New Orleans Restaurant Owners Weigh Closing

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The Bravo! site lists its restaurant on St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans as closed.

The Bravo! site lists its restaurant on St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans as closed. Bravo! Restaurants hide caption

itoggle caption Bravo! Restaurants
Standing in one of his family's restaurants, Chris Doody says they're likely to close.

Standing in one of his family's restaurants, Chris Doody says they're likely to shutter their New Orleans location. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Ralph Brennan outside of Bacco, one of six New Orleans-area restaurants he is closely involved in.

Ralph Brennan outside of Bacco, one of six New Orleans-area restaurants he is closely involved in. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR

When people think of New Orleans, they often think of food. Before Katrina, the restaurant industry was one of the city's largest employers. But two months after the hurricane, less than 15 percent of the city's restaurants have reopened.

The state's restaurant association says that up to 1,000 restaurants in the area are finished. One candidate for closing is Bravo!, a mid-priced Italian chain restaurant in the Uptown section of New Orleans.

On a recent tour of the damage, Rick and Chris Doody, who operate the chain with their father, Alton, said they will likely shutter the New Orleans location, while keeping their store in nearby Metairie open. They cited the high costs of bringing in new workers — and the uncertainty about how many people will return to New Orleans.

Those concerns have led big names to relocate. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse moved its headquarters to Orlando. Even Ralph Brennan, a member of the city's first family of cuisine, considered leaving.

Brennan owns Bacco's in the French Quarter. Sitting at a table before lunch, he describes his thoughts after Katrina devastated his hometown. "The first couple of weeks after the storm are probably the most difficult I've ever faced," Brennan said."I was thinking, 'Do I go back? Do I not go back? What's the city going to be like?' And I was really getting depressed."

Brennan says he believes tourism will return to New Orleans. But like the Doodys and many others, he remains unsure of the town's ability to sustain its restaurants year-round. As Rick Doody said of the Uptown Bravo!, "We just don't have momentum in that restaurant to weather the storm."

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