Jimmy Pareil, legs weary but feeling no pain after three hours at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, yelled over the din to his buddy, Mike: “Meet me at the sausage tent!”
It was kinda like the old New Orleans saying, “I’m meetin’ my momma ‘nem under the clock at Holmeses!”
It’s a New Orleans thing. When folks say “sausage” at the Jazz Fest, you know they’re talking about the Vaucresson Sausage Co., the longtime family business in the Seventh Ward.
Forty-six-year-old Vance Vaucresson runs the third-generation business now. In fact, he IS the business.
And just like every year since the Jazz Fest opened in 1970, he’s there this weekend and he’ll be there next weekend, keeping the sausage-seeking crowd happy.
“When I was 2 years old, my parents brought me to the first Jazz Fest,” Vaucresson says. “My dad was running the business then, and our company has always been here. Never missed a year. I grew up and older here.”
Even after Hurricane Katrina flattened the Vaucresson sausage cookery and offices on St. Bernard Avenue, the family knew its famous product would be a presence in the spring of 2006.
“We lost everything,” Vaucresson says. “We were underinsured in a lot of areas. … My whole family relocated to New Iberia. Quint Davis (founder and director of Jazz Fest) called and asked if we would be there.
“I told him Vaucresson would be there.”
The family came up with a plan to partner with another company, selling franks at the fest.
“They were hurting, too,” Vaucresson recalls. “We figured we could both benefit if we joined hands.”
The partner was skeptical, but Monday morning after the 2006 fest, his freezer was empty.
“We did it. And the next week was the same. We’re third generation in the sausage business and I guess our name was well known.”
Vaucresson estimates that even a decade after Katrina, his business may be 20 percent of what it once was. But 16- to 18-hour days, persistence and “thinking outside the box” has the future of the Vaucresson Sausage Co. looking bright.
“I’ve got two brothers and they’re not really interested in the business,” Vaucresson says. “But I’m determined I’m going to make it work. Right now, I sell at a lot of festivals and making deliveries. I’m working on an entirely new business plan that includes a new website and a new marketing approach. “
With not a lot of coaxing, Vaucresson tells of how his granfather pioneered the business as a butcher back in 1899.
His father followed in his grandfather’s shoes and replaced the title “butcher” with “meat cutter.” “It was more politically correct,” he says.
In 1983, the elder Vaucresson determined that occupations like the corner butcher, er, meat cutter, were being phased out. That’s when he founded the Vaucresson Sausage Co.
“He died a few years ago and I’ve been running the business ever since. Did I have my doubts and actually think about getting out of this business? Sure,” says the Morehouse College business graduate, who turned down a job with the mega-giant Kraft Foods to stay in the family business. “But there’s family here. This business is part of the 7th Ward, part of New Orleans. You don’t just walk away from that.
“I look at the famous Circle Food Store. It was wiped out by Katrina, as were just about every business here. But they came back and another business came back and another.
“We’re back. Starting a little smaller than we were, but we’re back! And you know, nothing symbolizes New Orleans’ refusal to quit after Katrina like the Jazz and Heritage Festival. It’s a celebration of success! The kind of celebration only New Orleans can put on.
“Not a year has gone by since 1970 that New Orleans has not had a Jazz and Heritage Festival, and not a year gone by that Vaucresson Sausage has not been a big part of that.”