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25th April 2016

By Charmaine Jackson
Contributing Writer

 

The grand opening of the Dryades Community Public Market marks yet another wave of revitalization for Central City's Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

Formerly named Jack and Jake's Public Market, under the leadership of CEO John Burns, the market debuted to the public with its new name, new leader, CEO Daniel Esses, along with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, members of the New Orleans City Council, and key leaders and contributors to the market project, during the pasta ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 14.

After Esses, also a well-known chef of The Three Muses restaurant, took over the project, he decided a name change was in order. "Jack and Jake had meaning to the person who named it that, but it had no meaning to anybody else," Esses said. In search of a new name, Esses said he looked for "something the community could get behind and understand." Esses said the new name now makes more of a statement and symbolizes a new beginning.

Located in the old Myrtle Banks Elementary School building, the 32,300-square-foot space consists of three floors. The first floor includes an array of groceries that cater to the diverse community. "You look at our shelves and it speaks for themselves. It is a melding of different societies and different diets," Esses said. Fresh and seasonal produce, a meat and seafood section, prepared foods section, both hot and cold, an oyster bar, pasta bar, indoor dine-in and outdoor patio seating, with Wifi-availability are featured in the market. Local and seasonal favorites will also be available for purchase. Zapps, Leidenheimer, Zatarains, Feliciana Dairy, and Happy Hen Eggs are some of the local brands shoppers have from which to choose.

"We know what people like and we know what people want and we have those choices for them," Esses said. "We will expand the selection of locally-produced product when we understand what people want," Esses said.

The market has created 45 jobs. So far, 35 of the positions have been filled to-date and 10 more positions are expected to be filled by the end of April. To stay connected to the community, Esses says there will be a neighborhood outreach position. The process will be selective, according to Esses, as he wants to choose the right person for the job. "That person's job is going to get out in the neighborhood and be our eyes, ears, and voice, but more ears than voice because we want to hear what people want," Esses said.

In an effort to cater to the community, the second floor of the market is dedicated to community outreach. There is a space to host community events, live entertainment, and cooking demonstrations. One of the goals of community outreach is to produce programs. "It's really important to get to the kids," Esses stated. Planning field trips to farms so that kids know where their food comes from, is just one of many ideas Esses would like to see come to fruition.

A combination of private and public funding was provided to make the market's development possible.

"A lot of people did a lot of work to get that funding for us to develop the building and the business," Esses said.

The Fresh Food Retailer Initiative (FFRI), which was established in 2011 to open, renovate or expand retail outlets in areas of the city that lack fresh food access, granted the market a $1 million loan, with a forgivable amount of $500,000. In addition to that funding, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), awarded $750,000 to the project, through their Commercial Corridor Revitalization program, which provides funding for catalytic projects, to key commercial corridors in New Orleans.

"One of the most important things for us is that this country have the public and private sector willing to get involved in this kind of a business to help us do what needs to be done in cities like Central City and New Orleans," Esses said.

Now that the market's new name includes "community," Esses' believes there is a duty to service the community as a whole.

"To me, I feel that there are definitely mandates and that the money was given to us for specific reasons, not just because we said we were going to do it," Esses said. Working with non-profits and community organizations, to conduct classes and educate the community on healthier living, as well as buying from farmers of color are just a few ways he intends to engage the community. He's already partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank to host cooking demonstrations and Jericho Road to educate about home ownership.

"We're not trying to make a dollar on every transaction. We want to be more than a grocery store and everyone on our team is fully committed to our mission. It's not easy, but nothing ever really is," Esses said.

This article originally published in the April 25, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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