A Passionate Year


My early work background is in the arts, with almost two decades of employment at the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center. I know hundreds of artists whose passion perpetually pumps through their hearts. Now I am a social worker and I see how passionate my colleagues are about their clients and their causes.

But I always thought small business owners were dull, pedestrian and only concerned with making cold hard cash. Oh, how this past year changed my mind. I met and wrote about some of the most passionate people I’ve ever known.

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There was Leora Madden, owner of Pearl Wine Co. who took on a second job because construction around her business stymied her sales for months. “It was the only way I could make it work to keep my baby alive,” she said.

Some took the big step and opened a new business last year. Eric and Leah Jensen turned home brewing, a beloved hobby, into a successful new business. With infinite passion, a solid business plan, the perfect Bywater property and hours and hours of hard work they saw their dream blossom into Parleaux, a microbrewery and taproom.

There were family businesses like Vieux Carré Hair Shop owned by Lynn Highstreet and her brother Bob Saussaye. It’s a 140-year old business started by Eugenie Saussaye, their great-grandmother. “We’ve all worked here for 40 years,” Highstreet said.  “This is all we know, this is our life and we love it.”

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There’s also Steve Sintes, co-owner of his family business Sintes Boat Works, who starts his day the way he’s started every day for the past 42 years.

“I drink my coffee as the sun rises over the yard and I think about how blessed my life is,” he said. “I think about the boats I’m going to get to work on that day and just how lucky I am to have this job, this life.”

And there was Rollin “Bullet” Garcia who owns Bullet’s Sports Bar. For more than 20 years Garcia’s been a respected community leader and his bar the conduit for juicy gossip, comprehensive Saints analysis, legendary music, grassroots activism and down-home hospitality. It is the heart of his 7th Ward community.

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Some businesses are only part-time but they’re still fueled by full-time passion.  GinaWare! Costumes & Clothing appears the second Saturday of every month. This blissful place offers chilled mimosas and spicy bloody marys to its customers. Owner Gina Cristina doesn’t bank lots of money but she loves what she does. She’s thrilled that the store just pays for itself.

I met with young entrepreneurs selling their wares on Lemonade Day and 89-year-old Bruce Hirstius who owns and manages the Storyville Jazz Band, which among other gigs performs at all the New Orleans Saints home games. “I do it because it’s fun,” he said. “If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. People always ask me when I’m going to give all of this up and I say, when I get old.”

The biggest thing I discovered is every business I visited had their own story of passion to tell.  

My self-sabotaging procrastination, the same procrastination I am sure frustrates my editors often finds me driving around the city looking for a story at the very last minute.  

One day, moments from my deadline, I cold called Mike’s Hardware and found two brothers, Mike and Rob LaFleur, who were keeping the business their father started alive and well. They were funny, engaging, savvy and passionate. Once they even came close to starring in a national reality show all about their quintessential New Orleans hardware store. Who knew?

My favorite quote from all my interviews this year came from plumber Wayne Encalarde, owner of WJE, LLC Mechanical Contractors. The interview was over and as I was walking away on a gravel path in the depth of City Park where he and his crew were finishing up a job, he yelled out:  “When the job’s nasty I just say, ‘It smells like dollars.’”

This past year, sharing the stories of these many small businesses has been beyond rewarding. I look forward to sharing some more stories from the passionate people who make up the very backbone of our economy.

If you know any passionate small business owners please share them with me, and Happy New Year to all.


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