This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is an annual festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans.
New Orleans has long been lauded as a city with an eclectic mixture of cultures and influences. So many of the things that we adore about the city are a result of people who came before us from around the world, and put roots down here. Much of our city’s history traces back to its early days as a bustling port city. In the 1800’s, New Orleans was home to the second largest port in the United States. Immigrants that settled in New Orleans brought with them cultural elements that have become staples here.
Many of these immigrants fled war-torn countries, economic turmoil, and persecution, and were forced to adapt to a new world, overcoming language and cultural barriers. Yet they embraced those challenges and have become a part of what makes New Orleans a wondrous city. We can’t help but wonder if the resilience that the people of New Orleans are so well-known for is rooted in that history.
And many became entrepreneurs by their own right as they established businesses in New Orleans, bringing us so many of the staples and traditions that we love today.
From cultural icons, to rich traditions, foods and markets, we explore and celebrate how immigrants past and present have helped make New Orleans a city like no other in the world.
Editor’s Note: This is not an all-inclusive list. That would be wayyy too long! If there is something you love about New Orleans that is not included, please join the conversation and let us know on Twitter or Instagram @hellonoew or on the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week Facebook Page.
Folks looking for a place to get a jerk chicken fix know that this hub for Caribbean food and culture in Mid City is the spot. Less apparent than other cultures, but equally significant is the influence of Caribbean immigrants on New Orleans’ past. During the 18th and 19th centuries, New Orleans dominated the Caribbean as the most active port city and trade destination for vital crops like sugar cane, fruit, rum and tobacco. In the early 1800s, about half of New Orleans’ population consisted of Haitian immigrants who fled the island after the Haitian revolution. Thousands of immigrants arrived from the Caribbean following the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804.
Photo: Ian McNulty
Middle-Eastern food lovers rejoice and find an array of fresh olives, spices, grape leaves and more at this delightful Middle Eastern market and bakery in Gretna. Owned by brothers Bilal and Mohamad Zugayer, Crescent Market is frequented by members of a small but substantial Palestinian community settled mostly in the surrounding neighborhoods. During the first Intifada in the late 1980s, many Palestinians fled in what became known as the Palestinian Diaspora. Like many other immigrants, they followed family and friends and established their own communities on the outskirts of the city. We especially love the fresh and delicious dates you can find at this neighborhood market. Our favorite home chef says go for the bright green Orlando grape leaves if you want to try your hand at making these . For the second closest thing to home-cooking, locals also favor nearby Cleopatra’s for fresh hummus and shawarma sandwiches.
Dong Phuong Bakery
We love the plentiful and fresh seafood that fills our plates at just about every meal in New Orleans. We can largely thank Vietnamese immigrants, many whom fled to America in the mid-1970s to escape the incoming Communist regime at the end of the Vietnam War. A large number settled in Louisiana and recent figures makes our city host to the largest, most vibrant Vietnamese community in Louisiana. Relying on their native skills at shrimping, many of them established businesses that support the seafood industry. Much of the community is settled in New Orleans East. Perhaps one of the best arguments for that is this modest, 30-year-old bakery tucked away in New Orleans East. The journey to the East is well worth the Bahn Mi sandwiches, a Vietnamese twist on the classic French po’boy for just around three bucks. You can’t beat that. We’ll take that with a Vietnamese cold drip coffee, s’il vous plait.
Photo:Mary Grace McKernan
This historic restaurant in Treme was the meeting place for music and entertainment and civil rights and is overseen by Leah Chase, known as the queen of Creole cuisine. Locals know that on Holy Thursday before Easter, Chase’s long-time tradition of the first seating of the annual gumbo z’herbes, her dish made with a variant of greens including mustard greens, collard greens, red Swiss chard, beet tops, cabbage, carrot tops, spinach, kale and watercress. The term “Creole” has varied meanings, depending on who you ask. Early on, the term was used in reference to free people or to people of mixed racial heritage. After Louisiana was transferred to American control in the early 1800’s, white descendants of the French and Spanish who lived in New Orleans adopted the term to distinguish themselves from other Americans. One notable Creole was Bernard de Marigny. An eclectic mix of free people of color, artisans, and immigrants also lived there. Today, the neighborhood called the Fauborg Marigny is the colorful center of New Orleans bohemia. (Source: New Orleans Online)
Photo: Cheryl Gerber
Perhaps you’ve lounged on Bayou St. John and admired the beauty of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church at the Greek festival, or maybe your mouth waters at the sight of calamari and baklava. The Greek influence in New Orleans can be traced back to colonial times, when a wealthy merchant named Michael Dracos arrived from Athens in the 1760s and married a local woman of Acadian and Native American lineage. The maritime-driven boom of the antebellum age paved the way for a larger, permanent community based on Greek shipping tycoons, who held an interest in New Orleans for its prevalence in the cotton trade. Today, Greek culture is best displayed at Greek Fest, a lively springtime festival in New Orleans. We sure are glad they stuck around. Kali Orexi, as the Greeks say. Or as the French would say, Bon appetite!
There’s two things that the Irish love—beer and rugby. And you can find plenty of both at Chef Matt Murphy’s Irish House. On Saturday mornings, Irish rugby fans gather for fish and chips (with a few glasses of Guinness, of course). An early wave of Irish immigrants, fleeing British persecution at the end of the 1700s, landed in New Orleans and integrated into the city. They started arriving in significant numbers as famine began to drive them out of their homeland in the 1820s. Several thousands of Irish immigrants were critical in building the New Orleans basin canal, and sadly 8,000 thousand lives were lost to malaria, yellow fever and other diseases. Today, you can still see much of the Irish influence throughout parts of the city including the French Quarter, the Irish Channel and downtown New Orleans.
Photo: Cheryl Gerber
Locals relish king cake during carnival season but some prefer the French style galette des rois that can be found in a handful of places throughout New Orleans including La Boulangerie. There, you’ll find a crispy top layer and flaky layers of puff pastry that enclose the dense almond cream filling. The French were arguable one of the most influential group of all immigrants to settle in New Orleans. Because the city founded and settled by the French, it developed a different lifestyle than other cities. Even after the city’s relationship with France came to an end, the French attitude at the heart of the city’s culture was the framework upon which New Orleans built its own traditions. The most obvious example of that is in the Vieux Carre (Old City), or French Quarter, but that influence can be found in other places too. La Nouvelle Orléans was named in honor of the Duke of Orleans, France’s ruling regent at the time. (Source: New Orleans Online) So next carnival, pay homage to the city’s French roots, and have yourself a slice of this divine desert with a café au lait.
Photo: Dinah Rogers
Every year, members of the southeast Asian community gather for Navratri, a vibrant and colorful celebration of the Hindu festival of nine nights, dedicated to the glorification of Shakti, the feminine form of the Divine. Newer to the city’s landscape is this small and tight-knit community nestled mostly outside of the city in Kenner. Some of the earliest known South Asian settlers in North America were from the regions of Punjab and Bengal. A number of Muslim Bengali peddlers first arrived in New Orleans and later integrated with communities of color in cities like Detroit, New York, and Baltimore. Locals looking to satisfy their taste buds with authentic dishes like samosas and tandoori chicken visit spots like Nirvana uptown. But to get authentic Indian cuisine without all the frills, you’ll have to venture all they way out to Kenner. NOLA Desi is our go-to spot.
Located in one side of a double-shotgun house in Mid-City, this neighborhood tienda Hispana serves up sweets, coffee, and food. Following hurricane Katrina, New Orleans experienced an influx of Latin and Hispanic immigrants—many of them settling in Mid City, and others on opposite sides of the city center in Gretna and Kenner. Owner Norma Lopez, a Colombian native who moved to New Orleans in 2002, an her husband tend to a steady flow of customers for services ranging from temporary ID cards, car registration, tax preparation and money transfers. (Source: Gambit Online) Stop in for a strong coffee, a pastry, and if you’re fixing for some fresh food fast, dip into the prepared foods. Drinks aren’t the only thing we love to have “to-go” here.
Photo: Ian McNulty
You know those spicy, tasty crawfish tails we lust for in the springtime? We can thank Cajun settlers for that. If you make your way over to the West Bank and toward the bayous, you’ll find seafood joints like Perino’s with live, cooked and fresh seafood. The word “Cajun” derives from “Acadia,” a name used to refer to Nova Scotia and other Maritime Provinces in Canada where French immigrants settled during the early colonial era. Although the French Acadians stayed for several more decades, tensions between them and the British eventually forced them into exile. A few hundred Acadians ended up in French-speaking New Orleans a decade later. A rural people, most Cajuns didn’t feel comfortable in the city, and settled in other rural places in Louisiana. (Source: New Orleans Online) But we can still see the strong influence of Cajun culture throughout New Orleans today. Currently, we are patiently awaiting crawfish season’s full return.
Have you ever walked or run by this stand out monument downtown and wondered what it was? Designed in 1978 by renowned architect Charles Moore, the Piazza, is a monument dedicated to the Italian-American community and their contribution to New Orleans. Many Italian immigrants came to New Orleans from Sicily and arrived largely in the 1880s to escape a country that was battling corruption and crime. If you haven’t already, take a moment to have a look, and then stroll down to Central Grocery in the French quarter, (another Italian staple in the city) and have yourself a muffaletta and Italian soda.
Photo: Iolanda Bianchi
One of our favorite places to sip on a Sazerac, a signature New Orleans spirit, is at The Roosevelt Hotel, originally named the Grunewald Hotel after German immigrant, Louis Grunewald. German immigration into the port of New Orleans peaked in the 1840s and 1850s with tens of thousands arriving each year. Many of them moved on to western destinations, but New Orleans remained an important center for German life in the United States. The Civil War immediately halted all immigration to the city, and afterwards, German immigration slowed to a trickle because of yellow fever fears, more immigrants debarking in New York, and improving conditions in Germany. As a result of German persecution during and after World War II, the name was changed to The Roosevelt Hotel. It was in the original Grunewald Hotel, now the Roosevelt hotel, where the Sazerac, this quintessential New Orleans cocktail, became famous.
Do you love something about New Orleans that wasn’t on this list? Let us know in the comments below! And come celebrate all the entrepreneurs that help make our city thrive at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March!
Sources: NewOrleansOnline.com, New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Gambit Online