Monday, May 4, 2015

Napoleon House changes guard

Friday will be a momentous day in the history of the Napoleon House, as the French Quarter landmark is slated to officially change hands from the Impastato family that founded it generations ago to local restaurateur Ralph Brennan.
Don’t expect much public fanfare, however, or even a change of pace as the plate-sized muffulettas and hazy Pimm’s Cup cocktails continue to make the rounds of its famously evocative dining room and courtyard.
“Hopefully, no one will notice the difference,” Brennan said. “We really don’t want to disrupt anything.”
Since the planned sale of the Napoleon House was announced in late March, Brennan has maintained that he’ll bring a light touch to the historic Chartres Street property, with the goal of preserving the character that makes the restaurant and bar so idiosyncratic and distinctive, even by the high standards of the French Quarter. Once the sale is finalized on Friday, Brennan said, the Napoleon House will simply continue with business as usual.
Initially, there will be only a few new faces. Brennan tapped Chris Montero, formerly his chef and general manager at Cafe B, to run the Napoleon House, and he’ll be joined by a team of three new chefs and managers drawn from Brennan’s company.
Montero has spent much of April working at the Napoleon House, essentially shadowing proprietor Sal Impastato to learn the particularities of the operation. Even with the sale completed, Impastato, his wife, Vivian, and sisters Maria Impastato and Jane Lala will stay on for a few weeks to lend more continuity to the change.
“They’re wonderful people, and they have a great tradition, and we’re honored that they picked us to continue it,” Brennan said.
The Napoleon House property was built as a mansion for a New Orleans mayor, Nicholas Girod, in 1814, when the city was just emerging from its colonial era. The Impastatos first operated a grocery there in 1914, when the French Quarter was a bastion of Italian immigrants.
From there, they gradually developed it into a bar and later a restaurant. After a century of ownership, the family was looking for a buyer to take over and continue the business, and Impastato said a mutual friend and accountant connected him with Brennan.
While Impastato acknowledged that some of his staff and customers were apprehensive about the change in ownership, he said the slow approach Brennan has promised and Montero’s efforts to learn the operation have made a difference.
“They’re coming in with people who have worked together a long time, so I think that’s going to help,” Impastato said. “We’re proud of this place; we always wanted it to grow, and I think they can do that.”
Montero and Brennan said an obvious area for growth is in banquets and private events. While the ground-floor rooms and courtyard are the best-known features, they constitute only a fraction of the total property, which has two more floors, an attic and wings that surround the courtyard. Some of these areas are now configured as small apartments.
The Napoleon House has long held private functions in a second-floor ballroom, though on a limited schedule. Montero said there is much more potential for these types of events in the future. The menu and operating hours may be up for revision, too, but Montero said any such changes will be decided later.
The Napoleon House will be the eighth restaurant for Brennan’s company, including his family’s historic Brennan’s Restaurant a block and a half away on Royal Street, which he reopened with business partner Terry White in November.
While the Napoleon House is joining the fold, Brennan said it will remain a unique property.
“All of my restaurants are different; it’s not a cookie-cutter approach, and that’s what I like about it, and that will be the same here,” he said. “We’ll change some things; they have their systems, we have ours, but these are things that the guests will never notice.”
For his part, Impastato said change has long been a fraught topic at the Napoleon House, though by sticking to what they knew, his family built a business that still stands out.
“When I took over, they didn’t want me to touch anything, and that was 40 years ago. So we never changed; we never followed the trends. We just kept doing what we’re doing,” he said. “People come to New Orleans, and everything is new and gleaming these days, but we never touched anything here.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Musician starts foundation to save lives

By Alex Rawls
New Orleans Advocate

For more than a decade, the Neville Brothers and the Radiators closed the main stages on the final Sunday of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

But the Radiators closed the Gentilly Stage for the last time in 2011, and the Nevilles were the last act for the last time on the Acura Stage in 2012.
Since then, the Gentilly Stage has seen a variety of closers, while Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue has settled into the symbolic space the Neville Brothers once occupied.
Shorty started a busy festival week Saturday when he headlined the Saenger Theatre for the first time for a show he titled “The Tremé Threauxdown.” He and Orleans Avenue started the show, but it became a jam with Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, New Breed Brass Band, and Mystikal — all people who were influential on his music, Troy Andrews said last week during a rehearsal for the show.
On Thursday night, he’ll host Shorty Fest at Generations Hall, a fundraiser for The Trombone Shorty Foundation, before playing at the Fair Grounds Sunday.
Andrews had a good year in 2014. His stock rose nationally; he recorded with Foo Fighters and played before them when the rock band performed at Voodoo in City Park last fall.
When Prince played the Essence Music Festival last July, he brought Shorty onstage, then kept him there for the next half-hour to jam. Shorty’s blend of funk, R&B, rock and hip-hop can speak to those very different audiences, but it is also true to the New Orleans tradition.
He credits the broad reach of his music and his ability to fine-tune it for the audience in front of him to his musical upbringing in New Orleans.
“Playing with the Neville Brothers, with Kermit, with Danny Barker, you learn those skills,” Andrews said.
He wants the Trombone Shorty Foundation to be part of that education for the next generation. The organization aspires to “preserve and perpetuate the unique musical culture of New Orleans by passing down its traditions to future generations of musicians,” according to its mission statement.
For Shorty, it’s an extension of the kind of organic education he received from Tuba Fats, his brother James Andrews, and the countless musicians he encountered while growing up in Tremé.
The idea came to him three or four years ago while on tour in Miami.
“I was watching the news and it was talking about murders in New Orleans, and that made an impact to see how we were perceived outside New Orleans,” Andrews said. “I wanted to see if I could save some kids’ lives through music.”
His first response was to buy some instruments and approach Mayor Mitch Landrieu — Andrews calls him “Mitch” — about how to get the instruments to students who needed them. But that was a stop-gap effort. He wanted to do something more lasting, so the foundation was born.
Bill Taylor is executive director. His personal shorthand version of its mission is simple: “To create more Trombone Shortys,” he said.
“It’s to help provide a platform through which kids who have grown up in similar situations to Troy can follow their dreams, musical and otherwise.”
There are a number of organizations that focus on music education with an eye toward helping children beyond their musical dreams, and Taylor wants the foundation to be the bridge between high school band programs and NOCCA, which can only take a finite number of students.
“We want to give these children, who you’d call underserved, the opportunity to take it to the next level,” Taylor said. “That’s a combination of skills in performing as well as business acumen.”
Shorty Fest at Generations Hall is a fundraiser for the foundation. Students in the program will perform in a show that will also include a tribute to Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles, with an all-star band that features Bill Kreutzmann of The Grateful Dead, June Yamagishi, Kirk Joseph, Nick Daniels, Raymond Weber, Davell Crawford, and Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars. Corey Henry and The Treme Funktet, New Breed Brass Band, Tank and The Bangas, TYSSON, Sweet Crude, and MainLine will also perform, and Ivan Neville will sit in with Shorty and Orleans Avenue.
“He’s a part of the band when we can have him,” Andrews said. “We learn so much from him. Whenever he’s free, we’ll take him.”
Earlier this month, Andrews also became the subject of a children’s book. He and Taylor co-wrote “Trombone Shorty,” which was illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Bryan Collier.
Neither Andrews nor Taylor were thinking about a book, but when Taylor asked Shorty for stories to help align the foundation’s activities with his real-life journey, he realized they had possibilities.
“It’s an unbelievable story, and some of the things that happened to him early on are remarkable,” Taylor said. While listening, it occurred to him that it was an inspiring tale that would make a good kids’ book.
The book is on sale now, and Andrews will sign copies at Shorty Fest, with part of the proceeds from sales going to the foundation.
“I was reading it and felt like a kid again,” he said. “I looked at the illustrations without reading the words and it made my imagination create my own story, even though it’s my story. I was thinking about some things that really weren’t me.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

McConaughey: 'What a big, beautiful mess'

During the New Orleans Film Society gala, actor Matthew McConaughey stated his feelings in a speech about New Orleans:
"I said this years ago. A friend of mine asked, 'What is New Orleans like?' I said New Orleans is like a giant, flashing yellow light. Proceed with caution...but proceed. it is not an overly ambitious place, and that's being complimentary. It has a great identity, and, therefore, it doesn't look outside itself for intrigue, evolution or labels of progress. People here are proud of their home. You're proud of your Crescent City. You know your flavor. You know it's your very own. And if people want to come taste it with you, you welcome them with open arms. But you do not solicit."
"The hours trickle by here.Tuesday and Saturday are more similar here than any other place I've ever been. The seasons slide into one another without any status quo. Yes, it is the Big Easy, home of the shortest hangover on the planet, where libation can greet you on Monday morning with the same smile as it did on Saturday night." 
"OK, (it's) home of the front porch. I don't know if y'all recognize this: It's home of the front porch. Not the back porch. Everyone everywhere else has back porches. The back porch is something different. The front porch is an engineering feat that lends itself to the sense of so much community around here and fellowship. Private property and lines of demarcation all land across borders. Here, you relax facing the street. You do not retreat into the seclusion and privacy of your backyard. No, you engage with the goings-on of the world that is in front of you. It's a great engineering feat that you've pulled off here. It really is."
"What's my alarm here? My alarm here is church bells, sirens and a slow-moving, $8-an-hour carpenter nailing windowpanes two doors down. That's a good alarm. Do not honk your horn in a traffic jam here."
"You do not sweat the misdemeanors, and, since everybody's getting away with something, the rest of us just want to be on the side of who's getting away with it. And if you CAN get away with it, good for you. You love to gamble. Rules are made to be broken, so do not preach about abiding. And, hey, if (they) don't get away with it, you're probably gonna let them slide anyway."
"Where else do the dead rest eye to eye with the living? New Orleans is a right-brained city. Do not come to town wearing your morals on your sleeve unless you want to get your arm burned. Yes, it's oil and vinegar, but somehow they mix. The poverty, the humidity, they both gracefully suppress all the rationale. And if you're crossing a one-way street, it is best to look both ways."
"Mother Nature rules around here. We all know that. (She's) the natural law queen who reigns supreme. She's a science to the animals, yet she's an overbearing and inconsiderate b--- to us bipedal humans. But here, you forgive her, and you forgive her quickly. You have to. You know any disdain for her wrath is going to reap more wrath, more bad luck, more voodoo and more karma, so you roll with it...actually you meander rather slowly forward, taking it in stride and never sweating the details."
"See, the art is in the overgrowth here. Mother Nature wears the crown around here. Her royalty rules. And unlike in England, she has both influence and power. And, like the most authentic European cities, you guys don't use vacuum cleaners to give structure to anything, you use brooms. You use rakes to manicure, because everything here lends it soft edges."
"Where it falls is often where it lays, the swerve around the pothole, the duck beneath the branch, the poverty, the murder rate, all of it is just how it is and how it came to be. Just like a good gumbo, the medley is in the mix."
"Thank you, New Orleans; thank you, Louisiana. Cheers." 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sanchez Center to reopen in Lower 9th Ward

2015 King Zulu, Andrew P. Sanchez. Jr.
By Lauren Laborde,
When I pull up to the pale yellow Zulu Headquarters on Broad Street and before I even exit my car, Andrew P. Sanchez Jr. is holding the door of the club wide open for me, his matching yellow blazer and black-and-yellow striped bowtie gleaming in the sun. It is quickly apparent that the 2015 Zulu King has a gregarious personality and likes to make the people around him feel comfortable.

Sanchez’s father is the late Andrew Pete Sanchez, who served as property management director under former Mayor Moon Landrieu and was one of the first blacks to be appointed to lead a city department. A community center in the Lower 9th Ward was named after him, but it was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina’s floods. It is scheduled to reopen soon. Sanchez Jr. currently wears many hats; has worked in sales, marketing and consulting in several capacities; and still champions the revitalization of the 9th Ward.

Like many past Zulu Kings and members, being involved in the organization runs in the family. Sanchez Sr., besides being Zulu’s Big Shot in 1977, served as the club’s Chairman of Carnival Activities, as Sanchez Jr. has for the past 10 years of his 18-year involvement with Zulu. Other family members involved in Zulu includes siblings, cousins, daughters, nieces and uncles. Besides his role of Chairman of Carnival Activities, Sanchez Jr. seems to have served in virtually every other capacity of the organization. Being King seems a natural progression for him.
Q: What are some of the Zulu traditions you most look forward to?

One of my favorites is watching the King be saluted on Mardi Gras morning by the Soulful Warriors. It’s a tradition that a lot of the members don’t get to participate in because they’re getting ready for the parade that morning, but it’s a tradition that’s very beautiful. To see the King get ready to get into the limo and come out to the parade on Mardi Gras morning and to see the Soulful Warriors salute the King, I think that’s a big tribute and a quiet highlight in the Mardi Gras season.
Q: And what are your favorite Carnival traditions in general?

My campaign theme (while running for King) was “saluting all that is Carnival.” I chose the theme because there are traditions that take place in Zulu that are very exciting. We begin our Mardi Gras season with a church service, where we come together and have a lot of sincerity about being blessed to go through the Mardi Gras season safely. From there we have the Queen’s arrival, and there’s a tradition when we receive the Queen and officially announce the Queen of that year. And that evening it culminates with the King and Queen party. That’s where we more or less introduce the organization to the King and Queen and to society, because our friends and family are guests at this event. From there we … have different parties and events and the members come out and pay tribute to our characters. When you look back on Ash Wednesday, it seems like a blur.

I think about all the people who have helped make the Zulu organization what it is. … we are right now a revitalized organization. Since Katrina, our organization average age is anywhere between 35 to maybe 55, whereas before Katrina we were an older club. So when I look at having an election theme saluting all that’s Carnival … I look at how over the years we’ve transformed Mardi Gras into this beautiful time of the year. Normally everyone’s excited about the holidays, but in New Orleans we’re almost happy to get the holiday season over so we can get into Mardi Gras – such as with Zulu.

It’s really been, for me, an exciting time. When you’ve had a chance to work with the organization and all of these guys on the wall [the Zulu club walls feature photos of past Kings] I’ve assisted and prepared them to be King. And now I get a chance to stand with them.
Q: Growing up as a child in New Orleans, what are your memories of Carnival?

When I reflect back on being a child, my dad, Andrew P. Sanchez Sr., served as Zulu’s Chairman of Carnival Activities. I always looked forward to when my dad went to the ball; I used to always love to see my dad get dressed up in a tuxedo. Then the time came for me to attend the ball.

As a child we always went to the parades; we’d get a chance to see Bacchus, Endymion. As a child your eyes light up and you’re jumping around for all those throws and at the end of the day you think, now what am I gonna do with all this stuff? But it’s the excitement, it’s the fun, it’s the thrill. When I reflect back on all the years I’ve been here in this beautiful city I’m excited, because I’ve enjoyed it ever since being a child.

Age: 56 Profession: Project manager and consultant Born/raised/resides: Lower 9th Ward Education:Alfred Lawless High School, John McDonogh 35 High School, Southern University Favorite Band: Earth Wind and Fire Favorite Restaurant: Acme Oyster House in Metairie Food: Seafood Book: Harry Potter series

True confession

I love to swim. I don’t get to swim as much as I’d like to, but the Andrew P. Sanchez Multi-Purpose Center is about to re-open and it will have a pool, and I’ll really get back into swimming.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Post Katrina Christmas reminiscence

By Bruce Fleury 

Christmas came as a big surprise this year. The usual onslaught of catalogs never appeared. Just a few strands of colored lights dot the town. The only Christmas card I've received is from the self-storage unit where my surviving possessions are stashed. Gone also are the long lines of my hopeful students, waiting to see if they were naughty or nice on their final exams. Life has changed.

My holiday reminder lately has been the cheerful little dog on the Dogpile Web page. When the doggie donned a pilgrim hat, we knew it was Thanksgiving, and we broke out the frozen turkey dinner. When I saw him sporting a big scarf and winter hat, I knew it was the season to be jolly.

But I'll admit being jolly is a real stretch this year.

If only we could rewind the tape to last Christmas, when we were standing in the street, our heads tilted back in disbelief as we watched snowflakes tumble from the sky, wrapping our neighborhoods in a Currier and Ives cloak. But fate had different plans.

This holiday season, instead of making cookies and wrapping presents, we've spent our time standing or sitting one the phone, arguing with insurance adjusters, bankers, Realtors and service reps, trying to get back all the things we took for granted, like fresh water, electric lights, cable TV, hot showers and home cooking. All of our energy is spent picking up the pieces of our shattered lives.

Normally, this time of year is full of excited calls from friends and loved ones. But for a while I stopped looking forward to calls from the folks I care about. The simple question "how are you?" would force me to relive the whole nightmare in my head, a low-budget science fiction film with my respirator serving in lieu of Darth Vader's helmet. There were moments when I felt like I had been sucked into a computer game like Doom or Half Life, when I was crawling through the moldy wreckage of my flooded Broadmoor home with my flashlight, keeping a weather eye out for zombies. That's the price you pay for being a survivor
As I tell the people who aren't here: It's as if you were nearly finished working on a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, a tranquil scene of pastoral family bliss. You left for a moment to answer the door, and returned to discover that some thoughtless stranger had swept the puzzle to the floor. Then the dog rolled around on the pieces, dragging the box away when he trotted off. Then the cat threw up on what remained. 

Now you are left with a wet, sticky, stinking mess, coated with stuff you don't even want to touch. Nonetheless you grit your teeth and pick up as many pieces as you can find, carefully cleaning each one as you go, regretting those you cannot save. How will you ever find the strength to put it all back together? And you don't even have the picture on the box to guide you. 

But all is not lost, though it might seem that way to many of us this Christmas. For me at least, the most important pieces of our puzzle have survived. We were able to sneak past the National Guard in a daring pre-dawn raid and rescue our stranded pets. And despite the roller coaster ride of hope and despair, I'm still happily married (at least as of this morning).

My teenage son will soon be back from his evacuation exile in northern New York, having learned what a white Christmas is really all about. Hopefully his French-Canadian lumberjack genes stood him in good stead. And we will soon be moving into our new home, leaving our tiny refugee condo perched high over St. Charles Avenue (you see, dear, I told you that if you stuck with me you'd end up on the Avenue!)

Things will never be the same, but we soldier on, because that is ultimately what life is all about. We put the pieces back together as best we can. We shake off the holiday blues and give thanks for what we have, even if it is not what we are used to.

We are grateful for all our good friends and relations, who helped us back from the brink. And we take comfort this holiday season in witnessing the true meaning of Christmas -- the spirit of giving, the importance of family and the rebirth of hope. 
. . . . . . . 
Bruce E. Fleury is a professor of biology at Tulane University. His e-mail address is

Originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Dec. 25, 2005