St. Roch Market, the most controversial place to get a kale salad in New Orleans, has seen its share of critics as it bears the brunt of being the conduit for conversations about gentrification in that neighborhood and beyond. Todd A. Price, food and drink guy over at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, sat down with the operators of St. Roch Market, Will Donaldson and Barre Tanguis, for a conversation addressing those critics, and discussing the market's role in the neighborhood.
Here's some excerpts from the interview.
On the criticism that what the neighborhood really needed was a regular grocery store:
Barre Tanguis: We definitely hear that a lot. This space, with new health codes, can't be a full-blown grocery store. There is just not enough storage. For these small businesses to start up and depend on retail margins, it is tough. That's why we've blended (prepared food and retail sales). They can serve food and still sell, for example, some fish. On St. Roch Forage, the market's small, easy-to-miss-on-your-way-to-mac-and-cheese produce retailer:
Will Donaldson: Two weeks ago, we had a woodworker who is from this neighborhood build us that produce horseshoe (in the middle of the entrance). Now when you walk into the market, you get hit in the face with the produce. We saw an immediate jump in sales of produce. Will they ever accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits?
WD: We always intended to open with SNAP. We applied for SNAP. As with many things about this project, it's a little bit different. We're operating with this idea of independently owned businesses inside of a greater business. But we share an occupational license. We pay sales taxes as a group. For all and intents and purposes, from the government's perspective, this is one entity and we're subcontracting to other people. What hung up our original application to SNAP is that it's a whole different federal entity, the USDA, that oversees that approval and they didn't really get it. We had to do a lot of work with them. BT: One of the mandates of the city was that this would be a multi-vendor market. If Will and I owned the thing outright, SNAP would be here.
WD: Our application has been re-submitted and is complete. I anticipate we'll have it by the end of July.
On the complaint that the space is "too fancy":
WD: This notion of 'fancy' comes from the beautiful, historic renovation that the city accomplished before we even showed up. I don't know that it's fancy, as much as a throwback to how beautiful architecture could be. People aren't accustomed to that. On what the St. Roch neighborhood will be like five years from now:
WD: I think the blighted commercial spaces are going to get built out. Right now, it's a little bit of a desert for commercial activity in this neighborhood, because nobody has jumped out and planted a big flag. But the city did everybody that favor with St. Roch Market.
Head on over to NOLA.com for the rest of the interview.
· St. Roch Market operators answer critics, share their vision [NOLA.com]
· All St. Roch Market coverage [Curbed NOLA]