Restaurateur Testifies On Needs of Businesses
in Gulf As Operators Begin to Re-Open
Gary Regan visits the Pegu Club, Ben Reed trains the U.K., the Great American Beer Festival, and more.
As some restaurants in New Orleans re-open with limited staff and menus and under curfew restrictions, a restaurateur with three of his own eateries in the city testified on ways Congress can help small businesses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Ralph Brennan testified last month before the U.S. House of Representatives about the impact the hurricane has had on his own businesses. Brennan, owner of three New Orleans restaurants — Red Fish Grill, Bacco and Ralph’s on the Park — shared his experience about the devastation of the hurricane.
“All of us left town expecting to return in two or three days and that our homes and businesses would be reasonably safe. They’re not. We have to rebuild our entire city, especially the hospitality industry,” said Brennan.
“Unlike many restaurants in New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast region, two of my three restaurants in New Orleans are now open, but with limited menus, partial staff and boiled water restrictions. One of my biggest challenges is finding employees to staff my restaurants. Many of my staff have not come back to the city or have found employment elsewhere. And one of the biggest short-term issues, particularly in New Orleans, is finding adequate housing for restaurant employees since seventy percent of the houses in New Orleans sustained water damage,” he said.
Brennan said that some of the biggest challenges restaurants face today are a lack of employees, absence of customer base, and unresolved insurance issues.
He laid out an overview of the economic impact, saying that the areas most heavily hit had 6,800 restaurant-and-foodservice establishments, employing roughly 90,000 people. Annual restaurant sales for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama total about $12.4 billion, about 2.6 percent of the $476 billion of nationwide restaurant sales.
Brennan, who serves as the chairman of the Ernest M. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority, also discussed the importance of reviving travel and tourism to the area. The industry represents more than 650,000 jobs in the three states and last year accounted for more than $50 billion in business activity in the region. Brennan says Congress should assist in the long-term recovery of the region by increasing the business meal deduction to 100 percent for expenditures in the hurricane disaster zone, and implementing a spousal travel deduction for business travel to the disaster zone.
Among the other provisions Brennan requested include: an employer deduction for costs associated with housing relocated employees; a housing credit/allowance/vouchers for employees from the disaster zone; tax deduction/credit for costs associated with housing an evacuee in a home or business; and temporary housing provided to Katrina-affected employees by their employers not treated as a taxable benefit.
Meanwhile, restaurants in the Big Easy started to re-open in mid-October, although with limited menus, hours of operation and shorter staffs. The Bourbon House, for instance, opened under limited hours until the curfew is rescinded. The Bourbon House is one of three restaurants owned and operated by Dickie Brennan, Steve Pettus, and Lauren Brennan Brower. Taken together, the operations employ more than 300 people.
“We’re fortunate to be able to restore local flavor to New Orleans, but what’s more important is to be able to restore the lives of the many employees who work in our three restaurants,” Dickie Brennan said. “Many team members, just like other New Orleanians, have lost their homes. Their families have been separated, and some have even experienced loss of loved ones. Putting our employee-family back to work helps them to gain control over one more aspect of their lives. And in the process, they have the opportunity to do what they enjoy most which is serving others.”
Siegfried & Roy Tap First Keg At Vegas Oktoberfest
Las Vegas illusionists Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn, better known as Siegfried and Roy, heralded the Oktoberfest season last September at the Hofbr