Community organizes rooftop festival to revitalize retail area
kari dequine harden
New Orleans bureau
November 17, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Atop a shuttered, graffiti-covered building that once housed a Schwegmann’s supermarket, a partnership of community organizations formed to put on a food truck/drive-in movie festival on the roof of the vacant building at the corner of Broad and Bienville streets in Mid-City on Friday evening.
From Satsuma-glazed pork empanadas and grilled goat-cheese, grape jelly and applewood-smoked bacon croissant sandwiches to fried catfish plates and sweet potato pies, about 10 food trucks parked along the perimeter of the rooftop for the Broad Street Food Truck Festival and drive-in movie screening of the Thanksgiving-themed “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”
The smoke from the BBQ truck rose up into the chilly fall air, filling the sky with the smell of slow-cooked meat. A small sliver of a moon hung above the backdrop of the brightly lit buildings of downtown that could be seen from the rooftop, dimly lit by the food trucks’ compact kitchens.
The event was hosted by the Broad Community Connection, an organization devoted to the revitalization of Broad Street as a mixed-use corridor.
In July, the 4-year-old nonprofit organization became a co-owner of the building, which was most recently home to a Robert’s Fresh Grocery prior to Hurricane Katrina. The group plans to open the facilities in the latter half of 2013 with multiple tenants centered around a fresh-food grocery store.
Broad Community Connection’s executive director Jeffrey Schwartz described the “organic diverseness” of the surrounding neighborhoods, but said that with 40,000 cars passing through each day, said there were “a lot of great businesses” but not nearly enough.
“It’s kind of a forgotten street, but it goes through the heart of the city,” board member Keith Twitchell said. “We see a world of potential where others might see an aging urban landscape.”
Barrie Schwartz, director of the MyHouse event-planning group, organized the festival. She said the location was perfect for a food truck festival, while also bringing attention to an often overlooked, underdeveloped part of the city.
Schwartz also works in a food truck and plans other events with the city’s growing number of mobile culinary entrepreneurs. She said she is optimistic about future reforms of the restrictive laws governing the food trucks in New Orleans.
“I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t change,” Schwartz said of the laws. “They are very outdated.”
City Councilwoman Stacy Head, who has been advocating for better food-truck legislation, was one of the event’s supporters.
Schwartz said she loves the food truck culture because of the diversity of the customers, the diversity of the owners, the international variety of the food and the low overhead that makes the business accessible to more women and minority owners.
More festgoers continued to wander up the dark ramp at the side of the building, lining up at the trucks for a bite before hitting the town or settling in with a steaming plate in time for the 8 p.m. movie.
The location has hosted three other movie nights, also hosted by the participating NOLA Drive-in group.
But the main draw, many of the attendees said, was the food.
Uptown resident Louise Klala said she heard about the festival from friends and enjoyed the variety and adventurous dishes often found at food trucks.
Originally from Maine, Klala said she was particularly excited about the Canadian–inspired Poutin she had just ordered, described on the chalkboard attached to the truck’s side as “beer battered French fries covered in roast beef debris gravy and cheddar cheese curds.”