In its natural habitat of shopping malls and concourses, the food court is set up for convenience and speed, offering a spread of ready options.
Transport the idea of a food court to a particular New Orleans neighborhood in the midst of change, however, and put a nonprofit business development group in charge, and you have something different. In the case of Roux Carre, it’s a food court designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs take a step up in the burgeoning business of New Orleans dining.
Roux Carre is doing this with gumbo and po-boys, with jerk chicken and curried shrimp, with pupusas and ceviche, with market salads and crab cakes, and with sno-balls and juice. It’s doing it with a little music, some drinks, and a one of a kind setting. And it’s doing it by pairing the impulsive appetite for quick bites with something bigger.
Roux Carre just opened recently in Central City, along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, the neighborhood’s long-tattered commercial stretch that lately has been getting a new shine with a clutch of businesses and cultural attractions taking root.
It’s the latest project from the local nonprofit Good Work Network, which has long coached women and minorities as they build their own businesses. The group’s overarching goal is a more inclusive economy. The food world is a new realm for its services, but it’s clearly an area that’s growing and where New Orleans people show a lot of talent and potential.
Thus was born Roux Carre, which stands as a cluster of boxy, colorful stands facing a recessed courtyard. With strings of lights suspended above, and the occasional band performing on a small stage, Roux Carre looks a bit like a street party, and the vendors’ stands resemble parked food trucks, with awnings popped open for walk-up service.
The first vendors starting out here are as diverse in their food as they are in the backgrounds. There’s Miriam Rodiguez, who for years oversaw the acclaimed ceviche service at the restaurant RioMar. Sadly, RioMar closed, but at Roux Carre she has her own business, called the Pupusa Lady, serving flavors of her native Honduras. Estralita’s Café has flavors from closer to home, namely the Creole staples of gumbo, red beans and sweet potato pies that Estralita Soniat has long served in Westwego.
The popular pop-up Splendid Pig now has a home base at Roux Carre, serving chef-designed, market-fresh dishes with a modern edge, and Roux Carre is also a first fixed address for Johnny’s Jamaican Grill, a food truck known from the late-night street food scene for its vivid island spice. Roux Carre even hosts a second nonprofit, the Youth Empowerment Project, a Central City group that helps young people reach their potential. From their new food court stand, these kids are serving juice and sno-balls, and they’re learning the ropes of running a business.
The idea is that no individual vendor will stay at Roux Carre permanently. The plan is to build a brand and a following and branch out from the nest. Then that stand opens up for a new entrepreneur on the way up. It's just getting rolling, but if this model works, a food court offering this kind of changing options could become a real fixture.
2000 O.C. Haley Blvd., New Orleans