A Feast of Opportunity
From the return of a pastry powerhouse to the launch of its first taproom, Jefferson Parish is rapidly emerging as a culinary powerhouse.
Jefferson Parish is celebrating a recent surge in food and beverage purveyors, distributors and manufacturers opening in the parish or expanding their parish facilities. The result has meant more jobs and revenue, plus more varied dining and drinking choices for residents and visitors.
The Jefferson Economic Development Commission (JEDCO) reports that culinary projects it worked on in recent years have brought nearly $200 million in investments to Jefferson Parish. Among them was US Foods’ major expansion of its Marrero distribution facility, which began in 2019 and was completed in September 2022. Along with nearly tripling the company’s distribution center, the expansion meant not only the retention of 140 jobs but also was Silver LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. As well, Fuji Vegetable Oil, Inc.’s completion of a $70 million new processing facility in Avondale added 75 new jobs in August 2021.
This past April, Atlanta-based Inland Seafood celebrated the opening of its renovated 14,000-square-foot distribution facility in Elmwood which was completed with the help of a JEDCO tax incentive and financing guidance. The project meant another 50 new jobs for the 100% employee-owned company, as well as the creation of hundreds of other jobs in the commercial fishing industry, ranging from restaurants and grocery stores to manufacturers and businesses
Established and new culinary enterprises that once only considered New Orleans proper as the ideal location in the region have found that Jefferson Parish’s benefits — including incentives and financing from JEDCO and the state of Louisiana — are good for business.
Culinary products are one of the components of Jefferson EDGE 2025, a program that provides guidelines for promoting sustainability, job growth and investment in Jefferson Parish with the core principles of resiliency, social equity and competitiveness.
Jefferson Edge 2025 takes a holistic approach toward developing the parish’s target industries with talent, workforce and real estate strategies that recognize today’s successful companies need creative people and quality places.
Like a phoenix literally rising from the ashes, the iconic Hubig’s Pies began a comeback in November of last year, 10 years after a five-alarm fire destroyed its New Orleans factory. Hubig’s owners, the third generation of the Ramsey family, decided to build their new factory in Elmwood at 4925 Jefferson Highway. Eager fans snapped up the long-awaited pies — which have been a local favorite since the company’s opening in 1921 — causing some shortages.
Hubig’s was in the national spotlight this past May, when Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager from NBC’s Today Show visited New Orleans and sampled the pies on air, passing some out to a frenzied crowd in Jackson Square. Owner Drew Ramsey said the samples included the company’s first chocolate pies since the fire. “We are back!” he proclaimed.
Sam and Jackie McCord thought Jefferson Parish was a great place to introduce their Metairie European-style butcher shop, McCord Butchery, which opened in March at 210 Veterans Boulevard. The project was largely financed by a Jefferson Growth Fund (JEDgrow) loan, which usually funds small businesses and startups.
“They [JEDCO] make it easy, with open arms; they return calls, emails, give you a road map on how to open a successful business,” said Sam McCord. “They held our hand the whole way.”
The McCords’ experience in food and hospitality allows them to offer quality proteins, many sourced in the area, along with sage advice on the best wine and other accompaniments to enhance dining at home. The butchery serves as one-stop shopping for customers, since the wine, side dishes, fresh local vegetables, seasonings, sauces and even quality charcoal are all available in the store.
“It’s restaurant-style, quality food that you can cook at home,” said Sam McCord, who has worked as a chef at some of the world’s top restaurants, along with local favorites the Royal Sonesta Hotel and House of Blues. Most of the company’s meat is aged on the premises. The butchery also has vegan selections, and wine tastings are featured once a month, with wine discounts available during the tastings.
Another beneficiary of a JEDCO loan is Colleen Keogh’s Kingfish Cider taproom, which opened at 355 Iris Avenue in Jefferson, in May of 2021. Keogh serves up cider, perry (pear cider), cider cocktails, and Louisiana craft beers and spirits. The décor and drink names are an homage to the late Gov. Huey “Kingfish” Long and his circle. Creativity abounds in this industrial-style space that opened its doors two years ago.
“Not only do I have the first and currently only taproom in JP, but it is truly unique from any others you’ll find,” said Keogh. “It is filled with Louisiana historical items and repurposed items from closed local businesses. My tables are made from old bowling lane floors from a bowling alley on the West Bank. The lights hanging over the bar are from a theater.”
Keogh, a longtime resident of the area, said she’s right where she wants to be.
“We are within 15 minutes of the French Quarter. It’s convenient, safe and overall things just run smoother in JP. I’m glad that things are taking off in this area and getting a facelift.”
She said JEDCO was very instrumental to her opening.
“They provide financing, promotion and help all steps of the way. There are some amazing folks that work there and do an incredible job.”
In October 2022, Huy Pham expanded his popular six-seat Japanese restaurant in Metairie from a tiny sushi bar specializing in hand rolls (seaweed wrapped around rice, seafood and other fillings) to a contemporary restaurant called Yakuza House (2740 Severn Avenue0 with three different areas: dining room, bar/lounge and private event room. He has remained true to his style and principles: only the best quality ingredients done with a lot of artistry.
Pham has seasonal offerings depending on what’s available from his Japanese suppliers. The bar offers favorite drinks including the Japanese Old Fashioned, a wide variety of sakes and Japanese whiskey.
The restaurateur was able to open his first location with the help of a JEDCO loan and, after his success, when he could locate anywhere in the region, has chosen to grow in Jefferson Parish. Although 85% of his customers live Uptown or other parts of the city of New Orleans, Pham is loyal to Jefferson.
“JEDCO was the only one who gave me a call, the only one who gave me a chance,” said Pham, explaining that every other bank turned him down. “I really believe in this concept.”
After opening two TOAST locations in New Orleans — the first in 2014 — Cara and Evan Benson opted to open the third location of this breakfast staple this past May at 1711 Hancock Street in Gretna using the RTA tax incentive. The incentive provides an up to 10-year abatement of property taxes on renovations and improvements of existing commercial structures located within economic development districts, downtown development districts, historic districts and opportunity zones.
“We were looking for an affordable space large enough to have a playground in the back and to be able to bake for all of the Toasts,” said Cara Benson. “The building was a bar with a two-bedroom apartment. We converted the apartment into a kitchen—half is for prep and the other half serves as the bakery.”
Benson cited more advantages: “Gretna is near our home in Algiers Point, so that also made it appealing. The city has been wonderful to work with as well. Gretna is a lovely city with a tight-knit neighborhood, which, fortunately has filled the restaurant with the sense of community we were hoping for. Lots of people know each other, stop to chat at tables, and kids are so happy when they see their friends on the playground.”
Jimmy Nguyen used JEDCO’s loan program to open his Viet-Cajun restaurant Crawlins Seafood in Terrytown in April 2022. The hairstylist-turned restaurateur dreamed of opening a restaurant and made the bold transition to serve his generous portions of boiled seafood, gumbo, etouffee and po-boys to hungry customers. His eatery brought 15 new jobs to the Jefferson Parish community.
Debbie on the Levee
Since Charlotte McGehee and Charles Mary IV opened Bakery Bar in New Orleans’s Lower Garden District as the home of Debbie Does Doberge — a purveyor of traditional Doberge cakes — paired with some creative cocktails, the concept has grown to become a full restaurant. Building on the company’s success, the two opened Debbie on the Levee in 2020 in Rivertown, Kenner, using a JEDCO loan: “A spot for sweets, snacks and sips.” They feature cocktails, frozen daiquiris, pastries, breakfasts, sandwiches and their famous Doberge cakes under the “Debbie Does Doberge” banner.
Other well-known and growing brands headquartered in Jefferson Parish include Camellia Brand beans; Big Easy Blends (frozen drinks in pouches sold nationwide); Boscoli Foods Inc. (Italian olive salad and other products); Orleans Coffee (espresso bar and wholesaler); Perrone & Sons (food service distributors, custom spice blends, prepared muffulettas and other sandwiches); Zatarain’s; and Laitram (a global manufacturer of machinery used in culinary products including shrimp peelers and roasters, with 1,300 patented innovations to date).
JEDCO promotes itself as a “Hub for Expansion, Attraction, Retention and Talent” (HEART). Its employees are determined to bring more opportunities to the area, which includes ongoing initiatives designed to support the culinary products ecosystem including cold storage, packing and co-packing facilities along with other necessities.
“Jefferson Parish is a hub for food and beverage businesses, ranging from major manufacturers to successful startup companies,” said JEDCO President and CEO Jerry Bologna. “The community is well-positioned to support the growth of the culinary products food cluster thanks to our ease of accessibility, skilled workforce, strong economic climate and support from elected leaders. As more high-profile businesses in the culinary products industry choose to locate in Jefferson Parish, they better position our community as a global leader for food and beverage companies.
“We continue to invest in this industry cluster to ensure that we’re providing the best opportunity to capture new prospective businesses,” Bologna said, “while aiming to better serve the iconic businesses that are already located here.”
A New Jefferson Parish Food and Beverage Incubator is in the Planning Stages
Edible Enterprises, the only food and beverage incubator in the Greater New Orleans area, sustained significant damage in 2021 during Hurricane Ida and was forced to shut down permanently, leaving dozens of small businesses scrambling to find production space. JEDCO worked closely with the affected companies to find alternative space, creative solutions and partnerships.
Now nearly two years later, JEDCO President and CEO Jerry Bologna emphasizes the importance of opening another incubator in the parish:
“We are so often approached by innovative entrepreneurs seeking access to commercial kitchen space,” he said. “A food and beverage incubator that could serve the entire region will solidify Jefferson Parish as a destination for culinary manufacturing, and more importantly, will keep our best and brightest entrepreneurs operating in our community, creating southern Louisiana food and beverage startup success stories that can elevate our brand on a global scale.”
JEDCO has contracted with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) and has engaged with other partners to conduct planning and research toward the possible development of the incubator.
A survey was created in coordination with Greater New Orleans Inc., (GNO) to ask companies about their space needs and other supply chain and area needs. JEDCO is currently working with GNO Inc., LSBDC, Xavier University and others about the development and management of the incubator. A $25,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture planning subgrant was obtained via the GNO Development Foundation to work on a needs assessment for an incubator.
Based on available funding, JEDCO would build an incubator that could provide shared commercial kitchen space to small food and beverage companies and entrepreneurs, as well as technical assistance for successful operation of a company including licensing, equipment training, business plan development, marketing assistance, labeling and packaging, food safety, distribution to retailers, e-commerce, financing and other assistance.