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New Orleans business owners keeping city’s tourism, live music and food industries alive

Posted at 9:38 AM, Mar 19, 2021

The fabric of New Orleans is made of a fusion of sound and flavor, a feeling you’ll only find in the Louisiana city.

When you walk into Lil Dizzy’s, you know you've found it.

“You haven’t tasted fried chicken until you’ve tasted this fried chicken," said Wayne Baquet.

For more than half a century, Baquet has been an institution in the food town.

"When you say the Baquet name in New Orleans, everybody knows it," he said.

Lil Dizzy’s was one of the first to reopen after Hurricane Katrina, but 2020 brought a different kind of challenge.

“The minute all of this set in, I decided then, because of wearing masks and my age and the time that I put in it, it’s over, I’m done," Baquet said.

Baquet decided to retire and close Lil Dizzy's last March.

“We had a buffet before. Those days are over," he said.

Baquet’s son and daughter-in-law, Arkesha, reopened Lil Dizzy’s in February, ready for an era focused on social distancing.

“We decided let's do everything in to-go containers, so that way when a person finishes eating, their food is dumped, the table is sanitized, all chairs, whether someone sat in the chair or not," Arkesha said.

When the pandemic hit, tourism leaders estimate New Orleans lost more than $200 million in visitor spending a week.

For Mardi Gras this year, homes were decorated like floats since COVID-19 canceled the traditional celebrations.

At one of the city’s famous live music venues, Tipitina’s, pay-per-view virtual shows have helped keep the lights on since in-person concerts aren’t allowed.

"There’s talk, ‘oh maybe you can get a few dozen people in here.’ That would be nice, but there is no way a place this big could earn enough revenue to keep going," said Tipitina's general manager, Tank Greenberg.

The venue rented out space to a coffee shop, started a record club and has relied on government money to make it to this point.

“In the long run, we’ll look back and think that was a really tough time. If we can do that, we can do anything," said Rich Vogel of the band Galactic, which owns Tipitina's.

While the crisis isn’t over, it isn’t too soon to reflect on the journey, one that’s been powered by creativity and confidence.

“If you do it right and you have the experience and the knowledge from somebody who can tell you how to do it, you can't lose," Arkesha said.