Fusion and evolution.
Located in NOLA’s St. Roch Market, Charly Pierre’s Fritai is a beloved part of the city’s culinary scene. Combining Creole and Haitian cuisines, Fritai’s made Zagat’s 30 under 30 and netted Charly a 2018 appearance on the Food Network’s Chopped. More importantly, Charly provides opportunity to his community by staffing up Fritai with folks from underprivileged backgrounds and getting them a foot in the food industry door. All in all 2020 was looking pretty rosy, but that changed with frightening speed. “At first, I was taking it day by day,” he explains, “but within a week of things accelerating, the market was emptying out and I decided to close.” Few industries have been harder hit than restaurants, so Charly immediately set out to adapt.
Initial shock, initial steps.
At first, Charly kept a skeleton crew together and offered takeout, but he soon realized that wouldn’t be feasible. “Our sales dropped about ninety percent,” he recalls, “and I just thought I should send my remaining staff home so they can be safe, and I could use this time to rethink some operational stuff.” What made this even more painful was that closing fell right when the annual Jazz Fest takes place. It’s a citywide event that nets businesses an abundance of revenue while bringing New Orleans together to celebrate the music for which the city is known. “At first they were saying they’re going to push back Jazz Fest to October,” he says, “but now they shut everything down for the whole year. So, no major events, nothing in the city for the whole year. It’s crazy.”
Giving back and taking part.
Of course, NOLA is no stranger to adversity. Or comebacks. Not long after Charly closed, the Red Beans Crewe contacted him. A group of performers who hold a Lundi Gras parade, they’d joined together to form the charitable organization Feed the Front Line NOLA. Partnering with nearly fifty local restaurants like Fritai, they took the donations that poured in and provided over 60,000 meals to doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients. “Luckily they had space for me, and they’ve given me a lot of work,” Charly says, “I’m making eighty to a hundred meals a day.” Fritai also supplies meals to Feed the Second Line, a sister organization which aids artists, musicians, Mardi Gras Indians and other NOLA cultural figures. “The good thing about the city is that it’s really good with being resilient. We suck as being preventative, but on the back end we come together and help out.”
We’re watching neighborhood businesses close one by one, so a great thing a resident can do is support them. Keep the money in your community.CHARLY PIERRE
Next up on the menu.
Charly is starting to plan for a time when he’s able to fully re-open Fritai. For now, he’s ramped up take-out and delivery, albeit on a smaller scale. “Most of the people who are picking up are my regulars. So, it’s really nice to see them and they’re just so happy to have the classic dishes.” Being in St. Roch Market also helps. “If I was across the street from the market in my own place,” he says, “I’d be paying four grand a month.” With all these ups and downs, Charly does see a silver lining, both for himself and the community. “I’ve never been in my home for three days straight,” he laughs, “and it’s important for me to learn that I can breathe, take stock, and be in touch with family in a way I wouldn’t be if this hadn’t happened.”