Restaurant industry boosts New Orleans' economy

(CBS News) NEW ORLEANS - The Super Bowl has put the spotlight this week on New Orleans. The city's cuisine is world-famous and it has played a major role in bringing New Orleans back to life after Katrina.

When Katrina hit New Orleans, Scott Boswell knew he was in a fight for his restaurant's survival.

"We're fighters," said Boswell. "And we kept putting our head down, everyday we'd get up, figure out, and we'd get through it."

So he started by having his French-trained chef fire up the grill -- the owner of a five-star restaurant was selling burgers. He even bartered with the National Guard for fuel.

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"People did things out of the box," said Boswell. "We had to."

He served a dozen people his first day, was up to 500 a week later, and never looked back.

"We had a $5 burger, potato chips and a drink," said Boswell. "It kept us alive."

It was a model for the entire industry here. New Orleans had 809 restaurants the day before Katrina hit. There are 1,332 now -- this in a city that lost a quarter of its residents.

"It's a miracle, isn't it?" said Tom Fitzmorris, a New Orleans restaurant critic about the irony. He's so passionate about food, he wouldn't take a break from his daily radio show to explain the expansion -- he did it on the air.

"When we started eating like that again," said Fitzmorris, "when we even getting local seafood again, we said, 'You know? Maybe it'll going to be all right.'"

At 53,000 jobs, the restaurant business is now the largest private employer in the city. It generated $3.2 billion in sales in Orleans Parrish last year.

"The comeback is no longer a comeback," said Boswell. "It's just a matter of, 'Okay we've come back, we've made it.'"

A thought worth toasting here...where business is smoking.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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