Struggling French Quarter businesses welcome Carnival cash

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 3:25 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After two years of a pandemic and a devastating hurricane, New Orleans businesses are eager for a carnival-fueled uptick in revenues. Some businesses have shut down, others are struggling with labor issues and it’s clear that many challenges remain.

Behind scaffolding, it is the place where the muffuletta was born 116 years ago, but Hurricane Ida shut down Central Grocery’s iconic Decatur Street location when it made landfall on Aug. 29.

“Every day people come by and ask about the store... ‘When is it gonna come back? Where can I get the sandwich?’ There’s just general concern,” said contractor Chris Gagnon, standing on the open-air second floor of the grocery.

Central Grocery was not able to open for Thursday night’s Krewe of Joan of Arc, which passed right in front, and neither was 80-year-old Aunt Sally’s Pralines just down the street.

“We have challenges with personnel. We have several staff out right now recovering from COVID,” said Mary Jo Webster, with Aunt Sally’s.

They, like other businesses, are eager for what Mardi Gras can bring as they hope for an end to the pandemic.

“I could not be more excited for carnival. This is the best news we’ve had in two years,” said Webster.

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But this carnival season, Central Grocery customers will have to go online to satisfy their muffuletta craving.

“It is disappointing. It’s very disappointing. I just made 70 and I’ve been enjoying seeing the people come in over the years,” said owner Tommy Tusa.

Though Tusa says the mail-order business is going well, they are trying to establish a satellite location to deliver their world-famous muffulettas to customers.

“Hopefully, we might have a satellite location where local people can come get sandwiches because they’ve supported us all these years,” said Tusa.

Tourists, who have had their own COVID struggles, are also returning to Decatur Street.

“We wanted to get out of the house. New Orleans will be an easy trip and enjoy the restaurants. There’s no other cities like New Orleans,” said Houston visitor Heather Rodriguez.

The tourists are a welcome sight for so many New Orleans businesses who rely on them to survive in a time where labor issues remain difficult.

“One has to think there’s an end in sight,” said Webster.

Aunt Sally’s, which suffered hurricane damage as well, has now reopened with reduced hours five days a week, but the restoration work down Decatur Street at Central Grocery will be painstaking.

“We want to bring the building back to its original condition and make it look good,” said Gagnon.

The goal now is to make Central Grocery structurally sound, restoring as much of the original construction material as possible, so that they can once again sell their legendary muffulettas to customers from around the world - sometime next year.

Tusa says while they rebuild as fast as they can, they’re trying to stay positive. He says many people are suffering far worse than he and his family.

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