NOLAgniappe: Your Occasional Feel Good Story About New Orleans

Published: August 17, 2011

Nothing upsets me more in sports than to see a positive New Orleans article with comments focusing solely on peoples’ dislike for a city they have never been to. That’s why I feel obligated to show how freaking awesome this town is. It won’t always be original stuff, and it won’t always be about the NBA, but it will always be about the home of the Hornets. Now and forever. If it happens to drum up a little support for good causes, then so be it.

This week I want to highlight a recent article on CNN about Cafe Reconcile, a restaurant run by Chef Joe and Mary Lou Specha, two people making a positive difference in this city.

Ten years ago Café Reconcile opened as a small, non-profit restaurant sitting in a dismal section of Central New Orleans. This café serves food, but it’s also about saving young boys and girls from the poverty and violence that plagues their neighborhoods.

It’s an inspirational job-training program that’s prepared more than 600 young people to work in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in New Orleans. The restaurant is so well respected that it has the support of New Orleans’ celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and John Besh.

Every 12 weeks, a new class of Reconcile Students comes through the restaurant. They’re put through a three week “life skills” course where they learn interpersonal and work techniques.

The students work as the chefs, busboys, waiters, dishwashers and hosts. For veterans of the restaurant business like Chef Joe, it’s amazing to see the Café turn out a daily lunch menu with a totally inexperienced crew working a kitchen. Every new class means a new class of restaurant workers.

“This is an amazing kitchen,” said Chef Joe. “We start all over (with every class). You’ll find no restaurant that flips their staff like we do.”

They learn every facet of the restaurant business and learn a lot more about life along the way.

22-year-old Leonard Alvis credits Café Reconcile with saving his life. Alvis says he’s been in and out of jail “about four or five times” for drug-related charges. He says his time before Café Reconcile was a “wreck” with no future, but now Alvis dreams of owning his own business.

“This is more than just working in a restaurant,” Alvis told CNN while he worked as the Café’s host welcoming the lunchtime crowd. “You got people showing you the right way. It’s like family.”

It goes on, and truly the story is touching. Read it. Then go there and eat. Leave a big tip if you can.

The number of lives Cafe Reconcile has benefited far exceeds the number of young men and women that have passed through it’s halls. They clearly care about New Orleans.

More on why I want to highlight things like this

People who follow the Hornets know that this city gets an awful rap in the NBA world. Sometimes even reading the comments section of an article about the New Orleans Hornets makes you seriously question the fate and future of the human race. Why do so many people feel the need to vocalize their hate about a place they clearly know next to nothing about? It’s like they are literally rooting against me personally for no reason other than to make themselves feel better.

I’m sure you know the type of people who do this stuff– Outspoken about issues in which they are deliberately ignorant. Unwilling to adjust their views to fit reality. Desperately seeking to feel better about themselves, even if it means acting like an insecure high school cheerleader. In short, I’m talking about anyone who thinks D-Will or D-Rose is better than CP3, if you exclude the bit about being insecure high schoolers.

Not right after Hurricane Katrina, but a few months later, some anger started showing up in the comment section of sports articles, on a few blogs, and even in some mainstream media outlets. At this point the questions were mostly the same–Why rebuild a city under sea level? Why is the federal government spending so much money on people who chose to live in a place that could flood?

Though they may seem like innocent question, we knew they weren’t. Especially when they were in the comments of a Hornets recap, followed by exclamation marks, or typed in all capital letters, it was clear these were attacks on the city, not fact finding missions. Most of the time the questioner didn’t even care to find out the answer, but truly just wanted to hate on us, the people that make New Orleans what it is.

It’s been nearly seven years since Katrina, and there are some people who still seem to genuinely root against the city. If you haven’t noticed (I kid, you have obviously noticed), the Hornets get a disproportionate amount of negative coverage and commentary from other NBA fans and even the media to some extent.

Read the comments from the next national article about the Hornets or Chris Paul, and you will see some strange stuff. Some people seem to take personal offense to the fact that both sides (Hornets and New Orleanians) are trying hard to make this relationship work. Sometimes comments gets personal, as if the writer actually believe that the city has caused undue strain on them, the NBA, and the country as a whole.

These people tend not to care that this area is arguably is home to the country’s most important ports, just like they simply ignore that the Hornets had over 11,000 season ticket holders a few years ago, and will likely enter the upcoming season with over 10,000. Who has added the second most tickets since the season ended? They have no idea, but there is an answer out there that would really hurt their argument that basketball can’t work here. (hint- H _ R _ E T S )

They also don’t know, care or acknowledge that it’s obvious that the NBA is giving it’s all to make professional basketball work here. Why else would they take the unprecedented step of buying the team so that it didn’t fall into the hands of an owner inclined to relocate? Why else are they spending to much time, effort, and money to increase the fan base in New Orleans?

Nola is an incredible city with a unique and long-standing culture. The people and city have been through 300 years of floods, storms, wars, pirates, and corruption, but it’s still here kicking. People are still fighting to make things better.

This column is for them.

Note- I realize that the overwhelming majority of people really support the city of New Orleans. If you follow the Hornets and the NBA, I hope you know what I mean about disproportionate number of unnecessary hateful comments.

(edit- I changed the title of this story)


  1. Chris Trew

    August 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Lovely. Well said.

  2. MelDee

    August 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    joe gerrity is this site’s superhero lol

  3. otherMark

    August 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I had Cafe Reconcile cater my rehearsal dinner last fall, and it was a great decision! It was affordable, the food was fantastic, and I felt great about throwing some wedding (read as “irresponsibly large amounts of”) money at a good cause. Their bread pudding is legendary, and they serve lunch so I recommend going down there in broad daylight and trying it out!

    Maybe the Hornets can sponsor a Cafe Reconcile food cart at the arena – I think they’d both make some money.

  4. 42

    August 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I hit up Reconcile a good bit in grad school. Good stuff on all counts.

    Hornets247 pregame at Reconcile one day if it ever makes sense… closing time vs tip…

  5. Pingback: NOLAgniappe: Your Occasional Feel Good Story About New Orleans – (blog) | Blogs

  6. James Grayson

    August 18, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Great read Joe. As an outsider to the nth degree I actually have done my “research” if you will into what the city of New Orleans is all about. I’ve taken the time to actually look at the city and it’s ability to support a pro-basketball franchise and it does have such an ability.

    The ignorance astounds me on major, national sites. It’s not necessarily restricted to the comments section. National writers slip in little jabs and quips about how the city is “rebuilding” and still in “ruin” when that isn’t the case.

    The NBA would be a sorry, dull, Hollywood league if it got rid of cities like New Orleans. It would have no depth or substance, something New Orleans has by the bucket-loads.

  7. JT's Hoops Blog

    August 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

    That’s one place I wanna hit up before I die–Nawleans during Mardi Gras. It’s too bad the Hornets are stuck between a rock and a hard place there. TThey have very low attendance and probably get little or nothing when it comes to television revenues. Wth limited exposure, it will be next to impossible to attract decent free agents.

    That’s probably why David West decided to dropp his final year and head out–though I think that was a rather stupid move. He did it before the collective bargaining agreement was reached. Now he’s literally in limbo and probably will not get a fraction of what he could have gotten if he stayed with the Hornets. A guy was willing to sacrifice gauranteed money just to leave the team. Tells you a lot about the fortunes of the Hornets.

    • 42

      August 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

      JT, it’s been a while.

      I’m going to respond to some of your points, and if you want more info on them and promise to read up, I’ll take the time to gather the info needed to correct some of your misconceptions.

      – The Hornets don’t have bad attendance. Their attendance last year was the lowest in several years and still surpassed 4 teams’ attendance, outpacing the Pacers by over 1,000. This is regular season only. We get press because of the benchmarks. We’ve sold 2,500 more season tickets this year, and it’s still going strong, so the attendance issue is a nonissue.

      – TV revenue is low. The deal is being renegotiated and the coverage was recently expanded. The community is rightly very mixed on this.

      – David West opted out and got the option to leave because his contract had declining value over the past 4 years, and due to NBA rules, he couldn’t sign an extension with starting value worth that his last contract’s starting value was. He may want to leave, but he would have opted out if he wanted to stay as well. Anyone would have. He will get a contract worth more than his $7.5m option was worth.

      – He’s literally in North Carolina. He’s figuratively in limbo.

      As I said, I’ll provide more info if you promise to read it. I’d like it if you would, JT.

  8. 42

    August 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Good post, Joe.

    The team and the city need to get closer and closer together until they are inextricable. I’m all for stories like this, because that process happens on all fronts, including this one.

  9. James Online

    August 18, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Hmmm…my sense from watching and reading national news is that people really love NO. Yes there are the “not yet back” references, but in some crucial respects that’s true. Been to the 9th Ward lately? It is astounding how little has been done to recover in many poor sections of the city. You have the celebrity aspects too–stars like Sean Penn and “locals” like James Carville and Harry Connick Jr.–promoting the city, even today.

    Every TV announcer for visiting teams last year was shown chowing down on the shriimp and catfish served at the Arena (which looks much better on TV than in person, btw), reassuring the nation that the seafood was safe (let’s not forget, the city and the state suffered a major setback with the oil platform disaster, reinforcing the “poor little ole NO” image).

    You have many Hornets players talking about how much they love the city. Chris Paul is always shown as a kind of “mayor.”

    I personally made three trips from the Bay Area to watch the Hornets last year and loved every minute I spent in New Orleans. It was, is, and always will be one of America’s most unique and wonderful cities.

    Now let’s play some ball this November!

    • 42

      August 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

      As far as the rebuilding goes, that is tied to the population. We had excess housing and commercial space due to decades if slow movement to the suburbs, like many cities, so we were down to like 2/3 of the pre-K population after the first year. After 5 more, we cut the drop in half. As the people come back, there will be reuilding, but it won’t all be fixed up until we get ahead of the pre-K population due to folks filling up preciously empty and new housing (people building ‘up’ in new apartments to allocate the elevation costs over a larger grouo, making it more affordable).

      ‘Getting back’, to me, is not as important as ‘going forward’. The social systems and culture here, as in other places, is dynamic . . . Losses happen, memories remain in honor, but the new day is embraced. So it’s been for 293 years.

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