Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The problematic sandwich shop

Eat at Melba's

Y'all have probably eaten at Melba's at least once by now. It's very good. They do po-boys and plates and stuff. The gumbo is really good. The ordering system is a bit of an adventure but once you figure it out it's fine. There should probably be more places like it. But there's a lot that goes into getting even something seemingly so modest off the ground quickly.  Melba's has been open for only a couple of years but has gotten a lot of attention. This can only happen for a family business if it starts with a fair amount of financial and political capital already in the bank which these guys certainly had in spades as this 2015 profile explains.
Melba’s is the latest venture for Scott Wolfe Sr., the grocer who made Wagner’s Meat into a household name in New Orleans, even for those who never shopped at his stores, thanks to its potentially blush-inducing slogan: “You Can’t Beat Wagner’s Meat.”

Wolfe and his family also created the Chicken Box (slogans: “Tastes Like Mama’s” or, at some locations, “Tastes Like Ya Mama’s”), a related chain of takeout joints that had a short but colorful run in the years before Hurricane Katrina. This was the company that once offered to put on weddings for couples who bought its 1,000-piece chicken package to cater their receptions.

After shifting to real estate development in the years after the storm, Wolfe quietly returned to the retail game in 2012. That’s when he first opened Melba’s, turning a vacant drycleaners on Elysian Fields Avenue into a 24-hour combination po-boy shop, daiquiri shop and washateria.

More recently, the menu has expanded with a steam table selection of New Orleans comfort food, boiled seafood and, as he’s resurrected the Chicken Box brand, fried chicken (the 1,000-piece package is available, though the wedding offer is not). More is on the way, including urban gardens Wolfe plans to develop on adjacent lots, an outdoor event venue and some 500 birdhouses he wants to distribute around the city bearing a Melba’s sales pitch.
The high profile cuts both ways, though.  The Wolfes found this out after a TV crew showed up at Melba's to get some man-on-the-street takes from customers about the Great NFL Kneeling Controversy of 2017.
What brought the crisis to Melba’s, however, was a comment from the manager on duty at the time. Mike Wolfe told WWL-TV that he didn’t want to show the Saints game if players protested in that way.

The restaurant’s Facebook page lit up with angry comments, accusations of hypocrisy from a white-owned business based in a largely black neighborhood and calls to boycott Melba’s.

But Scott Wolfe, the owner of Melba’s, said his brother's comments amount to an employee of the company expressing a view that doesn't represent the business and is at odds with its character.

“What he said was not the opinion of Melba’s, it wasn’t my opinion, and it’s not how we operate here," said Wolfe. "I know it's confused a lot of people, but the people who know us know that's not what we're about."
"It wasn't my opinion." Okay sure, we'll just have to take his word for that.  Still, as long as the business isn't deliberately involving itself in the stupid boycott movement, they at least deserve credit for that.   It's pretty nice for them that they have the kind of pull that gets the Advocate to help them with their PR response, though.

I had to go to the other news"paper" to find this story.
The owner of 821 Gov. Nicholls St. is now challenging the city's enforcement of a ban on short-term rentals in the French Quarter in a lawsuit on the argument that what's being purchased is catering services -- not a short-term rental -- because the free night's stay is merely an optional bonus.

Despite the lawsuit, a city administrative hearing officer Wednesday (July 12) fined property owner 821 Gov Nicholls LLC $3,000 for six violations of the city's short-term rental ordinance. Officials showed a VRBO.com listing for "Melba's Mansion" during the hearing.

Scott Wolfe owns Melba's Po-Boys on Elysian Fields Avenue through the company K-Ville Market LLC. Wolfe said the Governor Nicholls property is owned by his family through 821 Gov Nicholls LLC.
The "Po-Boy party" farce isn't just some uh.. lone.. Wolfe.. action.  It's actually the beginning of a larger, concerted effort by the Short Term Rental lobby to further confound efforts to regulate their activities. 
Eric Bay, the director of the pro-short-term rentals group the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, appeared in an adjudication hearing with attorney Eric Torres to answer an enforcement action against a French Quarter short-term rental. Short-term rentals are illegal in most of the French Quarter under an ordinance that the City Council that took effect on April 1.

Bay does not own the short-term rental that was cited for operating illegally, and he insisted he does not represent the owner. But his appearance before the city's adjudication panel over a clearly illegal short-term rental raises fresh questions about how committed the organization is to complying with the city's short-term rental law.
Bay and his group practically wrote the ordinance.  It was their side who showed up in force at City Council to lobby for its passage.  But now they sense a political opportunity to press even further in the direction of full legalization. In order to do this they're pouring money into the municipal elections.  Gambit reported last month on some of the campaigns who have received money from Bay's group, Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity. ANP emails to members explicitly state that candidates, "have pledged to work with us" presumably in their efforts to expand STRs during the next term.

The council candidates named in that article have had to publicly backtrack and even return donations in order to keep up appearances. Gambit doesn't say anything about the mayoral candidates [THIS IS INCORRECT SEE * BELOW]
Cantrell also got $1,100 from the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, a local group of short-term rental property owners, and $2,500 from the Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Airbnb’s political action committee. Shachat said Cantrell has not given any assurances on what her policy on short-term rentals would be if she’s elected, other than to say that it would be “open, fair and transparent.”
As we've noted previously, Cantrell has demonstrated through her words and actions that she doesn't believe Airbnb is really all that much of a problem.  Wonder how she came to that conclusion. In any case, despite their reporting on the council races,  Gambit must not think STRs are all that much of a problem either. They've endorsed Cantrell for mayor, after all. Maybe they thought she was just talking about po-boys or something. Either way it's good to have friends in the media, whatever it is you might be trying to sell.

* This blog is a piece of trash sometimes.  Here is what Gambit actually wrote in that article.

ANP’s other campaign donations include:

- $1,000 to Ramsey on May 11 and $250 in June 2016.

- $100 to District B councilmember and mayoral candidate LaToya Cantrell on Feb. 2 and $1,000 on May 24.

- $500 to At-Large Councilmember Jason Williams in June 2016 and $250 in November 2016.

Bay also made donations to Cantrell ($250 on Feb. 2) and District A candidate Joe Giarrusso ($250 on Sept. 2). Giarrusso contacted Gambit after this story initially ran to point out he returned Bay's contribution the same day it was made
Here's a little behind the scenes look at how this crap blog gets made sometimes. I read that Gambit article weeks ago and bookmarked it in here.  Later, I noticed Melba's was in the news vis a vis the Trump bullshit, remembered Wolfe and them were running the po-boy airbnbs, and thought I could put all of that together.

So I put all the bookmarks in a post and saved it for a while. Over the following days and weeks I came back here and wrote a few lines at a time about what I thought I remembered this  post was supposed to be about.  Usually I write while two or more people are talking to me and/or the TV is on. I'm actually typing this correction right now while listening to a mayoral debate.  I have severe Trump brain. It's a wonder any of these sentences ever come to a complete.......

Anyway, by the time I "finished" this post I had forgotten enough of the Gambit story that I ended up misrepresenting it (and snarkily so, even.)  Sorry about that.  I still think they shouldn't have endorsed a candidate in this terrible race, although that is a separate matter from what they published in the Airbnb story.

No comments: