Feeding Businesses and People

Food, generosity, community service and entrepreneurism: so many of New Orleans’s best traits are all coming together in a successful new enterprise.

 

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


At its best, entrepreneurism achieves numerous goals beyond simply creating successful businesses. From building community to supporting other businesses, the benefits of many enterprises accrue well beyond their immediate founders.

Few new ventures manage to spread the entrepreneurial wealth to the extent of the recently launched Meals Dressed with Love.

In part, the impacts reflect the array of partners involved in this initiative, providing both resources and context for it. The largest of these is the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), which provides funding through its Resilient Corridors Initiative (RCI). This program focuses on seven historically disadvantaged, underinvested neighborhoods around New Orleans, offering technical and marketing assistance to businesses within these areas.

“RCI was originally birthed as a COVID relief program,” explained Greg Lawson, senior vice-president for strategic neighborhood development at NOLABA. “We felt it was important to sustain what businesses we have in these corridors.”

Particular emphasis is given to businesses owned by women and people of color, and to food, technology and bio-science enterprises. As the city emerges from the pandemic, the program is evolving from survival to, in Lawson’s words, “developing growth strategies for these businesses.”

“I’m always surprised at what organically happens when you put the right people in the room,” observed Lawson, who said this was key for Meals Dressed with Love.

RCI had identified better food-delivery options as vital to supporting restaurants in the corridors, which led to conversations with BypassLines. A local, Black-owned business with national reach and partners, BypassLines serves restaurants with everything from technology enhancements to shipping and delivery.

One initial focus of this collaboration was helping restaurants digitize their menus and add the capacity to accept online food orders.

Also joining the conversation was Darren Cook, founder of My Mogul Media, a local branding and marketing agency, also Black-owned. Cook is a New Orleanian through and through, having attended St. Augustine High School and Xavier University.

“I’ve always been a natural-born entrepreneur,” he said. “I started my first business when I was 13 years old, collecting Mardi Gras beads after parades and selling them on eBay. I’ve been able to realize my dream, so I began asking, ‘How do I uplift others? How do I pave the way for their success?’”

When Hurricane Ida compounded the COVID-19 challenges for both businesses and residents, Cook saw an opportunity to support both through something that is truly at the New Orleans core: food. He conceived Meals Dressed with Love as a way to get nourishment to people in need, while bringing new business to restaurants struggling with diminished customer bases.

The basic premise of Meals Dressed with Love is simple: via its website, anyone anywhere can order gift cards and/or meals from participating restaurants. However, the idea is not to order for one’s self, but instead to order the food for another person.

“This could be a family member or a friend going through a difficult time,” Cook elaborated. “It could be a thank-you gift or even a holiday gift.”

Cook brought the concept to NOLABA, and the partnership blossomed quickly. The alliance’s support enables restaurants to join the program free of charge, including installing their digital capacities. BypassLines provides that technology and coordinates food delivery.

“Not only does it put me in front of new and potential customers,” said Sinnidra Taylor, owner of participating restaurant Crazy Waffle Bar, “it helps me to advance our business values. Starting a business and keeping it going in New Orleans is harder than most cities, and this is one more thing to help me sustain.”

Two immediate growth targets for the venture include adding the capacity to purchase meals for deserving strangers — most likely in partnership with local nonprofit organizations — and expanding the concept to Atlanta. From there, the ultimate objective is to go national.

 

Keith Twitchell’s blog, “Neighborhood Biz,” appears every Thursday at BizNewOrleans.com.

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