Three Entrepreneurs Share Why They’re Betting on New Orleans

Three entrepreneurs share why they have no qualms about betting on the city’s future.

The negativity surrounding our city right now seems relentless, from local media to neighborhood listservs to our new governor, who seems to think New Orleans is on the brink of complete failure.

Opinions are one thing, investments are another. And plenty of new enterprises are launching right now, suggesting a very different view of the local landscape. I spoke with three of these entrepreneurs recently to get their take on why things are better than some would have us believe.

Bernard Stolberg is the principal, CEO “and occasional dishwasher” of OnePack Hospitality Group. Formed in 2017, OnePack operates seven restaurants, including the newly opened Lower Garden District establishment Crack’d. A native New Orleanian, Stolberg’s career has been “in the hospitality space.”

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“From the business side, what gives me confidence is New Orleans is not going anywhere,” he observed. “It goes through rough times, it goes through cycles, but it always comes back.”

Stolberg hears the naysayers but feels there is plenty of capacity for turning things around.

“We are our own worst critics, but our culture is very strong and who we are is very strong: one of the most diverse, interesting cities in the world,” he said. “This is a democracy, and if things aren’t working, we have to change them. There are good ideas out there, things that can be done. We can get back on track and we can focus on business. We’re all in this together.”

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Rosa and Seth Dunlap are the founders of Merchant House, a collaborative guild of local vendors selling vintage furnishings, décor, clothing, and jewelry. Merchant House occupies two warehouses on the 1100 block of Magazine Street which have been recently renovated from light industrial to retail and commercial space.

The Dunlaps moved to New Orleans 12 years ago, leaving jobs in Chicago’s corporate world and bringing experience in both the antiques business and historic renovations.

“We truly believe in the long-term potential of this city,” stated Seth Dunlap. “New Orleans will always be here and there will always be people wanting to invest in this city. If someone is looking for a short-term capital gain, that is not so likely here. You have to be able to persevere, to adapt, to be nimble.”

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While there is plenty of criticism of the government infrastructure for business, Dunlap found it considerably better than Chicago.

“There is nowhere else where you can find a partner like the state of Louisiana or the city of New Orleans to guide you in historic preservation,” he noted.

For Rosa Dunlap, the cultural environment is also paramount.

“There’s nowhere like New Orleans,” she said. “It’s a singular place on this planet.”

Andrew Bell will be the general manager of a new restaurant being developed at 3125 Esplanade Avenue by renowned Charleston, South Carolina, chef Brooks Reitz. Opening in late spring, it will combine local and regional cuisine with the cozy atmosphere of an English pub — something that Bell, who is English, knows a little about. He also looks past the negativity to see the opportunity.

“You hear stuff, you read stuff, but I see beyond that,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are attractive about New Orleans from a business standpoint. It’s one of the last great American cities.”

Bell first experienced the city in 1994, while a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and in his words, “It has been a special place for me ever since. I love the history, the food, the music. People all over the world want to come here, and it will always be a vibrant place for a business. I see a lot of investment in the city.”

Seeing the big picture is the common thread among these entrepreneurs who are putting their money on New Orleans.

“We’ve doubled down,” affirmed Stolberg. “We’re going to be strong no matter what. From the long perspective, how can you not be positive about New Orleans?”

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.

Keith Twitchell

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