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Why NOLA's Post-Katrina Restaurant Boom May Soon Implode

Rising overhead costs, sticker shock, and lack of qualified kitchen staff seem rather foreboding.

Brasted

Ten years after Katrina, area restaurants are experiencing 'growing pains', City Business editor Natalie Chandler reports this week, which begs the question: Is all this growth actually sustainable?  While there are now 1400+ restaurants in New Orleans, as opposed to 800 pre-Katrina, and "tourists have spent 80 percent more on restaurants" here since 2006, there are two major issues at hand.

1. A major lack of qualified cooks and staff

This is an issue that's essentially affecting many American restaurants right now, and locally, restaurants are dealing with it in different ways. Ralph Brennan Group is now working with Placement International to find culinary students from as far away as India and the Philippines to fill year-long paid internships at their restaurants. Dickie Brennan Group recently created its own training and mentorship program to cultivate young talent.

Then there's chef James Cullen at Press Street Station, who, after a few "transient" types made quick goes of it in his kitchen before leaving town, has found his new line cook in the form of a longtime fast food alum.  Cullen also believes that rising house/apartment rents are making it harder to find staff, because...seriously... can anybody afford to live in Orleans Parish with a $10/hour job anymore?

Fortunately, UNO reports "strong numbers" of those in search of hospitality degrees, and the city's first culinary/hospitality institute NOCHI is expected (maybe?) to open in 2016, which would also help foster local talent.

2. Rising cost of real estate and overhead

Yes, this is the fun issue that often results in sticker shock for customers. More chefs appear to be searching for affordable areas to open restaurants—are there affordable areas left in Orleans Parish?—but even cheaper spots may come with downfalls, say, like having to pay $100k up front to install a new kitchen. Dining critic Tom Fitzmorris also suggests that chefs are struggling to pay rising costs of beef, eggs, and produce. Some restaurateurs are "cashing out" like Sun Ray Grill owner Dana Deutsch who sold his Warehouse District location last summer to hot Cajun Country-inspired newcomer Sac-A-Lait, which received a positive review from critic Ian McNulty this week, except when it came to the check, which was actually described as 'inducing sticker shock.'

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