This story appeared in the February issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
Photo by David Schmit
Vance Vaucresson – President, Vaucresson Sausage Company
We’re excited to learn about your plans to renovate the building at 1800 St. Bernard Ave. What’s the history of that building?
I just received a phone call the other day from Resario ‘Roy’ Giangrosso, who’s now 80 years old and grew up in the building. The building was built in 1925 and housed his family’s grocery that his grandfather first opened. The family lived above the grocery, and in the years following World War II, Roy’s Uncle Angelo (Angelo’s Packaged Liquor) opened a liquor store next door, which now houses Danny’s Seafood. My dad bought the property sometime in the 1970s, and for a while, my dad rented the space out to Willie Earl’s Meat Market. After a while, my dad then decided to use the location as Vaucresson Sausage Company to process our family’s famous sausage. My dad always said he wanted to put his sausage in grocery stores, but was initially thwarted because of racist policies of the state’s Department of Agriculture. However with the processing plant, which was approved by the state in 1983, we were able to go from strictly retail to offering our products wholesale to grocery stores. Schwegmann’s was the first to give us a chance, and soon many other stores joined in.
Unfortunately, when Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures occurred in 2005, it flooded our location with seven feet of water, and since then we have been trying to get back home.
What’s involved in the renovation, and what are your plans for the building? Are you planning to apply for historic rehabilitation tax credits?
Actually, we’ve already applied for and are receiving historic tax credits. Basically, the renovation, which is pretty extensive considering the building was blighted for more than 15 years, will now house Vaucresson Creole Café and Deli. The café/deli will merge two of our past businesses — Vaucresson’s Café Creole, which was located at 624 Bourbon St., and our family meat markets, which were in the Seventh Ward — under one roof. Through our partnership with Crescent City Community Land Trust, there will be two permanently affordable apartments above the café/deli
Vaucresson Sausage Company has deep New Orleans roots, going back to Levinsky Vaucresson, a butcher who came to the city from France in 1899. Your family’s business has called the Seventh Ward home for 120 years and three generations. What does it mean to you to bring the company back to this location?
It means a lot for me particularly when I view our city’s redevelopment in the Post-Katrina years. We lost a lot in terms of our culture and our previous stock of Black-owned local businesses, and this return to the Seventh Ward is more than just my family’s return, but it’s also a potential renaissance for our Creole culture and serving the community. This will be a place where culture can be learned and confirmed, and it will also hopefully become a community destination for our residents and also for tourists.
When my father died from a heart attack on All Saints Day in 1998, the realization of that generational transference for me became a reality and a responsibility. From 1998 until Hurricane Katrina, it was about maintaining what had already been established, but in the subsequent years, it has made me rethink about my role. It had to become my interpretation of what this next phase of Vaucresson Sausage would be in a changing business environment. I believe that this café/deli will truly serve that purpose.
This past year has been particularly challenging for small businesses in New Orleans, especially restaurant owners. How is COVID-19 affecting this project, and what are your hopes once the pandemic is over — both for Vaucresson Sausage Company and New Orleans?
Anytime you plan a business that plan becomes organic and ever changing. And that has certainly been the case when it comes to COVID-19, and so far we’ve been able to adapt and move forward. The renovation is expected to be finished sometime in late 2021, so we are hopeful that by then we won’t be facing any real restrictions for the business. In returning and forming creative partnerships that allow for Vaucresson Sausage to again be a part of the Seventh Ward community, I think this has become a replicative model for cooperative economics that we need to see in other parts of the city.
Julius Kimbrough – Executive Director, Crescent City Community Land Trust, Co-Developer of 1800 St. Bernard Ave.
Tell us about the nonprofit Crescent City Community Land Trust (CCCLT). How did you get involved with Vaucresson Sausage Company?
Concerned community members started Crescent City Community Land Trust (CCCLT) in 2011 when more and more low-income New Orleans residents — families that had lived here for many generations — were being priced out of the city, a reflection of systemic inequities in our community and as a result of racist, federally initiated practices like redlining over generations in the realm of housing finance. CCCLT founders chose a community land trust (CLT) model because it ensures permanently affordable homeownership opportunities over time. Since then, we’ve expanded on the traditional single-family home CLT model to include permanently affordable commercial development, more robust community stewardship and housing advocacy.
We first met Vance and Vaucresson Sausage Company through our work on the Futures Fund loan vehicle with the Livable Claiborne Communities more than three years ago. Unfortunately, Vance didn’t qualify for a loan through that Fund, but CCCLT saw his experience, which is similar for many Black-owned businesses, as an opportunity to invest in his family enterprise and provide our expertise in order to further our mission of equitable development. Black business owners like Vance know the value of their land, but lack the access to capital to develop it, or in this case, redevelop it.
CCCLT was co-developer for the renovation of The Pythian building downtown. Did your work on that project influence what you’re doing with Vaucresson Sausage Company?
Without a doubt. The Vaucresson renovation at 1800 St. Bernard Ave. is a mini-Pythian that we’re bringing to scale in that neighborhood — a small mixed-use development common to all urban settings. Like the Pythian, we’re combining affordable housing with a business that has deep, cultural ties to the neighborhood. What that means is we can bring our knowledge and financial resources to bear to assist a minority-owned business to become a part of the change and wealth creation through real estate value appreciation occurring in their community.
Your father, Julius Kimbrough Sr., is a celebrated jazz entrepreneur and owner of the Prime Example Club on North Broad. (He was honored as a culture bearer at the PRC’s 2014 Ladies in Red Gala.) We were sad to hear that the Prime Example has now permanently closed. What are your favorite memories of the club?
Thank you for asking that. I have many wonderful family memories that took place at the Prime Example. Birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. In particular, I remember my cousin Stephen’s post-wedding reception that went on and on into the early morning. And then there were those great jazz moments and masters. I was there when local geniuses like Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton debuted some of their material at my father’s club. Seeing all those artists create and perform at the Prime Example was something special.
What does it mean to you personally to be involved with bringing Vaucresson back to its roots in the Seventh Ward?
Frankly, it’s an honor. I’ve walked these streets all of my life, and my father operated a pharmacy back in the day that was just six blocks from Vaucresson Sausage Company. My dad knew his dad, and although I never met Vance until a couple years ago, we share a lot of the same memories of place and community.
My whole career has been about finance, community development and real estate. And I’ve worked in these subject areas for businesses, government and now a non-profit. Funny, but it was on St. Bernard Avenue when I was a young man of 20 that I first had the kernel of idea about what my career would become. I remembered that about a year into this project. I hope that CCCLT and I have many other chances like this to give back to New Orleans.