New Orleans Eatery Eyes a Smaller Bite Owner John Besh plans to re-open Restaurant August with reduced staff, a simpler menu and lower prices. He tells Debbie Elliott restaurants can have a key role in rebuilding New Orleans.

New Orleans Eatery Eyes a Smaller Bite

New Orleans Eatery Eyes a Smaller Bite

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Owner John Besh plans to re-open Restaurant August with reduced staff, a simpler menu and lower prices. He tells Debbie Elliott restaurants can have a key role in rebuilding New Orleans.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

`Now hiring' signs are springing up in New Orleans, where workers are in demand as businesses are opening their doors again. Burger King is offering $6,000 bonuses to hourly employees who agree to work full-time for at least a year.

This weekend, 15 of New Orleans' most prestigious restaurant owners gathered at the Viking Range company headquarters in Greenwood, Mississippi, to confer and strategize. One of them is John Besh. He owns the upscale Restaurant August on Tchoupitoulas Street, and he plans to open for business this week. We spoke with John earlier today. He said he and other restaurant owners agree they have a special role in helping to rebuild New Orleans; not only by providing jobs, but also by restoring the city's cultural identity.

Mr. JOHN BESH (Owner, Restaurant August): I think the restaurants of New Orleans, the independently owned restaurants, are the lifeblood to the city in a lot of ways. We have 250, 300 years of reputation of providing the unique culinary experience for the guests of our city, and for ourselves.

ELLIOTT: Now one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think about you trying to get your restaurant open is water. We've heard all these reports for weeks that the water supply in the city is contaminated. How can you run a restaurant without clean water?

Mr. BESH: Right. And so we brought in a tanker trunk from Memphis, Tennessee. My brother-in-law actually brought it in, hooked it up and we're using that for cooking with. And then the mayor has just--and the EPA, with the approval from the EPA, just proclaimed New Orleans water as now being potable. And so we're able to clean pots and pans with that water, and we'll cook with the water that we've brought in.

ELLIOTT: So you have a big tanker truck parked outside your restaurant pumping water from Memphis into your faucets and to cook with.

Mr. BESH: As crazy as it seems. At this point, you know, we really all have to think outside of the box, and we'll just have to let human ingenuity do its thing and find new and better ways of providing the service.

ELLIOTT: I guess my biggest question at this point is: Who's going to come eat at your restaurant? The city is in a bit of disarray right now.

Mr. BESH: We have those New Orleanians who did not flood and that have the wherewithal to move back into the city, and many of them have done just that. We have another client base of workers in the city. Whether they're architects or engineers or government workers, they're here, and they could be potential customers. And then we have the tourists, which are non-existent for the next couple of months, but I see towards the beginning of the new year that as well will pick up as hotels are being renovated, and I think there's a potential market there.

ELLIOTT: Who do you think your first customer will be tomorrow?

Mr. BESH: My first customer should probably be--I don't know. It better be a close friend, because I've called all of my friends and threatened them that they have to be there tomorrow. They have to; and no more freebies. I think that our first customer will be the New Orleanian who has gone without a fine meal for some time.

ELLIOTT: It's got to be hard to figure out how much to prepare. I think that's probably hard in any restaurant, even when you're a city full of people.

Mr. BESH: Right. And so we're just starting small. There's only seven of us, and we have a 12,000-square-foot facility at Restaurant August, counting the private dining rooms and whatnot. And so we're just starting with one little dining room and opening the bar. And, in essence, we're starting business over again. The only way you can do it is by that leap of faith.

ELLIOTT: Chef John Besh, the owner of Restaurant August in New Orleans, speaking with us from Greenwood, Mississippi.

Thanks for speaking with us today.

Mr. BESH: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you having me.

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