The movable letters on the sign several feet off the ground have not been disturbed by the winds of Katrina or the whims of vandals.
It still carries the same message it had on Aug. 29, 2005: “ORDER TODAY FRIED TURKEY OR HAM DINNER.”
Another sign attached to the building also touts the restaurant’s fried turkeys, a holiday favorite. On Thanksgiving morning, people would line up early at the Vazquez family’s eatery on Franklin Avenue across Filmore Avenue from the old Milne Boys Home. The smart customers would have ordered ahead, but the staff would still be taking new orders that morning.
The place had been popular among members of the military. It was not uncommon to see people in uniform sitting at the tables since it wasn’t far from Guard and Reserve facilities on Lake Pontchartrain near the Industrial Canal.
Police also were regulars, as well as federal law enforcement people, especially after the FBI moved its headquarters to a new building near the University of New Orleans’ baseball stadium.
Vazquez’s building and its signs still stand today, but the business never returned.
Across the street there are more storefronts, but they too show the marks of the economic stress that Katrina and the flooding left behind. Until the storm, there were a couple of restaurants that had been familiar to UNO students since at least the 1960s.
There was Teddy’s Grill, with a statue of a black bull high on a signpost, and a po-boy joint called The Bakery. The bull is still there, but neither restaurant returned after the storm, and several other businesses have been in and out of those locations over the last decade, trying to make a go of it but usually failing.
With all the talk of New Orleans being a new hub of entrepreneurship since Katrina, there are parts of the city where the engines of commerce are still sputtering.
Not far away, on the corner of Filmore and Elysian Fields avenues, things seem slightly better than at Filmore and Franklin.
New Orleanians who don’t recognize that intersection by name most likely remember when it used to house Lawrence’s Bakery, owner Lawrence Aiavolasiti being better known as “Mr. Wedding Cake.” He had already been out of the business for years when he died in 1999, and another bakery had taken over the spot.
That bakery is gone too now, with still another one in its place. A Chinese restaurant seems to be doing well enough to have moved from one small spot in that strip shopping center to a larger one there. But other restaurants and stores that tried to make it after Katrina are gone, and two retail spaces now house a dollar store and a national pizza-chain outlet.
Across the street, a large empty lot marks where a service station used to be.
Look around parts of Gentilly and you see more and more of the same — empty lots, a few national chain shops replacing old local family businesses like the Ferrara’s and Zuppardo’s supermarkets.
This city’s recovery in the decade since the storm has been remarkable. But a lot of us know, or can feel, that something was lost along the way, that we left too much behind that we will never get back.
Cities are always changing, even slow, sleepy New Orleans. In some parts of town, like Gentilly, change seems too slow. In other parts it’s happening so fast that people are worried we may lose the very thing that gives the city its identity, its essence.
Either way, Katrina’s scars cut deep, even 10 years on.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.