New Orleans Groceries : 21st Century Style
Local grocery options are reinventing themselves to serve a changing marketplace and clientele.
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
A 21st century local grocery store revolution is afoot. While nationally, business is trending toward door-to-door delivery and drive-thru pick-up by national business giants like Walmart and Amazon, locally, a new coterie of independent grocers are reinventing what it means to make groceries in New Orleans.
Simone’s Market Welcomes Online Shopping Trend
Simone Reggie is the new face of Uptown groceries. Previously with Good Eggs online delivery service, when that enterprise folded Simone knew that 150 local farmers and food producers had lost a vital outlet for their wares. She set out to help rectify the problem by creating Simone’s Market on Oak Street.
Reggie believes that online shopping is going to regrow corner groceries.
“While paper goods and cleaning supplies may be delivered to your door, people want to touch and feel perishables,” she says. At Simone’s, fresh seafood, prime steaks and specialty Cajun meats from Eunice Superette join beautifully curated seasonal produce, making grocery shopping there an impulse pleasure.
Convenience is paramount to many Simone’s Market customers. Basic prepared home-style foods like chicken pot pies, meat loaf and sandwiches made to order from Simone’s kitchen account for over a quarter of her revenue. Catering is also available.
With her Lebanese background, she caused a stir at the 2017 Oak Street Po-Boy Festival with her “Lebacajun,” a combination of hashweh, tabouli and yogurt sauce on Leidenheimer’s French bread that was awarded “Most Original” by a panel of judges.
With subscription meal kits flooding the delivery market, Reggie is currently working with local chefs like Isaac Toups and Justin Devillier to develop meal kits with a distinctly local flair available exclusively at the market.
Dryades Public Market Reinvented
Over in Central City, the Dryades Public Market seems to have hit its stride after some radical experimentation.
Back in 2016, when the market first opened in the former McDonough 38 school building, its goals were as lofty as the grand chandeliers that dominate the space. Individual boutique counters operated by small purveyors sold fresh pasta, pastry and seafood. The Curious Oyster served oysters on the half shell along with menu items like smoked drum-stuffed local cherry tomatoes with preserved lemon pesto. Those high-end offerings, however, simply did not meet the neighborhood’s needs. Now, the market is a full-service, value-priced grocery featuring conventional brands.
Chef Allison Dean serves as the market’s unofficial ambassador, gregariously greeting customers with tastes of old-school favorites served on the hot and cold lines. For $6.99 a pound, shoppers load up on soul food classics like red beans and rice, smothered greens, fried catfish and cornbread. Dean is one-of-a-kind, and so are his desserts.
New Orleans Food Co-op Transforming
The New Orleans Food Co-op, which opened in the Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue in 2011, is also currently undergoing a transformation. One of the co-op’s original founders, John Calhoun took over management earlier this year, intent on increasing revenue with healthy, hard-to-find local products while creating a true community hub.
Stroll the co-op’s aisles and you’ll find Louisiana-sourced staples like sugar, rice, grits and eggs alongside specialty ingredients like tofu and kombucha. Gulf seafood shares freezer shelf space with beef, pork and lamb all produced within the state. A wellness department includes local soaps and homeopathic CBD oil products. Knife sharpening services are available and some evenings there’s live musical entertainment.
There hasn’t been such a revolution in local grocery shopping since 1946 when Schwegmann’s Brother’s Giant Super Markets opened the area’s first big-box store, complete with an in-store bar. But some things never change. The Dryades Public Market’s bar has been a popular fixture since the day it opened, proving in New Orleans, we make groceries our way, dawlin’.
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, Louisiana Eats! Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.