NEW ORLEANS — Last month, the iconic city-owned St. Roch Market was on the verge of closing, the victim of empty food stalls, slow business and maintenance issues.
But two weeks ago, a last-ditch effort to breathe new life into the St. Claude Avenue food hall was approved by the city.
One of the market’s original vendors has agreed to take over the lease that had been held by Will Donaldson, who operated the Bywater neighborhood anchor since its celebrated post-Katrina re-opening in 2015.
Kevin Pedeaux, who owns and operates CR Coffee at the market, said he is fulfilling a long-standing desire to make a mark in the neighborhood that he now calls home.
“Done deal. I'm operating St. Roch Market now. What a cool opportunity!” Pedeaux said with his typical unbridling enthusiasm.
“I've never thought in my life I'd be in control of the destiny of one of the most iconic buildings in New Orleans,” he said. “What a privilege. It's amazing.”
Micah Martello, a former vendor, said he is so excited to see Pedeaux take the reins of the market, he is now eager to return.
“Kevin really is the driving force behind this. He has talked about this for years,” Martello said.
The 140-year-old institution is the second-oldest public market in the city next to the French Market.
When he took control of the market two weeks ago, Pedeaux said his first mission was to bring back some of the market's original vendors. Not only did he accomplish his goals, it took just a few phone calls and a few hours.
“We've put two new vendors in,” Pedeaux said. “And I've got a gauntlet of different vendors who want to come in.”
Tung Nguyen, who was a hit with his T-2 Street Food booth at the market, is now back at the market as a pop-up and he’s brainstorming a permanent new stall.
And he's in good company. Tina Clark, who grew up in the neighborhood, jumped at the chance.
As a teenager, Clark made po-boys at the market when it was a sandwich shop before Hurricane Katrina. Now she's serving New Orleans staples like raw oysters and red beans as Genevieve's Food., named after her grandmother.
“The St. Roch Market is where I grew up at, with everybody around here,” Clark said. “I know most of the neighborhood people. Like I said, my mom and my dad still stay on Mandeville Street.”
Martello, who previously operated Fete au Fete at the market, wants to be next. He said he and Pedeaux are brainstorming their next culinary concept.
“We're excited about the possibility of coming back,” Martello said. “It's an institution. It's part of New Orleans. It's got so much history. For me it would be a shame for it to not exist.”
Among the new features, Pedeaux said he will be adding more take-home grocery items, ranging from staples like milk to specialties such as exotic spices and infused olive oils.
As the newly minted manager goes over his long to-do list, he said his top priority, however, will be the addition of more hungry customers.