The lunchtime crowd is back at the Redfish Grill, but the fancy entrees are off the menu for good. With 80 percent of the staff gone, there simply aren’t enough cooks.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be getting staff back into New Orleans and be part of the rebuilding process,” says the restaurant’s Charlee Williamson.
In a city showing signs of life, there’s one thing missing: a working class.
Despite the mayor’s attempts to bring them home, New Orleans has become a closely-watched experiment in what happens when an entire income bracket disappears.
“If they can’t bring back these people, you’re going to see the city’s infrastructure fall apart,” says Dr. Robert Blendon of the Harvard University School of Public Health.
Some residents can’t return because their neighborhoods, often poor, are still deserted and have no water or power.
At the Hotel Monteleone, which is down from 70 housekeepers to five, some workers call in to say they’ve already found better lives.
“People are clearly making the decision that if there’s nothing for them here, they’ll have opportunities elsewhere,” says Monique Louque.
Like Louis Green: a former New Orleans cook, he’s learning the ropes at a suburban Atlanta restaurant. A church gave him six months of free housing and a van. “It was a blessing and just gives me an opportunity,” he says.
There are some workers who’ve moved in to satisfy demand. They’re mostly Hispanic, raising a controversy on its own. Some of them line up to do the most menial of jobs, like clean up, and signs offer them $10 dollars an hour.
Workers are demanding— and in many cases— getting a higher wage than they were pre-Katrina. This is putting one more strain on businesses trying to rebuild... and get its working class to come home.