcuterie this past August. Since then, her works of culinary art have garnered the former educator-turned-brewery-tour-guide a wide following on Instagram, catching the eye of clients from all walks of life for parties, celebrations, family gatherings and more. After moving to New Orleans four years ago, Choto dove headlong into the city’s love of food and drink, creating a brewery tour business, Big Easy Beer Tours. When COVID-19 shut the tour business down, Choto pivoted online, and from those virtual interactions, her newest venture came about. Graze Dat! was born out of a practical necessity, spurred on by Choto and her brewery guests’ big love for those “big boozy beers.” “Graze Dat! was a complete accident! I had a brewery tour in New Orleans when the pandemic hit and that forced me to shut down physical beer tastings,” Choto said. “Months later, I hosted virtual tastings and during one of those, my guests and I got sloshed. My sister suggested that I have some sort of food. I reached out to everyone for the next tasting and encouraged them to have food. I made myself a charcuterie plate. During that tasting, no one cared what about the beer at all. They were really interested in what I was eating, and it just felt like I’d struck a chord. The next week, a few people asked me to make them a box and that was the birth of Graze Dat! I officially launched my little company in August 2020.” Choto was originally born and raised in Zimbabwe, moved to the United States in 1991 to finish her studies, and soon found
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Looking for a great gift or addition to your tabletop offerings this holiday season? Orders for Graze Dat can be made at Grazedat.gethoneycart.com. Delivery is available up to 20 miles outside of the 70117 ZIP code.
herself in a career in education. While her platforms. A search for ‘charcuterie’ on time spent as an educator in K-12 schools Instagram yields nearly one million results, and at Johns Hopkins School of Education while on Facebook there are hundreds of sustained her, it was her passion for the culi- public and private groups dedicated to the nary arts that inspired her to make a career art form.” Choto currently has more than change, and New Orleans 3,700 followers of Graze would prove to be an excelDat! on Instagram, with lent place for that. the number growing with “I’ve always been a foodie. every post. HOW TO ORDER My earliest memories These “adult Lunchrevolve around food and ables” appeal not only to Visit Grazedat.gethoneycart.com family gatherings around the foodie appetite, but Delivery available up to 20 miles also the visual nature food. As a kid, my family outside of 70117 zip code lived on a farm, and my of social media with siblings and I were no displays of artfully sliced strangers to the process of growing food and fruit, vegetables, nuts, spreads, cold cuts rearing livestock. I really became interested and more. Plus, the charcuterie board can in high school where I chose culinary arts be easily customized and made to order as my elective, but that didn’t go anywhere for almost any occasion or diet, and are at the time because my parents wanted me delivery friendly and are just fun to eat. to come to college in the States to become a Graze Dat! offers a wide selection of biologist.” charcuterie sizes, from a picnic-for-two to Choto’s culinary pivot is part of a boutique wedding receptions, and beyond. national meat-and-cheese board trend, Charcuterie can be arranged in the classic with charcuterie blowing up on social board format, in jars, boxes, or even in the media sites. According to a January shape of letters (think: wedding initials 2020 “Business Insider” article, “[T] or birthday honorees.) The options are hey’ve become a fixation on social media nearly endless, according to Choto.
PHOTOS COURTESY RENTCHECK
I really am a believer in the idea of people eating with their eyes first, and I feel like when food is presented in a way that makes one stop and look and wonder about what you’re eating, it means so much more. Elizabeth Choto, Graze Dat! founder
“I try my very best to work with everyone,” she said. “I’ve loved the large group catering orders that I’ve had but have also loved creating individual boxes for people who are just jumping in to see what this is all about or who are just curious about some of the items I use on boards. I offer ‘jarcuterie’ and ‘cupcuterie’ (just a bite of meat, cheeses and accoutrements in a jar or cup), grazing boxes for one to eight, grazing platters for groups of up to 25, and grazing tables. Each option is completely customizable in terms of meats and cheeses. I also offer vegetarian and vegan options. My sweet and s’mores boards during the holiday season were such a hit that I will be offering them again this year.” Prices range from $9 per “cupcuterie” to $50 for a medium grazing box, $70 for personalized monogram letters, $225 for a 2-foot, crowd-friendly grazing board, plus customizable pre-assembled or on-site assembled grazing tables for a variable price. Graze Dat! is still a one-woman operation, with Choto looking to expand into a physical location with employees and delivery drivers in the short term. Culinary items for her charcuterie creations are sourced from all over the New Orleans area, with an emphasis on getting the freshest items as possible. “I shop everywhere, from farmers markets to big box stores,” she said. “Occasionally, I’ll see what interesting items local purveyors might have and I’ve found some really cool items like pink pineapples, finger limes and Cape Gooseberries. St. James Cheese is also great for charcuterie and cheese. I’m not a cheese expert, but I’m told by someone in the know that they are the best cheese shop in the country, and I feel super lucky to have them right here in New Orleans.” While the pandemic may have forced Choto, like so many others, to pivot from her original business plan to something completely different, that change has proven to be for the better so far, putting a positive spin on a challenging time. “The upside is that the pandemic gave life to this operation,” she said. “I think after a whole lot of time being shut in during the lockdowns, it was handy for my customers to have a food delivery option that offered something different. The pandemic also pushed me into territories unknown. I honestly didn’t know if or where this would go and I’m super excited every single day that I get to do this because it’s really been one of the most fulfilling and creative experiences of my entire life.” n
PUBLISHER’S NOTICE: All real estate advertised herein is subject to the Federal Fair Housing Ace and the Louisiana Open Housing Act, which make it illegal to advertise any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination. We will not knowingly accept any advertising for real estate which is in violation of the law. For more information, call the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-273-5718.
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FROM THE LENS ON T HE JOB
Filling Station Ole’ Orleans Wines brings the cheer with its locally produced and bottled fine wines. The company’s Five O’ Feaux red blend (seen here) is just one of the options, perfect for celebrations or gifting any time of year. BY A SHL EY MCLE LL AN PHOTO BY C HERYL GERBER
L A U N C H E D I N 2 0 1 8 B Y N E W O R L E A N S N AT I V E K I M L E W I S ,
Ole’ Orleans Wines can be purchased almost anywhere wine is sold, currently ships to 35 states and features a wine club, tastings and event rental options. The company’s tasting room, located at 1232 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., is a full production site that includes bottling, packing and shipping. Each of Ole’ Orleans Wines lables is inspired by the city of New Orleans, with an array of tastes available for all palates. The collection includes 18 wines, with 10 retail wines, plus eight available exclusively to wine club members and guests. n
New Orleans 500 Influential, Involved and Inspiring Executives 2022 EDITION
The New Orleans 500, an annual publication from Biz New Orleans magazine, profiles the business leaders who are driving the greater New Orleans economy today and making decisions that will shape the region’s future. The book is overflowing with details about regional CEOs, presidents, managing partners, entrepreneurs and other executives who are as devoted to their professions as they are to civic affairs. It’s a diverse group that includes fourth- and fifth-generation owners of family businesses as well as young, social media-savvy entrepreneurs building their brands one like or follow at a time.
O R D E R T O D AY B I Z N E W O R L E A N S .C O M