Skipped Over

by Benjamin Patterson

Celebrations should be what businesses live for, not die from. Throughout its two-hundred-year history, Mardi Gras has given the New Orleans small business community an annual sigh of financial relief. Despite all the problems that may erode residents’ spirits throughout the year, local businesses feel they can rest easy knowing that their most significant period of profit is just around the corner. However, some of these businesses didn’t feel as lucky when they saw their best money-maker literally passing their street instead of turning around that corner. 

Endymion’s opening float greets the mass of spectators on Canal St. (Photo by Ben Patterson)

“I want them to come back,” said Natalia Nekrasova, Streetcar Café’s general manager. Krewe du Endymion’s sudden audit of its parade route had drastically affected Natalia’s business, which, for the past five years, operated directly on the St. Charles portion of the route, where it sat among the lustrous grandstands. There, the krewe would turn onto Poydras, beginning their home stretch up towards the Superdome. Now that turn won’t come until 2026 due to the Superdome’s renovation, police staffing issues, and float sizes. As one of the three ‘super parades’ that preside over Mardi Gras, Endymion never fails to draw in thousands of spectators with their extravagant floats, 3,000 plus riders, and seas of spectators. With its control over the masses, Endymion truly lives up to its ‘kingly’ namesake, and like the devilishly handsome Greek ruler, Endymion hypnotizes us by hurling its shimmering throws and strobed lights at our faces. We then become slaves to the spectacle, far too mesmerized to notice the amount of damage it could cause to the people that it skips over. Before the change, Natalia claimed that her restaurant/bar usually made about 70% of its yearly earnings during the parades alone, serving as the “hurricane money” that they use for slow months and emergency cash.

“You promise your servers and bartenders, ‘Mardi Gras is coming! We’re going to make all the money!’, and then you see that the parade isn’t here, or it’s moved somewhere. It’s devastating.”

For businesses like Natalia’s, Endymion’s parade route usually has a huge impact on her customer traffic, earnings, and especially preparation. “This [Mardi Gras] is the time that we prepare for months,” she said. Staffing and pre-ordering for such a big event always causes a lot of stress and confusion for Natalia, and now that the route has changed, she finds that all her planning was pointless. Her deliveries can’t be canceled, unused food spoils, and suppliers offer zero refunds. Although the usual mounds of gold from the parade hadn’t burst through Natalia’s doors this Mardi Gras, Streetcar Café could still push through. Nevertheless, Natalia’s worries would not end there, because on top of her restaurant’s decreased profitability, she also has a community of Ukrainian refugees desperately trying to make money and assimilate into the US on her payroll .

“For me as a manager,” she said, “it is extremely important for us not only to make money as a business, but we have to provide for these people [her employees].”

This is the unseen world of Mardi Gras. The internal bleeding. Its wood rots underneath a gilded exterior of neon-colored floats and celebratory cheers. So who’s to blame for such a hidden crisis? According to Natalia, the actual cause of this bullish blow to her business can be traced back to the city and krewe officials. 

 “That’s what I do not appreciate about the people who are in charge of this city, everything is always last minute,” she explained. “You know, [like] how we were threatened 2 or 3 months ago that we weren’t going to have a Mardi Gras due to shortage of police? This is something that frustrates you as a business owner, that you never know when they’re going to change their minds.”

Natalia is one of many business owners along the Endymion parade route who’ve suffered from the city’s lack of decisiveness, but the chain of Mardi Gras dread goes a bit deeper than management. Wendy, who currently works at Daisy Mae’s Southern Fried Chicken on Poydras St., has been a waitress in the CBD area for about twenty-two years and claims to be a “server baby,” coming from a long line of waiters and waitresses who’ve served patrons for decades. For Wendy, Mardi Gras is all about customer volume. Since she has to provide for her wife and three kids, tips are essential, which is why she’s working about “14 to 16 hours, maybe 18” daily during the Mardi Gras season. Endymion, according to Wendy, “used to be one of our most profitable parades, and now it doesn’t even pass,” and is “nothing like it was 5 years ago.”

Wendy claimed that the usual Mardi Gras busyness wasn’t ever a problem due to her years of experience as a waitress. However, she did mention that there is a certain technique to serving during the Mardi Gras season, which involves constantly walking on eggshells around the customers. If she keeps a customer waiting or makes a mistake in their order, she won’t get a good tip. To survive, she was prepared to walk a thin, wavering tightrope for Endymion spectators, yet she never even got the chance because of the route change.

Throughout the five years since opening Streetcar Café, Natalia stressed the importance of being a “repeat business”: a name which not only assures the legitimacy of New Orleans’ local businesses but also filters them out from the pool of undesirable tourist traps. “If people aren’t going to come back for us, we’re suddenly a tourist trap and not going to have them again,” Natalia said. This is the fear that Natalia, Wendy, and all the other New Orleans’ restaurant workers have when parades like Endymion skip over them. They feel forgotten, ruled out as some minor establishments looking to make a quick buck off tourists, but in actuality, they just want to survive by mixing a little bit of themselves back into Mardi Gras. Someone like that shouldn’t ever be passed by. 


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