NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Economic development leaders believe this year’s Essence Festival will bring in upwards of $200 million to the city, which they say could grow even more in years to come, thanks to the new ownership of the festival.
In the meantime, some local business owners are over the moon about the business the festival brought them -- which is much needed in the typically slow summer months.
Lil Dizzy’s is just one of New Orleans’ business that saw a huge rush all week long, according to owner Wayne Baquet, who said his restaurant was packed with a steady stream of hungry Essence tourists.
“I wish you could’ve seen the scene here all day long for the past five days,” Baquet said. “I had to lock the door!”
Baquet said his small, creole cookery in Treme served close to 300 people on Sunday alone (July 7).
“It started Wednesday, and Thursday was even better, and Friday was a lot better than Thursday, and Saturday was the best so far until Today. Today we blew them out of the water. It was incredible,” Baquet said Sunday. “We really got packed, packed. Super packed.”
Many of Baquet’s customers waited close to two hours to dine at Lil Dizzy’s.
“We had people just wall-to-wall, waiting in the shade and trying to find any shade they could under the covers here on both sides, just trying to stay cool,” Baquet said.
Baquet said he, undoubtedly, had Essence to thank for the weekend’s boom. He was a part of the festival at its inception in 1994 and said he’s watched it grow every year. In turn, so did his business, which eventually generated more customers than his crew could handle without him.
“Essence Fest, Jazz Fest, Lil Dizzy’s is now known throughout the country and internationally,” Baquet said. “We’re just so well known as being a real Creole restaurant, serving real New Orleans food that can’t hardly be duplicated.”
Michael Hecht is the president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc. and said Baquet’s figures aren’t all that surprising.
“Essence and New Orleans are now totally, intrinsically related, culturally, historically,” Hecht said. “So, any elements of New Orleans like Lil Dizzy’s that are really part of New Orleans are going to become part of Essence.”
Hecht said that means when people come back, they’re returning for more than a conference or a concert, they’re here for the experience. Plus, he said the 25th year marks a big birthday and a milestone for the festival in the form of new ownership which is set on expanding the festival’s scope.
“Having new elements like the E-Suite, the Entrepreneur Suite, at the Contemporary Arts Center is really recognizing that it’s not just about the music, it’s about the people in all aspects of their lives here in New Orleans, but expressing on the global stage,” Hecht said.
Hecht said this is an opportunity for what he describes as business serendipity.
“Those types of business relationships that could come out of a conference like Essence can lead to economic benefits for New Orleans, in New Orleans businesses, down the road,” he said.
But for some, the immediate effects of Essence are more pressing, like Baquet, who’s just hoping he can beat the crowds to his restaurant for breakfast service.
“We have one more great, great day that Essence will affect our business, and that’s tomorrow,” Baquet said.
For an idea of just how much food Lil Dizzy’s served during Essence, Baquet said the restaurant went through five cases of chicken, five pans of macaroni and four pans of bread pudding -- all in one day.