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)


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