BIZ NEW ORLEANS / MARCH 2021 / LATTER & BLUM / 2020 SUCCESS STORIES
BEST YEAR EVER? For these 6 companies that was 2020 PG. 42
Real estate’s top families share their thoughts on the market and the future
JOINED FORCES Chip Garder, Lacey Merrick Conway, Bob Merrick and Crystal Gardner-Phillips
PLUS How will remote working change Downtown? Real estate professionals weigh in PG. 32
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
March VOLUME 07 ISSUE 06
FROM THE LENS
06 EDITOR’S NOTE 08 PUBLISHER’S NOTE 12 ON THE WEB
BANKING+FINANCE. . ... 26
In what areas have there been investment growth lately? HEALTHCARE................ 28
Despite challenges, long-term care insurance still fills a need
IN THE BIZ DINING........................... 16
Commander’s Palace continues to survive thanks to a non-stop focus on ingenuity
REAL ESTATE +CONSTRUCTION......... 32
With the change in the way and location people are working, how do you see Downtown changing in the coming years?
TOURISM. . ...................... 18
Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans nearly ready to welcome guests SPORTS .. ....................... 20
Saints offseason promises turnover ENTREPRENEUR.......... 22
What we can learn from Donald Rouse Sr.
The Pan-American Life Center’s renovated conference center and café provide one-stopshopping and service to tenants, conference and meeting hosts and the public in the CBD
GUEST. . ........................... 34
If the national debt ever reaches the size of the economy, there will be hell to pay. That was the warning. We are there.
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?. . .....................................60
A local home cook’s pandemic-born business has caught the eye of Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA program.
Under One Roof
Best. Year. Ever.
Fresh off their monumental December merger, Louisiana real estate’s two top families share their thoughts on the future of the industry.
These 6 local companies thrived in 2020.
ON THE JOB..........................................................................64
Scale Workspace in the CBD offers local entrepreneurs 5,000 square feet of shared office space and access to industrial design technology
ON THE COVER Chip Garder, Lacey Merrick Conway, Bob Merrick and Crystal Gardner-Phillips Portrait by Jeffery Johnston
Publisher Todd Matherne EDITORIAL Managing Editor Kimberley Singletary
SPRING IS TYPICALLY A TIME FOR HOPE AND NEW BEGINNINGS, AND THERE’S NEVER BEEN A TIME,
in my lifetime at least, that both of those things were more needed than now. It’s been a rough winter. There were a lot of gray days, not just weather-wise, but pandemic-wise. Just as we all reached our mental and emotional limits for social distancing and home schooling, we were told that even with a vaccine hitting the streets, things are far from over. Oh yeah and that mask you’ve been wearing? Time to put another one on top of it. This month marks a year since the pandemic started — it was on March 9, 2020 that the first COVID-19 case was reported in New Orleans and it feels simultaneously like a lifetime ago, and like last week. Such is the funhouse version of time we now live with. It’s officially been a full year since I’ve hugged my mom and dad, worked in my office, eaten inside a restaurant, put on a cocktail dress — or, to be real, pants with an actual fitted waist — or dropped my kid off at school. At this time a year ago we were scared, but never in our wildest imaginations could we have envisioned how much and how long everything was about to change. I’ve uttered the phrase, “It’s a lot,” to tearful, exhausted friends over this past year more times than I can count, and it has been, and it still is. This is I purposely chose that our March issue focused on what’s going well right now. Fortunately, we found plenty to talk about, starting with residential real estate, a definite bright spot. We were so excited to have the chance to chat with the top families in this field, the Merricks and the Gardners, about their recent big news and their thoughts on the future. We went searching for more good news and found a pretty wide array of local small businesses that were having their best year ever. Speaking with these business owners, many expressed some discomfort with sharing their success at a time when so many are struggling, but at the same time, they said they felt grateful to be able to support their own staff and other local businesses right now. They are hope.
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A Whole Year HERE WE ARE, 12 MONTHS SINCE THE DECLARATION
of a national pandemic emergency. On March 13, 2020, just like you we packed up our desk, any needed documents and computers, and moved to a work-at-home environment. For me, I originally looked at this situation like a hurricane interruption, thinking that we would be gone for a few days and then right back to the office. Soon it was very clear that was not the case. This has been far more disruptive to business than Hurricane Katrina, 15 years ago. Fortunately, we have been able to regroup as a business and work remotely to keep the operations moving forward, as well as our mental spirits. I applaud the staff for being creative, embracing technology and creating systems that work. Over this past year, so much has changed, and in some cases, for the best. This is not to take the pandemic lightly; it has really taken its toll on everyone, but business is now forever changed, and we must accept and embrace this change. What I personally have realized during this pandemic is I am not a good remote worker. I need a home life separate from work, so since June of last year I have been in the office daily, Zooming with staff and focusing on moving forward. I see the light, and hopefully will see you soon — in person. Todd Matherne
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
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ON THE WEB BIZNE WORLE ANS.COM
The fact is this industry has got to go. It’s got to go completely. The idea that we keep it on for a bridge is a diversion. It’s not a bridge to anything, because as long as we keep committing ourselves to oil and gas, we’ll never get over the bridge. They’ll swallow progress on the other things.” Oliver Houk, Tulane University professor and internationally recognized environmental law scholar, speaking about the oil and gas industry in an interview from Feb. 3, 2021.
BIZ TALKS PODCAST
PERRY SHOLES, FOUNDER OF THE CORPORATE INTERNSHIP LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE (CILI) Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have a financial performance above the industry mean. So how do we get more diverse companies? One way is to diversify internships, and that’s what native New Orleanian Perry Sholes intends to do with his new nonprofit.
BRANDY CHRISTIAN, CEO OF THE PORT OF NEW ORLEANS AND NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC BELT RAILROAD
WHAT YOU MISSED ON BIZNEWORLEANS.COM
Four Seasons Breaking Records “We’ve sold the most real estate of any project in the city…When these sales hit the public record, you’re going to see prices per square foot that have far exceeded what had been sold prior. It’s transformative.” — David Seerman, sales director for Carpenter & Co., the Boston-based master developer that’s collaborating with Woodward Interests on the $530 million Four Seasons hotel set to open in May. One of the Four Seasons penthouses sold for a reported $13 million to Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger, former CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. There are roughly 700 construction workers currently on site and the hotel expects to employ about 400 fulltime employees when it’s up and running. It will include 341 rooms and suites, a 75-foot pool deck, two signature restaurants, multiple bars, a high-end fitness center and what Seerman claims will be the largest spa in New Orleans.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Christian shares how the pandemic and recent hurricanes have impacted the port and railroad and what she thinks lies around the bend.
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ROB GAUDET, FOUNDER OF THE CAJUN NAVY FOUNDATION Why is Lake Charles still so far from recovered from Hurricane Laura? What can individuals and businesses do right now to help? Cajun Navy Foundation Founder Rob Gaudet shares his insight and his thoughts on a massive economic opportunity that exists right now for Louisiana.
In The Biz BIZ COLUMNISTS SPEAK OUT
DINING Commander’s Palace continues
to survive thanks to a non-stop focus on ingenuity.
TOURISM Four Seasons Hotel New
Orleans nearly ready to welcome guests
SPORTS Saints offseason promises
ENTREPRENEUR Entrepreneurism and
Free Speech: What we can learn from Donald Rouse Sr.
IN THE BIZ DINING
Pandemic at the Palace Commander’s Palace continues to survive thanks to a nonstop focus on ingenuity. BY POPPY TOOKER
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
I L LU ST R AT I O N BY 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.
with companies requesting their own virtual jobs in the restaurant and hospitality evapo- special events. When Commander’s Palace’s doors rated over the past year as restaurant owners downscaled to a minimum, struggling to finally reopened in September 2020, the restaurant’s thriving to-go business offisurvive. Many lost that battle. But behind those iconic blue striped cially became its own entity. Dubbed Le awnings at Commander’s Palace, Ti Martin, Petit Bleu, the operation moved into former Lally Brennan and their team never lost a business offices next door to the restaurant beat. On March 15, 2020, when Gov. John on Washington Avenue. Open seven days a Bel Edwards mandated that restaurants week from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., everything cease indoor dining, within two days from cocktails by the half-gallon, to turtle Commander’s was offering a takeout menu soup and Creole cream cheesecake is offered featuring discounted wines from its award- for grab and go. The Commander’s team has also worked winning cellar. As the pandemic raged on, however, takeout was quickly scrapped due with locally owned El Guapo Bitters to to safety concerns. Hundreds of employees develop a line of cocktail mixers. Made to were laid off, as Commander’s remained combine with equal parts liquor, the mixes are available in four flavors including the closed for the next six months. “The first thing we did was focus on Adelaide Swizzle, named in honor of Ti’s feeding our team and assisting the Krewe aunt, Adelaide Brennan. Commander’s of Red Beans with their ‘Feed the Frontline’ Palace’s new Coffee & Chicory, private effort,” said Martin. Commander’s auctioned labeled by French Truck Coffee, also came off a private, at-home dinner — complete to fruition. These new products, along with with the full Commander’s treatment down Martin and Brennan’s book, In the Land of to crystal, linens and wait staff. The effort Cocktails, are also available at Le Petit Bleu. The restaurant has even found a way to resulted in a $20,000 donation to the krewe. “But somewhere along the line, we had to celebrate this year’s COVID-19 adapted version of Carnival by turning the iconic make some money,” she said. In search of a possible new revenue landmark into a house float decorated by source, Martin and Brennan turned to unemployed float artists — another Krewe Goldbelly, a very successful, curated market- of Red Beans effort. The design honored place of gourmet offerings that ships restau- the late Pete Fountain, whose Half Fast rant meals nationwide. The first hurdle was Walking Club began every Mardi Gras freezer space, as most selections must ship Day at Commander’s Palace for decades, where walkers fueled up for the long walk frozen. “Our freezer was the size of a linen closet, ahead. This year, the club serenaded their as we’d only used it for ice cream,” Martin old stomping ground in a socially distanced said. “We quickly bought some used freezers way while the restaurant opened its doors for — anything we could get our hands on to the first time ever on Shrove Tuesday. Martin said that although things have scale up.” Martin said the move to use Goldbelly has been far from easy, she sees a sliver of a silver lining. helped Commander’s survive. “This has been an absolutely disruptive Another quick pivot came in April. With the world suddenly on Zoom, sommelier and devastating time in our industry and Dan Davis recommended the restaurant our country, but it’s also been an imporuse the platform for a virtual experience tant time to take a hard look at ourselves that would involve discussing food, cocktails in order to see things we need to do better, and wine pairings. When Davis suggested like recruiting people of color and creating everyone “don a beret” for the debut event better pathways to advancement for all.” A tall order indeed, but one that featuring French wines, New Orleanians Commander’s seems committed to make took that to mean, “wear a costume.” The weekly costume party now numbers part of their ongoing evolution, one that I between 300 and 1,000 participants. Despite feel has proved itself to be both inspiring the time difference, winemakers from and delicious. n Europe and South America join in the live sessions, along with musical performances and even burlesque! Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, All the tomfoolery has also turned into “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and a new events business for Commander’s, Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM. ACROSS THE COUNTRY, MORE THAN 9 MILLION
IN THE BI Z TOURISM
Spicy Nights and Sweet Dreams Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans nearly ready to welcome guests BY JENNIFER GIBSON SCHECTER
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
I L LU ST R AT I O N BY 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 CITY THAT BARELY HAS TWO SEASONS, River. The name and concept are still being it may seem disjointed to welcome the Four finalized but will likely incorporate Link’s Seasons Hotel and Private Residences to Cajun and Southern foodways background New Orleans. However, luxury is in style in contemporary iterations such as those that grace the menu at Herbsaint and Pêche regardless of the weather. Construction is nearly complete to trans- Seafood Grill. His new Four Seasons restauform the iconic World Trade Center and rant is scheduled to open in October 2021. Four Seasons will market the restaurants International Trade Mart building at 2 Canal Street into a new luxury hotel, spa, function and other hotel amenities using traditional space and private residential facility. The media, social media, and also in conjunction Four Seasons New Orleans is officially set with festivals, events and conventions. The hotel management is working in coordinato open in May 2021. Known for its opulent offerings, the tion with state and city hospitality partners newest location in the famous hotel chain to promote tourism in New Orleans. Carow will combine its exclusive guest experiences said that in light of COVID-19, the regional with the flair that only New Orleans can drive-in market is going to be critically offer. The interior was specially designed for important, and as recovery emerges, Four guests to see and feel the “celebration of New Seasons will also focus on its traditional feeder markets of both New Orleans and Orleans” throughout the hotel. “New Orleans has long been a desired loyal brand guests. To create the guest experience Four location for a Four Seasons hotel, as it is renowned as one of the greatest hospitality Seasons is known for, it expects to hire 500 destinations in the world,” said Mali Carow, employees for the new hotel. Recruiting general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel began Feb. 8, with approximately half of and Private Residences New Orleans. “The those positions being hired in April and May, people, service and charm here are truly and the remainder of the roles will be filled world-class, and we are thrilled to be a part by the end of the year. Its full-time positions of the economic recovery of New Orleans, offer benefits such as health care and paid as the first luxury hotel to open here in over time off. All candidates are required to apply online at jobs.fourseasons.com. 20 years.” “As the first luxury hotel to open here The hotel’s amenities include 341 accommodations, 92 private residences, a fifth-floor in over 20 years, we are introducing what rooftop infinity pool, a spacious spa, 24-hour will be one of the best hotels in the country fitness center, two ballrooms and seven – with incredible accommodations, phenomfunction rooms, a private garden, 34th floor enal restaurants and world-class amenities,” rooftop observation deck and perhaps most said Carow. “In addition to that, it’s imporimportant to the culture of New Orleans, two tant to us that we’re appreciated by our employees, who truly are the heart of any new restaurants and a lobby bar. The lobby level restaurant will be James Four Seasons hotel around the world. They Beard Award-winning Chef Alon Shaya’s are the ones who will make everyday experirestaurant, called Miss River. It will also ences here magical, build relationships with open in May. Billed as Shaya’s “love letter our guests and really be the ambassadors to Louisiana,” it features his take on an [of ] our hotel. Our ultimate success will be ingredient-driven and culturally inspired measured by the ability of our employees to menu of New Orleans grand dining. Dishes make our guests happy, feeling the magic of will reflect the regional cuisine and locally New Orleans and wanting to return.” Room rates will be available March 16, sourced ingredients, using classic techniques 2021 when reservations go live. They are still for their preparation. An exemplar Four Seasons lobby bar being determined and will be in line with will also get the Alon Shaya touch. The other Four Seasons hotels. Hotel information Chandelier Bar will feature a stunning is available at fourseasons.com/neworleans/. crystal chandelier, specialty cocktails, an Inquiries about the Four Seasons Private impressive Champagne selection and bar Residences New Orleans can be made at twocanal.com. n bites by Shaya. The second restaurant on the property will be led by Louisiana native and James Beard Award-winning Chef Donald Link. His restaurant will be located on the fifth floor with panoramic views of the Mississippi
IN THE BIZ SPORTS
Remaking the Roster Saints offseason promises turnover BY CHRIS PRICE
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
I L LU ST R AT I O N BY 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.
add to his deal with backloaded money and trying to shed salary commitments as they cut about $10 million this year. Defensive are expected to be more than $100 million back Marshon Lattimore is set as a $10.24 over the yet-to-be-announced salary cap million hit but could also be extended to entering the NFL’s 2021 league year, which reduce his figure to less than $3 million against the cap in 2021. The same goes begins March 17. For the first time since 2011, the NFL will for Ryan Ramczyk, who is set as an $11.06 not see a $10 million year-over-year salary million hit. The Saints can extend his contract, convert salary to bonuses, and cap increase. For years, teams have made deals with push money owed to future years lowering players expecting the 2021 cap to be around their 2021 bill by as much as $8.1 million. The toughest part of this offseason will $208 million dollars, but due to COVID-19related revenue loss, the league is expected be seeing talented players let go because to drop the cap somewhere between 2020’s the Saints just cannot afford to keep all of $198 million to as low as $175 million. them at their current price. Count lineAccording to overthecap.com, a website backer Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone, dedicated to tracking NFL player contracts running back Latavius Murray, tight end and teams’ salary cap position, 14 of the Jared Cook, defensive backs Janoris Jenkins league’s 32 teams would enter the 2021 and Marcus Williams, punter Thomas season above a hypothesized $176 million Morstead, offensive lineman Nick Easton, salary cap. None, however, is in as precar- and defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson ious a position as New Orleans, as many cite and Malcom Brown in that number. In his 20 years with the team, Saints the Saints’ current underwater status as the worst salary cap position an NFL team has general manager Mickey Loomis has been an economic sensei who has been able to ever seen. The Saints have $284.1 million in 2021 cap work financial jiu jitsu on the team’s payroll. commitments with 45 players under contract, This may be his biggest test yet. No doubt according to NFL Players Association data. the Saints would love to keep as many of the They’ve carried over $4.1million of unused players from the 2020 team as possible. If 2020 cap space but need to shed nearly $105 the team and players are willing to restrucmillion in salary to get below a $175 million ture deals, it would be nice to have as many cap, which will result in several players players back as possible. “We’ve got a great roster,” said Loomis, possibly being traded, cut, or having their current deals reworked in order for the team “and I can’t foresee a circumstance where we’re not going to say, ‘We’re going to do to meet their budget. Quarterback Drew Brees has one year everything we can to win, win now and remaining on his contract, during which he compete for a championship.” n is due $36.15 million, according to overhtecap. com. If he retires, as has been widely expected, the Saints have options. They can do nothing and be on the hook for $22.65 million in dead money, which would relieve $13.5 million in cap space, or they could add a void year and drop his salary to the league minimum, $1.075 million, which would allow his cap hit to drop from $36.15 million to $12.22 million, saving $23.93 million in 2021 but adding around $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022. They could also reduce his salary to the league minimum and convert the $23.93 million they would owe him to an option bonus, which would make his 2021 pay $17.01 million. That would create $19.14 million in savings but add to the dead money figure in 2022. Brees’ deal is not the only one that would need to be reworked. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is due $13.8 million in salary in 2021, but he comes with an $18.9 million salary cap charge. The Saints can THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS ARE FURIOUSLY
IN THE BIZ ENTREPRENEUR
Entrepreneurism and Free Speech What we can learn from Donald Rouse Sr. BY KEITH TWITCHELL
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
I L LU ST R AT I O N BY 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.
A business entrepreneur absolutely has to protect the business. This responsibility I will defend to death your right to say it.” This quotation — variously attributed is owed to staff, investors and all other to Patrick Henry and Voltaire, but actu- supporters and stakeholders. We all accept ally invented by Voltaire’s biographer — is certain roles in life — parent, teacher, public often considered to be the epitome of one servant — and with each comes responsiof America’s founding principles, the right bilities that may require us to regulate our activities, filter our words. to free speech. For entrepreneurs, this may mean keeping In today’s hyper-charged public discourse, the quote might be, “If I disagree with what quiet about certain issues. Impacts can still be made — for example via anonymous you say, I will find a way to make you pay.” How does an entrepreneur balance the financial contributions — but public right to free speech with the need to keep exposure can obviously create business vulnerabilities. customers? One thing to consider is the business’ As this column was being written, Donald Rouse Sr. was being roundly criticized for customer base. The broader the market, the attending a rally by former President Trump greater the chance of offending the clientele. that preceded the treasonous assault on the A business targeted to a smaller segment of United States Capitol. Rouse subsequently the population can be far more visible in denounced the riot and stated that while he supporting causes that are meaningful to had been at the rally, he had not been part of that segment, even at the risk of angering the community at large. Indeed, taking a stance the mob that stormed the Capitol. This is a key distinction, the difference in this type of situation could actually benefit between free speech and free assembly, and the business. How support for a cause or issue is seditious criminal activity. Nevertheless, Rouse’s actions elicited widespread calls to expressed also matters. Personal advocacy with government officials or quiet monetary boycott his family’s grocery stores. By definition, entrepreneurs are bold contributions are less likely to incur backpeople, possessed of big ideas and strong lash than public appearances or social opinions, and inclined to action. Further, media postings. Indeed, entrepreneurs once their businesses become successful, should always be cautious about their social most entrepreneurs contribute to causes media use, and absolutely draw a clear line between personal and business postings. they support, as well they should. As a final point, I advise focusing support For starters, let’s distinguish between social entrepreneurism — which by design on entities making positive change, regardless wades into the public arena to promote of the issue. Building something up is always societal change and cannot be adverse to more defensible than tearing something down, controversy — and business entrepreneu- and entrepreneurs are true builders. Is it fair that entrepreneurs should be rism, where the primary objective is to create subject to limits on their right to free speech? a profitable enterprise. A business entrepreneur, however, still Probably not. But unless you’ve reached the has to be connected to his/her community, success level of Bill Gates or George Soros indeed has to care about that community. — two entrepreneurs who are constantly Few businesses succeed in failed commu- attacked for their activism — fairness is not nities. This suggests that business entre- the question. Donald Rouse put his family’s preneurs should engage in advocacy and business at risk. All entrepreneurs owe it to activism, should support causes that they their enterprises to think carefully before similarly stepping into the public arena. n see as beneficial. How to do this without creating backlash that damages the business is the question. I did some research online to explore what the “conventional wisdom” on this might be and found virtually nothing. But as someone who has been both an activist and an entrepreneur, I have some thoughts on the subject.
“I MAY DISAGREE WITH WHAT YOU SAY, BUT
WHAT’S NEXT IN
TO ADVERTISE CAITLIN SISTRUNK
(504) 830-7252 Caitlin@BizNewOrleans.com
Nonprofit Issue PROFILES
Giving Back: Business and Nonprofit Profiles PERSPECTIVES
Insurance Law Real Estate & Construction
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Q+A WRITE-UP SECTION
Senior Solutions PERSPECTIVES
Technology Healthcare Insurance
Perspectives HOT TOPICS IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA INDUSTRIES
BANKING+FINANCE In what areas
have you seen investment growth lately?
HEALTHCARE Despite challenges, long-
term care insurance still fills a need
REAL ESTATE+CONSTRUCTION With the rise in
remote work, how do you see the Downtown District changing in the coming years?
GUEST The national debt has reached
a critical level.
JEAN PAUL LAGARDE CIO FAUBOURG PRIVATE WEALTH Since late last year, we’ve seen sectors more tied to the economic cycle (energy, industrials and financials) outperform. At the index level, (S&P 500) cyclicals are relatively underrepresented, posing a problem for set-itand-forget-it portfolios. For bonds, interest rate risk at the index level is near record highs due to low interest rates. Bond indexes performed well last year as the Fed cut rates significantly; however, in 2021 we’ve seen rates increase with higher inflation expectations and economic optimism.
In what areas have you seen investment growth lately?
H. JUDE BOUDREAUX, CFP®
PARTNER/SR. FINANCIAL PLANNER THE PLANNING CENTER, INC.
SENIOR VP DORSEY & COMPANY
SMALL BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP MANAGER FIDELITY BANK
BRANCH ASSOCIATE GOLDFARB FINANCIAL
There have been headlines about cryptocurrency and high-flying stocks, but that’s counter to our investment strategy and philosophy, so we don’t have exposure there. Our slow and steady approach has seen growth in international and smallcompany stocks, which we expect will continue as global trade and tourism reopen in the aftermath of COVID-19. Large, shortterm gains can easily turn into large, short-term losses, so we believe this is a time to be careful and disciplined.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Many of us experienced significant growth in our home offices, home projects and homeschooling efforts. This, as it turned out, helped companies like Home Depot and Zoom do quite well. So, as we look ahead and try to identify areas of continued growth and opportunity, I believe it makes the most sense to look and see who has survived and thrived this past year. Look to those who may capitalize on all of our collective “cabin fever” and new, learned consumer behaviors.
Recent small business success stories have shared at least two of the three following traits heading into the pandemic: low leverage, flexible operations and multiple sources of revenue. Unfortunately, the growth witnessed has been far outweighed by declines of self-employed individuals and operations, particularly minorityowned businesses, caught off-guard by a prolonged economic slump.
Communication had an advantage last year since a strong product there serviced every other part of the business, but companies that empowered the individual user to create were also strong performers — whether they were physical goods or online entertainment. A reaction to a global pandemic, these shifts have become staples in our lives over the past year and leave us to wonder if work life and entrepreneurship will ever return to pre-COVID-19 practices.
PERSPECTIVES HE ALT HC ARE
From the Silver Tsunami to the COVID-19 Effect Despite challenges, longterm care insurance still fills a need BY RICH COLLINS
IF YOU TOLD SOMEONE YOU JUST BOUGHT A
new LTCi, they might think you’re talking about a luxury imported automobile. In fact, LTCi is the industry abbreviation for “long-term care insurance,” a relatively new product designed to cover the costs of late-life care in private homes, nursing homes and other facilities. “LTCi gives you access to the best type of care, giving you more options in choosing premium services best able to fit all your needs,” said Amanda Gisclair, sales director of Inspired Living, a senior living facility in Kenner. “Studies show the cost of care rising 42% in the next 20 years. A long-term insurance policy can ease concerns of running out of money and help protect assets for future generations.” So, what exactly is and isn’t covered by a LTCi policy? Is it right for you? And when is the right time to buy a policy? FAST GROWTH AND GROWING PAINS
First, a little bit of history. Long-term care insurance debuted in the 1970s but really gained popularity in the ’80s and ’90s as medical advances increased Americans’ lifespans and the costs of latelife care became more of an issue. People were living longer, which was great, but as a result they were struggling to pay for the healthcare costs that accompanied those extra years. It was a whole new problem, and for insurers, the chance to create a product that would help spread the risk of late-life expenses was a great opportunity. But there were problems along the way. In the early 2000s, many people who had been paying for policies for years began to make claims. In the meantime, health care
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
The family burden impact is devastating without a plan, and the need to prepare for LTC has never been greater. Joe Celano, INTRX HealthCare
costs had increased dramatically. Then, the 2007 stock market crash ushered in an era of extremely low interest rates that were great for homeowners but terrible for insurance companies trying to make money on their money. The result of all this is that some companies were having a hard time making good on claims. And virtually all the carriers had to raise their rates significantly to stay viable. Lawsuits and bad press ensued. In hindsight, industry experts said the problems were a result of insurers underestimating the percentage of customers who would retain their policies and just how expensive the care they required was going to be. In the last few years, the number of companies offering LTCi has decreased dramatically. But those that have stayed in the business have made adjustments that have led to improved offerings that more accurately reflect carriers’ risk levels. LTCI TODAY
Experts say LTCi policies make more sense than ever, especially now that the industry has had time to perfect them. “New ‘hybrid’ LTCi plans will continue to gain market share while traditional plans lose market share because of increasingly high premiums,” said Joe Celano of New
Orleans-based health insurance agency INTRX HealthCare. “However, the fundamental mission of creating a plan to pay for caregiving needs will remain as the overall objective. We are now averaging about three to four years’ duration on long-term care, and the average cost of care is about $6,000 per month in our area — and that cost is increasing at about 4% per year. Cognitive claims average eight years and Alzheimer’s continues to grow as a terrible diagnosis. The risk is very real. The family burden impact is devastating without a plan, and the need to prepare for LTC has never been greater.” And people considering policies shouldn’t wait too long. The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) recommends that people wait until they are between 60 and 65 years old to start their coverage, but the longer they wait the bigger the gamble, because people who develop serious health problems will either pay more or not be able to get coverage. Dave Ramsey, a national financial expert, said a 60-year-old couple would pay about $3,400 per year for a policy that would pay out a benefit of about $160 per day for nursing home care for a set number of years.
A CHANGING MARKETPLACE
Experts say long-term care planning has become an essential component of financial retirement planning for several reasons. The first is the “Silver Tsunami” that’s currently underway. That’s the catchy phrase to describe an increase in seniors caused by the Baby Boomers aging while Americans’ longevity is increasing. “The tsunami is now actively upon us,” said Celano. “Baby Boomers are now entering their 70s at the rate of 10,000 per day. That is creating a shortage of caregivers and the demand and supply ratio for caregivers is driving up the cost of care especially for home care - which is where most people prefer receiving their care.” Medical technology, meanwhile, continues to advance and is keeping people alive longer — “and the longer we live, the higher the likelihood that we will require LTC before we die,” said Celano. “For example, we used to die from heart attacks but now we have everything from stents to open heart surgery to medication management to heart transplants. And as these chronic conditions set in and become medically managed we become recipients of LTC.” Celano said a recent Medicare/Medicaid system study shows that approximately 65% of the population will require long-term care. “And that is a huge likelihood,” he said. Celano said that claims on LTCi policies have more than doubled in the last five years and the risk and likelihood of needing long-term care continues to rise. Meanwhile, the AARP estimates that only about 7.2 million or so Americans have LTC insurance despite the fact that about half of the people who live past age 65 will require some kind of long-term care that will cost $140,000 on average. Another very recent factor in the whole equation is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused consumers to avoid facility care whenever possible. That has now compounded the preference for home care and is also impacting the demand for home caregivers and adding to the increasing costs, said Celano. “COVID has exacerbated our need to plan while we are young and healthy,” he said. “We can transfer LTC risk to insurance carriers or we can create a self-funding LTC plan and that planning should be created as part of a household’s financial retirement planning. LTC insurance may not be right for everyone but planning for LTC should be done by everyone.” Considering these trends, experts agree that a LTCi can be an important part of an overall retirement strategy. “It is a cornerstone of your retirement plan,” said financial adviser Bo Thibaut. “It helps to protect the assets you have worked so hard to accumulate during your life from being depleted should you require care.” n
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
Studies show the cost of care rising 42% in the next 20 years. A long-term insurance policy can ease concerns of running out of money and help protect assets for future generations. Amanda Gisclair, sales director of Inspired Living
PERSPECTIVES RE AL ESTAT E+CONST RUC T ION
With the change in the way and location people are working, how do you see New Orleans’ Downtown District changing in the coming years?
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BLAINE M. GAHAGAN MANAGING PARTNER AND REALTOR HGI REALTY & FACILITY MANAGEMENT We are hearing from our clients that office space vacancy will increase as leases come up for renewal. The days of a 40hour employee physically clocking in at the office are gone and this is probably going to benefit a short-term rental or flex lease type office landlord. Short-term leasing — by the day, week or month — currently represents a small part of the office lease market, but I see the concept growing over the next few years.
RICH STONE, CCIM
MICHAEL J. SIEGEL, SIOR
SENIOR SALES AND LEASING ASSOCIATE LATTER & BLUM
BROKER SNAPPY JACOBS, CCIM REAL ESTATE MANAGEMENT, LLC
PRESIDENT CORPORATE REALTY
Short term, look for softness in office demand, as office users are still trying to digest the longterm economic impact of COVID-19. On the bright side, our downtown office occupancy was mostly healthy prior to the lockdowns — helped by the fact that no Class A office building construction has occurred here since 1989. Long term, office demand is not going away, rather I expect that many users will rethink how their offices can be transformed to maximize productivity.
The lasting effects of remote work will be smaller office footprints with shorter,more flexible lease terms and relocations from Downtown office towers to smaller buildings, such as on Magazine Street and in Metairie, which are closer to many decisionmakers’ homes, provide easier and (perceived) safer access, and lessen the threat of being closed during outbreaks. We will also see an opportunity to convert Downtown properties to live/work for small businesses.
RICHARD E. JUGE, CCIM, SIOR
CO-CEO THE DOMAIN COMPANIES We own and manage multiple Downtown residential developments and a coworking space, so we’ve seen the effects of remote work from many angles. Amenities like outdoor spaces with socially distanced seating configurations and charging stations; fast, free Wi-Fi and conference rooms and media lounges won’t be optional for future Downtown developments. I also expect the coworking option to continue to grow along with comfort levels and the popularity of remote work.
PRESIDENT RE/MAX COMMERCIAL BROKERS The expectation is that larger companies will continue to embrace flexibility and remote work, and that the return to a full in-office work week will take two to four years. This will result in less office demand in the short term. On the positive side, New Orleans’ CBD has a higher concentration of smaller/local companies, which are expected to have a quicker return to in-office working. All told, the pressure will be on the landlords while the tenants will see better deals and more options.
Over the past three decades, the New Orleans CBD has evolved from an office-centric, traditional business district to a true 24/7, live/work/play downtown, a transition that many other cities would like to emulate. I believe this evolution will continue, not because of the existing popularity of remote work, but because of the environment that now exists in Downtown New Orleans. I believe that the future of the CBD is bright due to the aforementioned evolution that has taken place and that the CBD embodies all of the assets that a contemporary workforce desires, most notably affordable office space, easy access and a vibrant quality of life.
KRISTIAN SONNIER VP OF COMMUNICATIONS AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT RYAN GOOTEE GENERAL CONTRACTORS We have seen a significant decrease in tenant improvement projects in Downtown office buildings, which is directly linked to more short-term leases being signed. Commercial real estate will have to adapt by offering more competitive incentives and reengineering the workspace to meet the expectations of a postpandemic Downtown workforce.
A Word of Warning “If the national debt ever reaches the size of the economy, there will be hell to pay” — that was the warning. We are there. BY MARK ROSA
OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, THE ANNUAL
federal budget deficit and total debt have been creeping into more of the conversations that I’ve been having with friends and colleagues, and I’m not surprised. With debt numbers now starting with a “T” being routine, they barely get a second notice.Politicians on both sides of the aisle have grown increasing comfortable in supporting spending packages, stimulus projects and commitments that are all at least $1 trillion in size. It took some time to get here. This country first started borrowing money in
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1790, when the total debt was $71,060,508 (TreasuryDirect.gov). Since then, every year the country has carried a balance of debt. There were a few years during the 1800s that the total debt balance actually reduced — at least someone was offering some fiscal restraint. The closest the debt got to zero was in 1835, when borrowings stood at $33,733.05 — pocket change by today’s standards. Total debt numbers first crossed the trillion-dollar mark in 1982, but it wasn’t until 2008 that trillion-dollar annual deficits began to appear. At that time, the justification for the spending was
Since 2004, Mark Rosa has served as the CEO of Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union. Rosa is also an adjunct professor in the finance department at the University of New Orleans. He frequently provides insights on market analysis to a variety of news outlets.
to combat the effects of the credit crisis when a global financial collapse appeared imminent. Spending a mere trillion more than the government raised for the year was justified. At the risk of sounding like a Keynesian, government borrowing comes in handy when the economy is going into a recession or for emergencies like the credit crisis. Troubling is the fact that largescale borrowing is now present when the economy is booming. We recently witnessed a trillion-dollar annual deficit when the unemployment rate was at a reported 50-year low, at approximately 3.2%. At that rate of employment, so much money should have been flowing into the national treasury that a pay-down of some debt should have occurred. This global pandemic has caused annual borrowing to break all previous records. The Treasury reported that the annual deficit for fiscal year 2020 was $4.2 trillion. The total debt jumped from $22.7 trillion in 2019 to $26.9 trillion when reported last October. On top of this, the new administration is trying to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, to possibly be followed by a $2 trillion infrastructure spending bill and may be followed by a $1 trillion student loan reduction effort. The Wall Street Journal routinely reports on the Treasury’s “refunding” efforts. The Treasury reports on debt are coming due, as well as additional borrowing necessary for the federal government to cover its growing obligations (more borrowing). Hundreds of billions of dollars in loans are reported in every refunding report. The surprising fact is that there are more entities bidding on the debt than the Treasury needs, meaning they are comfortably borrowing at these levels. The national debt has now reached past the level we were warned about in school. In 2019, the World Bank reported U.S. GDP was $21 trillion and national debt reached $22.7 trillion. The United States gets a pass on these debt levels because our dollar is the world’s reserve currency; the rest of the world is comfortable loaning us money. If ever there is a single refunding event where Treasury fails to raise the advertised amount, however, I feel that will be the moment that the music stops. n
Fresh off their monumental December merger, Louisiana real estate’s two top families share their thoughts on the future of the industry. By Rebecca Friedman Photos by Jeffery Johnston
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Last December’s announcement that Latter & Blum had acquired longtime competitor Gardner Realtors made big news in 2020. The two companies had spent decades vying for local dominance ever since Gertrude Gardner — a former Latter & Blum employee — put out her own shingle in 1943. Company leaders call it a natural match that will help the combined entity thrive in a competitive, fast-changing industry. According to Latter & Blum President and CEO Lacey Merrick Conway, “It was a very easy cultural fit — what we deliver to the agents, our outlook on the community, our commitment to both. There wasn’t a lot to figure out.” Latter & Blum is now the largest real estate firm in the Gulf South region, with more than 3,700 real estate associates under its umbrella — around 800 of them from Gardner. The firm is the 20th largest among the nation’s 85,000 real estate companies. Latter & Blum is also the country’s second-largest woman-led brokerage. Conway took the helm of the 105-year-old firm in January 2020, when her father, Bob Merrick, who had held that position since purchasing the company in 1986, transitioned to the role of chairman and owner. Both Merrick and Conway, along with leadership team members Chip Gardner and Crystal Gardner-Phillips (great-grandchildren of Gertrude Gardner) joined Biz New Orleans to discuss the merger and share their views on the future of residential and commercial real estate in the region.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
How did this acquisition come about? Crystal Gardner-Phillips: We have gotten to know each other very well for the past few years through the Realty Alliance. Sitting down talking about the state of affairs of the industry just led to a ‘what if ” conversation. So, although we’ve been in serious talks about this for a shorter period of time, we’ve been talking about the industry for years. Lacey Merrick Conway: I think part of what added to that quick ‘Let’s talk… Oh my god, we’re going to do this’ is the sheer fact that we get along. We’re just so pleased and proud as a company that the Gardner family thought enough of us to want this to happen.
How has the transition been so far? Conway: I think with any acquisition or coming together, we both have fiercely loyal agents — to what the company stands for and what we are. It’s been a quick transition for some because we do so much that is the same. It’s just getting everybody up to speed, even the technical — like the signs, still honoring the Gardner name but knowing that we need to make this transition in a timely manner. Chip Gardner: This is truly a marriage of the top two real estate families. When two distinct individuals get married, one takes on the other’s
name, and at the end of the day, we took on Latter & Blum’s name with this marriage. Our great-grandmother, Gertrude, actually started her career at Latter & Blum — we didn’t always talk about that as we ran a great business for 77 years, but it’s also part of the reason why we came back to Latter & Blum, why this marriage occurred. We’re excited about it.
Closed Sales in Units ( 7%)
How have both companies benefited from the merger?
Gardner-Phillips: We’re two companies with many more similarities than differences. What we can do together is far more than we could have done apart. It’s a fair statement to say that the client’s desires and needs from their realtor continues to evolve, and the realtor’s expectations of what they want from the brokerage continues to evolve, and we will be unmatched in providing that and continuing to lead the market together.
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE MARKET SUMMARY JAN 1- DEC 31 2020
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Conway: It’s more fun to be here and do this together instead of competing against each other. The other thing that’s interesting is that we’re very lucky in having my dad, and obviously their father [Glenn Gardner]. It’s nice having the wise counsel there helping us guide the ship, and I think that gives a lot of reassurance to our agents in the community in that we have a good leadership group.
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How do you square this move against the deconsolidation happening in the industry, with smaller brokerage firms breaking off? Conway: Smaller, boutique-y firms will always have a place in the real estate world. As far as our company is concerned, we’re unique in that we really have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in all the major communities in Louisiana. We have a lot to offer within markets throughout
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GREATER BATON ROUGE
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“I go down Magazine Street to get home every day. I think the last time I started counting, there were about 26 ‘For Lease’ signs. And Magazine Street a year ago I thought was maybe the hottest street in the city of New Orleans.”
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Gardner-Phillips: We always like to say that we’re a generational real estate company, with the perspective of multiple generations. That’s one of the things that makes us so strong.
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Current Inventory in Units ( 43%)
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CENTRAL LA/ ALEXANDRIA
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Louisiana — not just residentially, but commercially, with property management — everything we do. Gardner: Quite frankly, the most successful companies are going to continue to get larger, and it’s going to be harder for the smaller companies to compete in the future, with what’s going to be required from a resources, technology and talent perspective.
When Mr. Merrick was leading the company, Latter & Blum undertook several mergers and acquisitions. Do you anticipate that remaining part of the company’s strategy? Conway: We’re always open to it. I would say that obviously we’re picky. We want the companies that are like our company, where we feel the synergies are going to work. We’re not just out to buy anybody and everybody. [But] it’s always out there. We have a lot to say grace over. Part of the wonderful thing with this Gardner coming together is that it really beefs up and locks us into New Orleans. This is where we are based. Both companies were started here. I think it reiterates our commitment to the communities that we are already in.
Do you plan on continuing the philanthropic focus that has been a hallmark of Latter & Blum and Gardner throughout their histories?
Conway: Absolutely. Gardner definitely brings another element with what they had taken on as a company and what is near and dear to their heart. I think with COVID-19 and everything going on in the world, it’s more important now for companies that can help the community to do their part. We’ve been so committed to that — I think that’s absolutely just baked into our DNA. Gardner: And although we have changed our family’s last name to take on Latter & Blum’s, one of the ways we are going to keep Gertrude Gardner’s name alive — because it is a household name — is through the Gertrude Gardner Foundation. That meant a lot to our family and our realtors and the community, and that commitment will continue.
What is the state of residential real estate across the region? Conway: Residential real estate has definitely been the shining star, not just in Louisiana but across the nation. America is looking at the home in such a different way — it’s where you play, work, eat… Everybody is asking themselves what they really want in a home because they’re spending so much time there. It’s a weird juxtaposition with restaurants and tourism on their knees. How are people having this push to buy homes? Interest rates have been a big tailwind for that. I think interest rates hit record lows maybe 16 times in 2020. I mean, if that doesn’t get
When you look at what’s happening with residential real estate, there are so many players coming into the space – it’s a lot of noise and disruption. We are positioned in a way that we’re accepting of it, we’re rolling with it, we’re making our moves but definitely staying true to who we are at the core. L A C E Y M E R R I C K C O N W A Y
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“A lot of things have changed over the years in real estate, but the one thing that has always stayed the same and is the most important piece of the puzzle is that client/realtor relationship. Technology can always complement and enhance that, but it can never replace it.” Crystal Gardner-Phillips
people out of their chairs to buy real estate, I don’t know what really would. Someone made the comment that in residential real estate it feels like we’re kind of in Q5 of 2020 versus Q1 of 2021. It’s the same story – low inventory, low interest rates, high demand. The question is how long will that continue? And the consensus is that it will probably cruise along through Q2, but at some point, the reality of the world might slow that down. Interest rates will go up a little bit — nothing dramatic, still at incredible lows, but that may put a little pressure on, and just the fact that prices are rising will maybe make people pause a bit. There’s been so much activity all over the place. But what might lessen the shining star in 2021 are the evictions, delinquent mortgage payments, unemployment… In New Orleans, we have a lot that’s going to make 2021 a hard year.
Which categories or geographies have been particularly hot? Conway: Everybody is doing more business. Everybody is seeing a boost in their sales prices, and inventory is tight pretty much everywhere. Generally, when we look at the Northshore or Metairie or Greater New Orleans, they traditionally have more units sold, so you can really see a jump in those areas that are traditionally more popular. I think some people, for whatever reason, are trying to get out of Orleans Parish or want a little more space, and Metairie and Old Metairie — inventory is so tight there. Gardner: The strongest headwind in this segment of the business is low inventory. The market would see an even greater amount of transaction if there was enough inventory. It’s not just a New Orleans thing — this is actually the lowest point of inventory in the country’s history, across
the nation. The residential market is good in all three segments: the overall marketplace, what you call ‘entry level’ and luxury. There aren’t many times where all three are trending in a positive way in alignment. Conway: We are seeing so many families that want to upsize — they really want that extra space… the pool, the yard… that people didn’t always want to deal with. And this isn’t unique to our area. It’s an interesting change in what is popular. People are having an easier time selling that house with all the square footage. Bob Merrick: One of the funny things to me is I’ve been in my house for 26 years, and with COVID-19, I’ve probably sat on my front porch more in the last nine months than I have in 26 years. I’ve met more of my neighbors on a real personal basis than I have in 26 years. So, there were some pluses to this — front porches are wonderful. Conway: Front porches, pets and Home Depot – winners!
Any soft spots? Conway: When we look at the market, you can see the condo market, like in the Warehouse District, is hurting. People are saying, ‘I would rather pass on the condo. I want to have more privacy.’ Condo prices have come down about 10%. We have more inventory because we are seeing people pulling out of the high-density areas. But it’s cyclical. Maybe it’s down right now, but they’re not down and out forever.
How has the pandemic affected the commercial market? Conway: The winners in that category have certainly been industrial and multi-family. We’re a city with a lot of connectivity with the port, with that kind of industry, so warehousing is
Quite frankly, the most successful companies are going to continue to get larger, and it’s going to be harder for the smaller companies to compete in the future, with what’s going to be required from a resources, technology and talent perspective. CHIP GARDNER
winning. But commercial real estate has definitely had a punch in the gut. As far as office space, people are still kind of asking, ‘How much space do we really need?’ Those leases are very long term. I think people are getting more creative with what they’re asking for with office space. If we go back to the office, do people need more space now to socially distance? Retail already had a reckoning of sorts with just how much is online. Boutique-y stores, I think, people are still very loyal to, but that’s going through some changes. Merrick: On the commercial side, everybody is worried about — we’re a tourist town. We rely on tourism for our economy to work. The restaurant industry is on its knees, hotels are not making it. I think unfortunately you’re going to see a lot of foreclosures over the next year. On office space — I don’t know anyone who’s got an answer to what’s the two-to-three-year scenario. Retail is another question mark. I think the retailers who have jumped to online sales in a big way have done well. The mom-and-pop shops… I go down Magazine Street to get home every day. I think the last time I started counting, there were about 26 ‘For Lease’ signs. And Magazine Street a year ago I thought was maybe the hottest street in the city of New Orleans. It’s hitting everything.
What makes you competitive against new industry players with a more digital-based model, like Zillow?
Conway: Real estate has always been a relationship business, and I think that’s where we soar. We have great managers, great leadership and great agents that are very helpful. We are a traditional firm, we do have a lot of history, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be fresh and cutting edge. I think we feel very secure with who we are as a company and what we have to offer, knowing there will always be new entrants into the market. Zillow — they were a third-party aggregator. They’ve been everything in between, and now they’re an actual broker. When you look at what’s happening with residential real estate, there are so many players coming into the space – it’s a lot of noise and disruption. We are positioned in a way that we’re accepting of it, we’re rolling with it, we’re making our moves but definitely staying true to who we are at the core. Gardner: That is as the local market expert — that is what Zillow and those will never be. When you have the level of local expertise that Latter & Blum has, with the talent of realtors, they can’t compete at that level. Gardner-Phillips: Looking at this from a generational perspective, we know that a lot of things have changed over the years in real estate, but the one thing that has always stayed the same and is the most important piece of the puzzle is that client/realtor relationship. Technology can always complement and enhance that, but it can never replace it.
BEST. YEAR. EVER. These 6 local companies
thrived in 2020.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
BY KIM S INGLETA RY PHOTOS BY CHE RYL G E RBE R
THE PAST YEAR HAS BROUGHT AN ARRAY OF CHALLENGES “I’M NOT BRAGGING, I’M JUST IN AWE. LIKE I’M STANDING ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN.” When Buddy Wood opened Le Jouet, a bike and toy store on Airline Drive, with a few friends back in 1968, he didn’t expect it to be a move that would ever make him rich, and it still hasn’t. But he does feel some pride in being the sort of “last man standing” in toys. “In the mid-90s, the big discount stores like Walmart came in, along with the internet, and our sales basically went flat,” said Wood. “But we managed to do well enough to stay in business.”
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unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetime, especially in the realm of tourism and hospitality — an area our region has long depended on. But alongside the terrible headlines of closings and layoffs are some bright spots. The pandemic has changed everything about the way we live and work, and that change has been lucrative for some, including obvious beneficiaries like grocery stores, delivery companies, liquor and wine stores, almost anything to do with upgrading or beautifying a home — including furniture stores, home electronics and pool and landscape — and leisure and workout wear. But there are other winners that aren’t as obvious, including some local businesses that after, in some cases decades in operation, have found 2020 to be by far their best year ever. They offer us hope for more wins in the future.
BU DDY WO O D
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“SINCE WE ALSO SELL BIKES, WE WERE CONSIDERED AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS, AND OUR BUSINESS REALLY BOOMED ON THAT END RIGHT AWAY. BY MAY, WE HAD RUN OUT OF NOT ONLY BIKES, BUT ALL OF OUR BIKE ACCESSORIES. WE’RE STILL STRUGGLING TO GET MORE.”
The approximately 25,000-square-foot retailer continued to squeak by until April 14, 2018, when national toy giant Toys “R” Us, having filed for bankruptcy the month before, closed its Metairie store. “Our sales jumped 15 to 20% that next year,” said Wood. “That may not sound like a lot, but for us it’s huge.” The increase continued into 2019, and then COVID-19 hit. “Since we also sell bikes, we were considered an essential business, and our business really boomed on that end right away,” he said. “By May, we had run out of not only bikes, but all of our bike accessories. We’re still struggling to get more.” Le Jouet’s battle to keep shelves stocked quickly extended beyond bikes. “With kids suddenly home all the time, parents were struggling to keep them busy,” said Wood. “We hit our lowest inventory levels in 25 years. My daughter, Tricia, does our buying, and the good thing is we’re able to source from maybe 200 different manufacturers, so if
one doesn’t have something, another may. There’s plenty of choices out there for toys. If someone wants a yo-yo, they probably don’t care if it’s a Butterfly or Imperial, they just want a yo-yo.” When Christmas came, it came early, said Wood. “I think people were nervous this year that if they didn’t shop early there would be nothing left,” he said. While online retailers no doubt have captured a majority of the toy market, Wood said he’s proof that even in the online age, people still like to go to toy stores. The pandemic boosted Le Jouet’s revenue by an additional 15% over what was already a strong 2018 and 2019, officially making 2020 the store’s best year in over 52 years in business. “We have some advantages, in that we can fix almost anything, we can assemble things for a customer, wrap a present in a minute and provide suggestions, really work with a customer to find the perfect item,” said Wood.
“IT’S ALMOST LIKE PEOPLE CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF BEANS FOR SOME REASON.” When you talk beans in Louisiana, there’s one type that stands high above them all: the red bean. And when you talk red beans, you’re talking Camellia Brand red beans by L.H. Hayward and Company. According to fourth generation owner and CEO Vince Hayward, business this past year went from bad to unbelievably…amazing. “We lost 35% of our business overnight,” said Hayward, who explained that the company’s sales work out to be about 60% retail and 10% export, with the remaining almost one-third coming from the food service industry nationwide. “Everything went away — hotels, casinos, schools, restaurants. It was this sudden shock.” At the same time, however, stay-at-home orders were forcing people back into their kitchens. “People started getting back into cooking and really looking for those comfort foods, like red beans and rice,” he said. Within the first few months of the pandemic, Hayward said consumer demand had exploded to the point that the company — which is based out of Harahan and operates another facility in New Orleans East — was operating two shifts, seven days a week just to keep up. “Our volume tripled,” he said. “Our company is 98 years old and we have never been as busy as we were in those first few months.” After ending 2020 30% up from 2019, Hayward said the company is still fighting supply issues. “It’s not that there aren’t beans out there, it’s just we’re very particular,” he said. “We source exclusively in the United States and because we sell over 20 varieties of beans, that means we’re pulling from all over the country, but we still have to maintain the quality and consistency we’re known for.”
“VIRTUAL MEETINGS HAVE BEEN A HUGE THING FOR US.” “OUR VOLUME TRIPLED. OUR COMPANY IS 98 YEARS OLD AND WE HAVE NEVER BEEN AS BUSY AS WE WERE IN THOSE FIRST FEW MONTHS.” V I NCE HAYWAR D
OWN E R A N D C E O
L.H . H AYWA R D AN D C O M PA N Y
B I ZN E WO RL E A NS . CO M
Any novelty there may have been with attending a virtual meeting has long since had its day, which is pushing companies and event professionals to get creative. Enough of them have found their way to Kristi Brocato’s 25-year-old gift company, The Basketry, to make 2020 its best year ever. “Virtual meetings aren’t always fun,” said Brocato, “so we’ve been working with companies to offer up something special to attendees, a gift that everyone opens during the meeting at the same time.”
Operating out of a 4,000-square-foot retail store in Luling, Louisiana, The Basketry’s 15 full-time employees assemble and ship a wide variety of gifts for any occasion, but Brocato said the most popular items, especially during the pandemic, have been anything that provides a “taste of New Orleans.” “We’ve been doing a lot of wine, king cake gift boxes, and a lot of liquor and gourmet food,” she said. “We offer local, same-day hand delivery, and we ship all over the U.S., so all sorts of companies, not just locally, are able to give their customers and employees a bit of the flavor of New Orleans. For those that maybe had a meeting or a convention scheduled here that got canceled, it’s such a great option.” The Basketry’s online sales doubled in 2020, forcing Brocato to hire three additional staff members just to keep up. “This Christmas was the busiest we’ve ever seen,” she said. “We had so much B2B gifting, but also more individuals sending gifts as well.” Brocato is quick to credit other local small businesses with helping her break sales records. “During a really tough time early on in the pandemic when we were struggling to get products to offer, it was our local vendors who really stepped up,” she said. “I’m really proud that we’re able to support them and encourage and help people to shop local.”
B IZ N E W O RL EA N S
M AR C H 2 021
“USUALLY, THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR OUR CLIENTS IS TIME, NOT MONEY, AND THE PANDEMIC TOOK THAT OBSTACLE AWAY.” The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has not yet reported on procedure numbers for 2020, but according to local plastic surgeon Michael H. Moses, MD, FACS, the effects of the pandemic have been felt widely in the industry. “Most plastic surgeons, I’d say, have been busier,” he said. “I’ve definitely seen an uptick.” Moses said the clients he’s been seeing at his Garden District office tend to be people who have wanted surgery for a while and have realized the pandemic presents the perfect time. “Following a procedure, you’re looking at a recovery time that can mean one, two or three weeks of laying low,” he said. “You can be bruised and uncomfortable, and most people want to stay out of sight. Finding that kind of time could be a real challenge before the pandemic.” Moses said the increase in demand for his services has been so strong that it more than made up for the fact his office had to close for seven weeks at the beginning of the pandemic.
“This has definitely been my busiest year ever,” he said, adding that, like many private plastic surgeons, he averages about four or five procedures a week, so it doesn’t take huge numbers to keep him booked. “It’s not grocery store busy,” he said. Moses said facelifts have been the most requested procedure at his office. “My theory is that a lot of people have thought, ‘One day I’ll get a facelift,’ and now, with a massive pandemic, we’ve all had that sense of reckoning and many have realized, if not now, when?”
“I’VE NEVER SEEN SO MANY PUPPIES IN MY LIFE.” Gallivan Burwell has been a professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant for over 13 years, but his business, Upward Dog Training and Counseling, has never seen demand like this. “After the first two weeks or so of the pandemic it’s like everybody in New Orleans thought the same thing, ‘Let’s get a dog!’ Burwell said he’s busier than he’s ever been trying to meet the demands of people all over the city — and up to about 20 miles outside of New Orleans — who are suddenly sharing a home with an untrained pooch. “I’ve got a waiting list going now and I’m barely keeping up with the phone calls,” he said. When he started back in 2007, Burwell said the dog trainer market in New Orleans was small. “It was me and one other person on this side of the lake,” he said. A professional musician looking for a way to supplement his income, Burwell said he spent all of the money he had to attend what has been described as the “Harvard of dog training schools,” the Academy for Dog Trainers in San Francisco. His website prominently proclaims that he is the only trainer in New Orleans to have attained the “Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed” and “Certified Behavior Counselor Canine -Knowledge Assessed” credentials from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. “The problem with the dog training industry is that it is totally unregulated,” he said. “Anybody can call themselves a trainer. There’s starting to be a real push for accountability.” While he does hold a few classes a year, the majority of Burwell’s work is done on a one-on-one basis. “With the pandemic, a majority of the work is done masked up and outside, not in someone’s home, which presents its own set of challenges,” he said. “But all in all, this has really been a great year. Definitely my best ever.”
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“EVERY DAY I GET CALLS FROM PEOPLE SAYING, ‘WOW, I’VE BEEN CALLING ALL OVER TOWN AND YOU’RE THE FIRST PERSON TO ANSWER THE PHONE. EVERYBODY’S JUST BOOKED. PEOPLE ARE REALLY STRUGGLING TO FIND THE SERVICES THEY NEED.”
“I STARTED OUT THINKING I WAS GOING INTO PRIVATE PRACTICE, BUT I QUICKLY REALIZED THIS WAS GOING TO TAKE A TEAM EFFORT.”
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Talk about timing. When Nicole Goldin opened CORE Louisiana Counseling and Recovery Center, a mental health center in St. Bernard Parish, she did so hoping to help fill a desperate need she saw in the parish for services. That was February 2020. By the end of the spring, with the shutdown in full effect, the Peru native had brought in three other professionals to help with the overwhelming demand for mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence and anger management services. “Sadly, we’ve seen a big increase in domestic violence issues in particular during the pandemic,” said Goldin. She had also moved to offering all services completely virtual. Demand was compounded by the fact that the only other larger
agency in the parish, The Guidance Center, closed its doors in the early days of the pandemic. “Every day I get calls from people saying, ‘Wow, I’ve been calling all over town and you’re the first person to answer the phone,” Goldin said. “Everybody’s just booked. People are really struggling to find the services they need.” As of early February 2021, Goldin had hired her fourth clinician and had moved to a 50/50 in-person/virtual format. She said the biggest impediment to her company’s growth lies in what she said are extensive processing times for credentialed specialists to be approved to accept insurance. Since she’s only been in operation for one year, Goldin couldn’t call 2020 the best year ever for CORE, but it has been an incredible start, and has given her hope for the future. “We could meet the need, but it’s so hard finding clinicians,” she said. “We have so much room for growth.” n
BUS IN E SS E S DI S CUSS TH EIR ROAD TO RECOV E R Y
UNPRECEDENTED TIMES CALL FOR UNPRECEDENTED MEASURES. As our city, our state and the world adjust to ever-shifting standards of normalcy, businesses are finding innovative ways to adapt and position their teams for continued success. While the road to recovery may be paved with uncertainties and challenges unique to each industry, one thing is certain: New Orleans is no stranger to resiliency, and our professional community has all the expertise, prowess and determination needed to emerge stronger and more prosperous than ever. In this exclusive section, Biz New Orleans asked business leaders about their tactics for readjusting, working remotely and staying focused on their corporate missions during the historic COVID-19 pandemic.
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B I Z F O R W A R D : T H E R OA D TO R E COV E R Y
Emerging Even Stronger With every experience comes a better ability to adapt and plan.
BEZOU FINANCIAL PROVIDES financial planning
beyond a portfolio—the team works to understand people’s needs, wants, and long-term goals. Clients of Bezou Financial get the benefits of big-firm resources with the personal touch of a reliable local team. According to Founder Jason Bezou, this group doesn’t predict; it plans. The team matches appropriate, available tools to each client, helping families, individuals, businesses, and organizations make smart decisions with money. The group’s level of meticulous client care has propelled Bezou Financial to six branches and future expansion beyond the 32 states it currently serves. Jason Bezou is currently writing a book on financial planning and is also working to provide a platform for other advisors to better care for their clients. In what ways are you thriving and pushing forward as a business throughout the pandemic? Clients know now that they need a financial advisor more than ever. When markets were plummeting last year, news outlets like Biz reached out to us about the economic effects of the pandemic on their readers. We suggested in interviews, articles, and directly to clients that investors with a long-term horizon not panic. Instead, they might consider shifting some of their conservative holdings to more aggressive positions to take advantage of the dip. For others in the income phase of life, it could be a time to switch to cash reserves for their monthly distributions for a while, giving volatile investments time to recover.
We also took the opportunity to help people focus on legacy planning and issues beyond money after more than 10 of our clients unfortunately died from COVID and other causes. That advice was meaningful for our clients and increased our business growth and client referrals. Since June of last year, our inflow of new clients and assets has nearly tripled. Are there any lessons you have learned over these last few months? Any new technologies or methodologies you’ve embraced? Adaptability is the priceless skill of this era. Working through the pandemic helped us learn that we can run an efficient business with one person at each branch and with the rest of our team working remotely. That forced us to improve our technology, create more efficient systems, and even hire more employees. It also allowed for more time to expand the depth of our financial planning and client care. At first, these were challenging, sad, and stressful times for us, as they were for everyone. But, in the end we are coming out of it better than ever. In nearly 20 years, I’ve never had a more efficient team firing on all cylinders. Do you anticipate your business will change in any way when the community fully opens back up? If so, how? One of my clients excitedly burst into my office exclaiming, “Does anyone want a hug? I’ve got my proof of vaccine card in my hand and just got the vaccine on my way here—I’m safe now!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that immunity takes a while to kick in, but it made us smile knowing that life could be on the verge of getting back to normal. On the other side of this, we’re confident that we’ll be stronger, more able to acclimate to change, and have deeper relationships than ever before with each other and with the clients that experienced all of this change with us. I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Whatever it is, we’re ready.
Adaptability is the priceless skill of this era.
JASON BEZOU CFP ® AND FOUNDER OF BEZOU FINANCIAL PLANNING GROUP
Securities and investment advisory services offered through Woodbury Financial Services, Inc., (WFS), member FINRA/SIPC. WFS is separately owned and other entities and/or marketing names, products or services referenced here are independent of WFS.
BEZOU FINANCIAL PLANNING GROUP 422 HARRISON AVENUE • NEW ORLEANS • 504-598-5388 • BEZOUFINANCIAL.COM
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
What have been some of your biggest challenges and biggest successes?
Jessica Brandt CEO Ray Brandt Auto Group
Ray Brandt Auto Group 3223 8th Street, Metairie (504) 837-2088 raybrandtauto.com
My most significant challenge was mourning the man I loved. Knowing what the Ray Brandt Auto Group meant to Ray, I’m duty-bound to honor his legacy by picking up right where he left off. Having worked side by side with Ray for years, I knew what it would take to move the company forward, and I was ready for my new role as CEO. Within months of becoming CEO, I joined the Board of Directors for the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association. Leading this team has been my most significant and meaningful success. In 2020, we restructured our company, and 2020 proved our most successful year to date. I am proud to be the CEO of Ray Brandt Auto Group. How do you maintain a balance between your personal and professional life?
Maintaining a work-life balance is a challenge in the best of times, and it has become all the more daunting in this time of uncertainty. I choose to spend my time away from work supporting my New Orleans community, and I work diligently to keep my time wellbalanced. As native New Orleanians, my husband and I founded the Ray and Jessica Brandt Family Foundation, supporting local educational institutions. My community support also includes holding fundraisers for schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the American Heart Association and supporting the Susan G. Komen foundation. I have also been a significant supporter of the LCMC Children’s Hospital, earlier this year joining its Board of Trustees. I serve as a member of the Advisory Board for POWER with Fidelity Bank, the East Jefferson General Hospital Foundation Board, the New
Orleans UNCF Advisory Committee, and the City Park Improvement Association Governing Board.
Fun Fact The best piece of advice I ever received is, “A bad decision is better than no decision at all. Most decisions can be undone, but you have to learn to move with the right amount of speed.” For me, this means always take action and advocate for meaningful change.
What changes or innovations do you hope to see for your company or industry in the next five years?
Ray Brandt Auto Group is poised for continued growth, which has always been Ray’s focus and mine as well. Days before Ray passed, he brought diversif ication to our brand by purchasing Pascal’s Manale Restaurant. My husband was always a strategic visionary, and our company continues to adapt, expand, and seek new opportunities. The automobile industry is experiencing tremendous growth in technology, and we look forward to evolving technologically as well. In your experience, what are the keys to maintaining a healthy, productive company culture?
I think two things that play a considerable role in keeping a healthy and productive company culture are accountability and motivation— holding people accountable and keeping the team motivated. I set clear priorities for my team and have invested in and developed my team so that they can trust their own judgment on operational decisions. Who have been some of the greatest influences on your career or leadership style?
My husband was someone who I very much respected and admired as a leader. He founded the company in 1983 with just one dealership and, over his career, grew it to 13 dealerships across southern Louisiana and Mississippi with six collision centers. He started with a dream and then defined the company’s direction. Ray’s focus was on thinking big and thinking longterm. I strive to think this way, too.
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ging isn’t easy—the changes that occur for older adults and their families can present a number of challenges, but fortunately, where there are issues, there are also solutions. An abundance of resources exists locally for families navigating the new changes they face. From increasing mobility to maintaining independence and health for senior family members, professionals in a variety of services can step in to help. In-home care companies offer companions who assist with daily activities, adherence to medication regimens, meals and more, while independent and assisted living homes present another option for people who seek community and immediate access to gyms, swimming pools, cafes, and activities, while also enjoying access to care when and if needed. The following local resources may offer your family the solutions you seek—from ideas for connection during difficult times to experts who can help guide decision-making, help is available.
In-Home Care Home Instead Senior Care While communities practice social distancing to l imit the spread of COVID-19, the loneliness many seniors already feel can be amplified. Home Instead Senior Care in Metairie recognizes the effects long-term isolation can have on the senior community, including higher risk of heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death. They recommend the following ideas to ensure loved ones stay connected and engaged during these difficult times: 1. Set a schedule. Regular check-ins can go a long way toward helping older relatives feel supported. 2. Video chat. Technology can’t replace in-person human interaction, but video chat platforms offer a user-friendly way to reach out. 3. Call. Sometimes picking up the phone is the best way to get the job done. 4. Embrace snail mail. Sending a letter or postcard is an easy way to remind someone you’re thinking of them. For more ideas on how to connect with older adults in your life, visit ReadytoCare.com or call Home Instead Senior Care at 504-455-4911.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
S P ON S OR E D
Home Care Solutions Home Care Solutions is a locally owned and operated company specializing in compassionate in-home sitting services, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Care, as well as Aging Life Care Management™ services to help your elderly loved ones extend their independence at home. “Our mission is to help our clients age in place gracefully while maintaining as much independence as possible,” says Rachel Palmer, Community Liaison. “During the pandemic, many families are under additional pressure to provide care for an aging loved one—as many of them are also coping with massive changes to their own schedules and lives, we can step in and provide an extra arm of support that provides less risk of exposure than at a retirement community while allowing for continued connection with family.” Caregivers are carefully matched to meet your loved one’s needs and personality, and their familiarity with local resources saves you time and often saves you money while their compassionate understanding of the aging process relieves you of unnecessary distress. For more information, call 504-828-0900 or visit HomeCareNewOrleans.com.
community has the added benefit of limiting COVID exposure. For more information on Poydras Home’s services, visit poydrashome.com. Lambeth House Lambeth House, a trusted leader in retirement living located in Uptown New Orleans, looks to 2021 with great hope and enthusiasm. In the first two months of this year, Lambeth House successfully administered the Covid-19 vaccine to 99.74% of residents and staff. Amid an ongoing pandemic, residents and staff understand the importance of coming together to affect change in their community. As Dr. Jody Gates, a Lambeth House resident says, “The high inoculation rate is due to three things: the losses we experienced, Lambeth House administration’s attention to the science and sharing that information, and most importantly, our commitment to each other at Lambeth House. They also made it so easy for us to get the vaccine, which is not the case for so many seniors.” Home to over 220 aging adults, Lambeth House offers independent living, assisted living, and nursing care services. Lambeth House is well known for its vibrant activities, upscale dining, and its focus on healthy aging. For more information, visit lambethhouse.com or call 504-865-1960.
Planning & Arrangements Jacob Schoen & Son Jacob Schoen & Son has been providing affordable pre-need and funeral services to families in Greater New Orleans since 1874. Whether you are looking for burial, cremation, or memorial services, the Schoen family and staff are committed to listening to your needs and creating a personalized funeral that is both memorable and uplifting. They bring together decades of experience caring for families of all cultural backgrounds and diverse walks of life. They pledge to treat you and your loved ones just like family, and they guarantee to offer services that meet your specifications while exceeding all of your expectations. Located at 3827 Canal Street, Jacob Schoen & Son invites you to see the difference and compare the value. Stop by or call 504-605-0342 to learn more about their one-of-a-kind space, discuss what innovative options they have available, and learn more about how they can help you or a loved one fulfill their wishes. In-person and virtual accommodations are available with complimentary seamless live streaming.
Poydras Home Poydras Home will soon launch an expansion and transformation of its campus and care model, featuring two new buildings with three homes each, in which residents will have more personalized care and interaction. Homes will feature open floor plans and increased access to Poydras Home’s beautiful grounds. Poydras Home’s Historic House will be rebuilt as the Center for Healthy Living, where all residents will enjoy yoga, a therapy gym, a library, meditative space and more. Poydras Home is pleased to be working with Eskew Dumez Ripple architects to ensure the structural changes will be progressive and rooted in established, aesthetic traditions. Poydras Home’s expanded care approach (based on The Green House Project model), groups a smaller number of residents sharing each house led by a dedicated Care Partner highly trained to make each day meaningful. This smaller community setup within the larger
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
From The Lens SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA BUSINESS IN FULL COLOR
WORKSPACES A peek at the Pan-American Life Center’s
renovated conference center and café
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? A local home cook’s
pandemic-born business has caught the eye of Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA program
ON THE JOB Scale Workspace offers
entrepreneurs shared office space and access to industrial design technology
FROM THE LENS GRE AT WORKSPACES
Flex for Success The Pan-American Life Center’s renovated conference center and café provide one-stop-shopping and service to tenants, conference and meeting hosts, and the public in the CBD BY MELANIE WARNER SPENCER PHOTOS BY SARA ESSEX BRADLEY
THE 28-STORY PAN-AMERICAN LIFE CENTER
in the Central Business District is rendered instantly recognizable by its granite façade and stairstep terraced roof. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1980, the building’s wide range of tenants vary from retail and financial institutions to energy
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
companies and legal firms. In 2020, Stirling Properties, which manages the building, worked with Greenleaf Lawson Architects to renovate the The Conference Center on 11 and the Café on 11. “Our goal was to fill a need in the New Orleans-area conference center space,” said
In 2020, Stirling Properties, which manages the Pan-American Life Center, worked with Greenleaf Lawson Architects to renovate The Conference Center on 11 and the Café on 11. Greenleaf Architects’ modern design features a neutral, yet colorful palette and modern furnishings by AOS Interior Environments.
Brad Stillwagon, general manager of the building. “There are no other options in the market that offer the technology and amenities that The Conference Center on 11 does. We also wanted to create a more flexible space that would allow for a variety of meeting styles and include state-of-the-art technology that would integrate with current needs and provide a base that we can build on and improve upon in the future.” The Conference Center on 11 has 14 meeting rooms, a 90-person capacity ballroom, 145-person capacity auditorium and various flexible meeting spaces, including boardrooms, classrooms and lecture rooms. Greenleaf Architects’ modern design features a neutral, yet colorful palette and modern furnishings by AOS Interior Environments. The Café on 11 is full-service and open to the public, as well as provides catering services for The Conference Center on 11. Helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Falls, The Café focuses on local, sustainable, and ethical food and service practices. “The old café design was outdated — more of a cafeteria-style and didn’t have great flow,” said Stillwagon. “We wanted to create a space that was bright, open and welcoming with more of a collaborative feel than just a typical dining room. We also wanted to provide a variety of convenient and delicious food options that kept our tenants and the surrounding business community excited and coming back repeatedly.” The auditorium at The Conference Center on 11 also saw an extensive renovation, which Stillwagon said makes it a standout in the overall design. The space is set apart by a dramatic gray color palette, theater- and café-style seating options and state-of-the art AV. “[It] is the only one of its kind in the Downtown New Orleans area,” he said. “We transitioned the theater to a flexible layout ... The back wall of the auditorium was replaced with a window wall which allows for natural light and brings attention to the unique style of the room. We also designed the space to include ample break-out areas and collaborative features, and we offer on-site event management, catering service and technology assistance.” Nearly every economic sector has been impacted by COVID-19, but perhaps none more than the hospitality and tourism. Stillwagon said his team is rising to the challenges in marketing and revenue generation wrought not only by the pandemic, but also the digital revolution.
The Conference Center on 11 has 14 meeting rooms, a 90-person capacity ballroom, 145-person capacity auditorium and various flexible meeting spaces, including boardrooms, classrooms and lecture rooms.
AT A GLANCE LOCATION
Pan-American Life Center, 601 Poydras St. DATE BUILT
1980 DATE OF RENOVATION
2020 SQUARE FOOTAGE OF CONFERENCE CENTER AND CAFÉ RENOVATION
40,000 square feet NUMBER OF TENANTS
43 tenants in the building, with space available to grow PERSON IN CHARGE
Brad Stillwagon, general manager of building; David Moffett, general manager, The Conference Center on 11, The Café on 11. ARCHITECT
Greenleaf Lawson Architects FURNISHINGS
AOS Interior Environments
Pan-American Life Center General Manager Brad Stillwagon said his team works hard to cater to the needs of the tenants “by providing a welcoming, collaborative and creative place where tenants can gather — or relax and take a break — throughout the workday” with several options offering convenience and flexibility.
“Meeting and conference space needs are changing, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the rise in technology needs and remote work in the business community,” he said. “In-person conference sizes will likely decrease and our clients will require more remote conference options. The business landscape will need to adjust to the ‘new normal’ landscape.” Meanwhile, amid the current economic landscape, as well as trials and tribulations typical of hospitality, Stillwagon said the team works hard to promote a positive work atmosphere and cater to the needs of the tenants by “providing a welcoming, collaborative and creative place where tenants can gather — or relax and take a break — throughout the workday” with several options offering convenience and flexibility.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
We fill a void in the market with flexible space options and state-of-the-art technology that can accommodate changes in the ‘new’ virtual [and] digital work environment. Brad Stillwagon, general manager of the PanAmerican Life Center
“In addition to our first floor retail tenants, Tsunami, Starbucks and Smoothie King, our building offers an on-site café serving breakfast and lunch, a mini mart where people can grab a snack or beverage on the go, and many other unique amenities,” he said. To set themselves apart in the competitive New Orleans meeting conference market, Stillwagon said his team focuses on offering clients a one-of-a-kind experience.
“ We fill a void in the market with flexible space options and state-of-theart technology that can accommodate changes in the ‘new’ virtual [and] digital work environment,” he said. “Additionally, we are centrally located and easily accessible. Out of town guests can choose their hotel and work with us without being locked into expensive hotel contracts. The Conference Center on 11 is literally a one-stop-shop where minimal points of contact make planning easy.” n
The renovation included updating The Café on 11, which is a full-service café and open to the public. Helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Falls, The Café focuses on local, sustainable and ethical food and service practices and provides catering services for The Conference Center on 11. BIZNEWORLEANS.COM
FROM THE LENS WHY DIDN’ T I THINK OF THAT ?
A Lively Addition A local home cook’s pandemic-born business has caught the eye of Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA program BY ASHLEY MCLELLAN PHOTOS BY SARA ESSEX BRADLEY
W H I L E L AU R E N M O R A I S FA R F R O M T H E
only person to translate a passion in the kitchen into a business during the pandemic, her company, Lively Sauces, is unique in that during its earliest days in business, it managed to secure a partnership with Ochsner’s well-known Eat Fit NOL A program. A resident of Lakeview, Mora came up with the idea to start a business in October of 2020 while doing something that comes naturally to her, caring for her family through healthy cooking. “Cooking for my family brings me to my happy place, but I have three young children, and I rarely have time to cook an elaborate meal that takes a while to prepare,” she said. “So, one night, my family was eating dinner with a really delicious sauce and the lightbulb went off. Sauces make a dish.” Mora has created a line of savory sauces with the goal of helping busy home cooks create healthy meals in a fraction of the time. “Lively’s motto and dinner goals are: Easy, Healthy, Delicious. I believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice health, flavor and fresh food for convenience,” she said. Lively Sauces is tapping into a growing sector of people looking for hassle-free, ready-to-eat meal solutions that are healthy, plant-based or highlighting international flavor profiles. According to a 2020 report by Million Insights, “The global cooking sauces market is projected to reach $48.65 billion by 2025.” Mora grew up learning how to cook and eat well from family members, but she said her corporate background, along with past experience in the service industry, came in handy when she decided to transform her hobby into a business venture.
BIZ NEW ORLEANS
“I began my career in the corporate world, quarterbacking sales of software solutions into hospitals,” she said. “This seems like a strange leap to this business, but, really, I’ve always been very focused on helping people. I just went from patient safety to individual health. I’ve had experience along the way working as a server and shift manager in a restaurant, and several years here in New Orleans with a prominent catering company.”
Lively Sauces currently offers four different products: Green Dream, Full Gusto, Voo Doo and Jazmo, with more flavors on the way. Each 8-ounce package of sauce costs $8 and is available for pickup. Mora also does local deliveries every Tuesday. Currently, she is marketing through Instagram and Facebook, encouraging people to sign up for the company’s weekly order email at LivelySauces.com.
A FLAVOR FOR ANY DISH Lively Sauces currently include: Green Dream — a creamy, savory sauce filled with herbs. Full Gusto — a roasted cauliflower sauce made with herbs and tahini, warmly spiced with harissa. Voo Doo — a umami miso sauce with citrus and cilantro. Jazmo — A creamy sauce similar to a remoulade, packed with veggies.
Lively’s motto and dinner goals are: Easy, Healthy, Delicious…you shouldn’t have to sacrifice health, flavor and fresh food for convenience.” Owner and creator Lauren Mora
“I created every sauce with mostly organic, real food: veggies, herbs, and ingredients with impactful health benefits,” said Mora, who noted she currently buys her ingredients from local grocery stores but plans to eventually partner with local regenerative farms for the produce. “So much of the food we buy has a list of ingredients that require a chemistry degree to read. We have ingredients you can pronounce,” she said. “The idea is that the customer can pour it on literally anything: the simplest thrown-together meal, salads, any protein [or] as a dip. They are really versatile. I also provide meal idea cards so you can use even less mental energy on making a meal.” This past fall, Lively Sauces teamed up with Eat Fit NOLA. The collaboration has helped the fledgling company garner attention and gain support for providing an easy, healthy meal options for singles, couples and New Orleans families of all sizes. “I reached out to them on Instagram early on, and they immediately expressed interest in me becoming a partner,” she said. “Our food values are very aligned, so it’s a natural fit. Their name is so well known around the city, so of course I am thrilled to work with them. “The Eat Fit logo on my sauces gives customers an immediate understanding that my products are good for them and they can be incorporated as part of a healthful diet. The Eat Fit team has a very strong presence in the state and having them as a partner means that a large network of people seeking healthy and local food will be able to learn about Lively.” For the time being, Mora is working solo out of her home kitchen, but she said business continues to increase and she anticipates adding team members and a move to a professional kitchen in the near future. “The response I’ve had from customers is amazing,” she said. “I’m growing solely by word of mouth at this point, and customers are really talking it up to their family and friends. It’s very rewarding knowing my products are getting people excited about dinner; the sauces are so easy to use and you truly do not feel like it’s a ‘health’ food, but just a ridiculously flavor-slammed sauce. My target customer is anyone who is busy in their daily lives, which is all of us. I have some serious home cooks using all the way to people who don’t cook at all.” n
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BIZ NEW ORLEANS
FROM THE LENS ON THE JOB
The Space and the Gear Scale Workspace in the CBD offers local entrepreneurs 5,000 square feet of shared office space and access to industrial design technology PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
C E L E B R AT I N G I T S S E C O N D A N N I V E R S A RY T H I S M O N T H ,
Scale Workspace’s creative coworking community is designed to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, designers and developers. The two-story, roughly 10,000-square-foot building, located just one block from the National World War II Museum, is home to a full woodworking shop, two laser cutters, a stocked electronics bench and a print lab, seen here, which features over a dozen 3D printers. Striker VR — one of the companies that call Scale Workspace home — is currently using the print lab and Scale’s innovations team to build haptic simulator guns for use in virtual reality video games. ScaleWorkspace.com. n