Week in Review, May 17-21: Breeze Airways, Kingfish and Popbar

NEW ORLEANS – However reluctantly, it’s time for New Orleans to say goodbye to Brees … and hello to “Breeze.”

Breeze Airways, the new U.S. carrier from JetBlue founder David Neeleman, will launch service this July from New Orleans to 10 destinations. The low-cost startup, headquartered in Utah, will focus on flights between smaller U.S. cities that don’t have direct service from larger carriers. In total, it will offer 39 nonstop routes between 16 cities.

“We created Breeze as a new airline merging technology with kindness,” said Neeleman in a press release. “A staggering 95 percent of Breeze routes currently have no airline serving them nonstop.”

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Breeze will start with up to nine daily departures out of the new Armstrong Airport terminal’s Concourse A. Local officials said that the airline will make a capital investment of $6.6 million at MSY and will create 261 new direct jobs, with an average salary of $65,000. Flight crews, maintenance staff and aircraft for the routes will be based here.

Here are more of the week’s top business stories.

Booze, Treats … and Boozy Treats

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On Thursday, local officials celebrated the grand opening of Kingfish Cider, a micro-distillery and tap room located at 355 Iris Avenue in Jefferson. Owned by Colleen Keogh and named in honor of infamous Louisiana politician Huey P. Long, Kingfish makes alcoholic cider from apples, pears and other local ingredients. The facility’s tap room has a vintage, Prohibition-era vibe. “I’m very excited that my vision has come to fruition,” said Keogh in a press release. “I’ve worked towards this goal for years and there have been many obstacles to overcome. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the assistance I received from the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission.”

Meanwhile, the first New Orleans location of New York City-based frozen treat franchise Popbar will celebrate its grand opening next Wednesday, May 26 at 207 N. Peters St. in the French Quarter. The shop currently is open for a limited number of hours each day during a “soft launch” leading up to next week’s events. Popbar features popsicle-style frozen treats made with handcrafted gelato, sorbetto and yogurt. “We’re overjoyed to be bringing our favorite, all-natural, customizable treats to New Orleans,” says Oanh Nguyen, the shop’s operator. “We’re so grateful for all the love and support. We look forward to serving our community with all things sweet.

Speaking of treats … and booze … two Chicago-based investors – Granite Creek Capital Partners and Clover Capital Partners – have announced an investment in Big Easy Blends, the 14-year-old, Elmwood-based company that manufactures pre-mixed frozen alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages in portable pouches. The products – basically single-serve slushies you can keep in your freezer – are sold in grocery stores and convenience stores nationwide. Big Easy Blends was founded in 2007 by Sal LaMartina, Craig Cordes and Antonio LaMartina. The partners said they will use the infusion of cash to increase production capacity, expand sales and marketing efforts, and invest in product development initiatives. “Granite Creek started its active collaboration with our team even before closing,” said LaMartina, the company’s CEO. “From business development referrals to supporting our facilities expansion plan, they have already established themselves as engaged and helpful partners.”

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We’ll Miss You, Messer

Quentin Messer, president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance — the official economic development organization for the city of New Orleans — has officially resigned his position and announced he will begin serving as the CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on July 19. “It was an incredibly challenging decision,” said Messer. “I didn’t sleep all weekend.” Messer will spend his last day in office at NOLABA on July 1, six years to the day from his first day on the job. Under his leadership, NOLABA has racked up a long list of wins in its focus areas of business attraction and retention, small business development, strategic neighborhood development, and talent and workforce development. One of the most recent accomplishments was the May 4 announcement of the receipt of a $400,000 grant to support phase two of NOLABA’s Resilient Corridors Initiative — a partnership with the City of New Orleans designed to support businesses and commercial corridors deemed most vulnerable to disasters like the current pandemic.

Upriver Excitement

Louisiana’s economic development office announced that the Walt Disney Company is about to begin filming a $40 million live-action movie this June in Baton Rouge. The futuristic teen adventure, titled Crater, will debut on the Disney+ streaming platform. The production will be based at the Celtic Media Centre, near Bluebonnet Boulevard and I-10, and on location throughout the greater Baton Rouge area. The state said the production, part of a “flurry” of film work in Louisiana, will employ 325 crew members and 400 extras. Notably, 15 movie and TV projects are in production or pre-production in the state at this time. In 2020, Louisiana Entertainment, a division of Louisiana Economic Development, certified nearly $430 million in production spending, including more than $157 million in Louisiana resident payroll, for projects enrolled in the state’s Motion Picture Production Incentive Program.

Also in Baton Rouge, software development company King Crow Studios, which specializes in virtual reality training and video game development, said it has been awarded a $6.5 million federal contract to support B-52 pilot training over the next four years. The contract comes after the company collaborated with the United States Air Force to develop a custom virtual training solution that creates “digital twins” of aircraft and equipment. The tool saves money by allowing B-52 pilots and mechanics to learn procedures before interacting with physical aircraft. “We are excited to continue collaborating with the Department of Defense and Air Force to use mixed reality training solutions to increase safety, productivity and efficiency for pilots, maintainers and support staff,” said King Crow Studios Founder and President Cody Louviere in a press release.

Slightly closer to home, Louisiana Sugar Refining has announced plans to expand the operation of its 207-acre facility in Gramercy, La. to meet increasing customer demand. The site is a joint venture between Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners Inc. – an agricultural cooperative known as SUGAR – and Minneapolis-based private global food corporation Cargill. The partners hope to increase capacity, improve packaging capabilities, add more rail tracks and expand loadout operations to move product more quickly. “We’ve been able to creatively engineer our available space to increase efficiencies and reliability of most, if not all, of the plant’s components,” said Larry Faucheux, CEO of Louisiana Sugar Refining, in a press release. “With investments in people and new equipment, new integrated control systems and now the infrastructure, LSR has the potential to be the first U.S. refinery to process 1.5 million tons of high-quality raw sugar. This investment is a testament to our commitment to driving continuous and future growth of LSR.”

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