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Restaurants in New Orleans Determined to Reopen and Restore City’s Culture

One of the things New Orleans was known for before Hurricane Katrina hit the city two months ago, was food. The tangy Creole and Cajun dishes created in the city known as "The Big Easy" were celebrated around the world. A few of the best-known establishments are reopening now, but, as VOA's Greg Flakus tells us in this report from New Orleans, the city's restaurants face many challenges.

Things are astir once again in the kitchen of the Red Fish Grille on Bourbon Street. The menu is still somewhat limited, but many of the tastiest dishes are now available.

The clientele these days is made up of government officials and relief workers, and very few tourists.

But Red Fish Grille owner Ralph Brennan is looking for more business in the coming months.

"We have lost the traditional tourist,” he says. “I think they will be back after the first of the year, especially as we get into the Mardi Gras season and Jazz Fest season. The springtime is one of our best periods here and I think you will see some people back. We will also have some meetings and conventions in the spring. That will help."

Mr. Brennan says the initial challenge in reopening his restaurant was finding experienced personnel.

"We have had to hire people who worked for other hotels and restaurants in the city which were not up and operating yet, or people from other professions who lost their jobs and they are looking for a job," Mr. Brennan told us.

A much bigger challenge faces the owners of restaurants that were heavily damaged by the storm. Water caused walls to crumble at New Orleans' oldest and most prestigious restaurant -- Antoine's.

Architect Harvey Burns faces the challenge of restoring the 165-year-old structure. "Everything in the building moves over time, so it is not like you have a straight 90-degree wall. Nothing is plumb [perpendicular]. They vary from one foot to another, it comes in and out."

Water from the heavy hurricane rain seeped into the beams over the restaurant's main dining room. But the Blount and Guste families, who have operated Antoine's since 1840, are determined to save it.

Celeste Guste is the great, great granddaughter of the original Antoine.

"This restaurant is going to go on for another five, ten, fifteen generations from now. I mean, Antoine's restaurant is an icon," she said.

And Celeste says people from around the world want to come back to Antoine's.

"My great-uncle Roy told one of the old waiters one time, 'Sammy, you are making good money, why don't you go travel and see the world?' And the response was, 'Well, Mr. Roy, why travel? The world comes here!' And this is true about Antoine's."