NEW ORLEANS — “Help Wanted” signs are beginning to go up at a growing number of New Orleans restaurants.
There are indications the industry is finally starting to rebound after a rough year crippled financially by the pandemic.
Wednesday, lunchtime customers lined up outside of Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar on Iberville Street, waiting for a table.
Restaurant general manager Anthony Saltaformaggio sees the French Quarter coming back to life.
“It's been picking up every day, every day we come in, it's getting better and better, especially on the weekends,” Saltaformaggio said.
Restaurants were decimated by the pandemic that led to government-ordered shutdowns.
With new Coronavirus cases way down in New Orleans and COVID vaccinations on the rise, the city’s hospitality industry is now poised for a comeback.
Felix’s and other area restaurants such as Blue Oak BBQ near City Park and G W Fins in the Quarter are hiring again.
“We had about 170 employees, right now we're sitting on about 40,” Saltaformaggio said. “A lot of our employees left town and never came back.”
The new COVID Relief bill set aside close to $29 billion in grants to help restaurants recover from the pandemic.
Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) President Stan Harris says the grants come at a good time as businesses try to rebound.
“I think there's going to be a very quick run on the bank for these funds as soon as the SBA puts the rules together,” Harris said.
According to the LRA, about 20-to-25 percent of the restaurants and bars in New Orleans closed their doors during the pandemic. Harris says many of those businesses are not expected to return anytime soon.
“We know this is going to be a long time in this recovery,” Harris said. “Our airport lift is down. We don't have any cruise lines. We don't have any international flights coming in and out.”
But Harris agrees business is beginning to pick up for the first time in more than a year.
“We’re looking for a positive fall and winter, moving into 2022,” Harris said.
Back at Felix’s Saltaformaggio has high hopes for the future.
“If we can get some more employees down here, get the people rehired in here we'll be doing great," he said.
New Orleans restaurants are now allowed to have 75 percent of capacity seating under the city’s current reopening guidelines.