This story appeared in the December/January issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
I’m a Preservationist
OWNER, CR COFFEE SHOPS • OPERATOR, ST. ROCH MARKET
Historic St. Roch Market was on the verge of shutting down in August after a brutally slow summer and years of pandemic losses. Faced with that prospect, you took over full management of the food hall operation, even though the market’s tough economics remain daunting. What inspired you to step up now to keep the market open and what do you think it needs to connect more with the community?
When I learned in August that St. Roch Market was on the brink of closure, I was fully aware it was a pivotal moment for something way bigger than me. Another boarded-up building in our city, a constant reminder of what could have been, was hanging in the balance. My wife, Ashley, and I had many discussions about this. Our three children were born in the time span of us operating the CR Coffee Shop stall at St. Roch, and for Ashley, losing the market would be akin to losing a family member. Since 2015, CR Coffee has been more than just a vendor at St. Roch; for us it’s a part of our family’s story. I also see the market as an invaluable platform for emerging tastemakers in New Orleans. For them it requires minimal start-up capital, but an immense desire to succeed. I believe a blend of former successful tenants and enthusiastic new vendors will create a recipe for revival, stirring up a diverse array of delicious offerings.
Built by the city in 1875, St. Roch Market served its surrounding neighborhoods for decades before Hurricane Katrina. It shut down after the storm and finally reopened in 2015 after the city renovated the building. Your company, CR Coffee, has been a vendor there since 2015. What first attracted you to the market?
The history of St. Roch Market and its role as a community centerpiece captivated me. Since its establishment in 1875, it has been a gathering point for small businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods. Its 2015 post-Katrina reopening gave us a chance to contribute to a rejuvenating community we were living in. Ashley and I at the time were living in a shotgun house the PRC’s Operation Comeback program restored in the Holy Cross Neighborhood. My journey in wholesale coffee roasting, which began in 2009, found its perfect niche within the market’s walls. It was an opportunity to sell my fresh roasted coffee directly to customers, either as take-home retail bags or as freshly brewed beverages, right in the heart of the market. I did then — and still do believe St. Roch Market is crucial for a vibrant St. Claude corridor.
Why do you think the modern food hall concept has struggled in New Orleans?
ll concept has often stumbled, with few examples in certain cities standing out. St. Roch Market, I believe, holds the potential to be one of these rare success stories. In a city celebrated for its rich and diverse culinary heritage, any food space worth its salt must mirror this authenticity and diversity to truly resonate. It needs to be about showcasing the culinary talents and innovations of those who live in and create in New Orleans today, just as treasured dishes such as gumbo once emerged from the unique blend of cultures in our city.
For too long, we’ve seen the same familiar offerings dished out to tourists, but this approach won’t sustain (in my opinion) New Orleans much longer and for sure not St. Roch Market. We must resonate with the needs and lives of people living in New Orleans today who will shape its future. Success for St. Roch Market lies in nurturing the next wave of New Orleans cuisine. It’s about transforming the market into a culinary crucible, much like a grandmother’s cherished stockpot, bubbling with potential and flavors that could meld the next 300 years of New Orleans culture. If you believe in this vision, I need you to come by from time to time and enjoy a meal from the amazing culinary talent in the market. What we’re trying to do will take time, and time is money. For St. Roch Market to survive, it needs to be way more than a food hall; it needs to be a culinary business stockpot where the future of our city’s gumbo is simmered, seasoned and served.
Switching subjects, as a coffee roaster and coffeeshop owner, what’s your favorite way to brew and enjoy a cup of coffee?
Oh, how I like coffee really doesn’t matter. My favorite thing to do with coffee is to brew it up in ways that bring joy to other people. Having the knowledge of coffee and how to manipulate it in ways that excite people is a great gift. Watching other people enjoy their coffee while they share a conversation with others is my favorite way to brew and enjoy coffee. Now, I’ll quit dodging your original question. I enjoy a standard filtered drip brew from a good well dialed in commercial or home coffee brewer. Drinking fresh roasted coffee is key. I always personally drink the coffee black, as this allows the natural flavors and aromas of the coffee to shine through. But you do you! It’s your cup of coffee. Enjoy it in a nice, quiet, serene setting, or with friends — however you enjoy it is up to you.
Finally, what does historic preservation mean to you and why is it important for the city’s economy?
To me, historic preservation is about honoring and soaking in the legacy of our past while making it relevant and sustainable in the present. It’s a way to keep the spirit of our city alive, ensuring that future generations can experience and learn from what came before them on these very streets. Preserving historic sites like St. Roch Market not only safeguards our cultural heritage but also plays a crucial role in the city’s economy by attracting tourism and by being a fertile ground to bloom new creative businesses. St. Roch Market is a physical time portal that connects our past to our future, adding depth and character to our community.