What to do on a New Orleans Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving serves as a time to gather together to be completely humbled and thankful for all the blessings and benefits of the past year. This is often done over excellently prepared meals, so it stands to reason that there’s no better city to gather for the celebration than New Orleans, Louisiana, and thanks to this excellently compiled holiday resource from NewOrleans.com, you’ve never been in a better position to enjoy the Crescent City in all its bounty.

Before we give an overview of the food offerings in the city on the infamous Thursday for those of us wishing to take the day off, sit back, and enjoy the world-class cuisine of the various chefs and culinary artists found in the city, you should know about the various Thanksgiving Day activities that are available city-wide this autumnal holiday season.

Particular events that are positioned to be a large draw on Thanksgiving Day are the horse races at the Fair Groundsand the annual Turkey Day Race at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park. Outside of athletic racing events, the New Orleans tourism site suggests digesting your Turkey Day meal with a carriage ride across the French Quarter so that you can learn about the elaborate history of the city. And of course, there are always plenty of movie theatres open throughout the city on Thanksgiving Day for those of us wanting to digest amidst amazing narratives and visuals.

However, if you prefer the holiday season that begins immediately following your Thanksgiving Meal, then you’ll be delighted to hear that Celebration in the Oaks will return to New Orleans City Park from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Thursday the 25th, and it’s set to last until January 2, 2022- with tickets costing $35. This annual holiday festivity is always heralded as a must-see of the New Orleans holiday tradition, as this incredible, breathtaking holiday light show transforms the already beautiful grounds of City Park into 25 acres of dazzling lights and impressive festive displays. In total, the winter wonderland is spread throughout the Park, Botanical Garden, Storyland, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park with millions of lights scattered throughout the 2.25-mile expanse.

Now it’s time for the food. On Thanksgiving, you’re essentially left with two options in New Orleans if you want to take the day off from cooking or organizing a family potluck: you can dine out or order catering from the many restaurants offering to do the cooking for you. If catering, some suggested favorites are Deanie’s Seafood, Mother’s, Brigtsen’s, Desi Vega’s Steakhouse, Blue Oak BBQ, Central City BBQ, and Cochon Butcher for your savory meals and Willa Jean, Bywater Bakery, Beth Biundo Sweets, Camellia Grill, La Boulangerie, and Levee Baking Co. for sweets.

Alternatively, if you’re planning to experience the classic and authentic New Orleans dining atmosphere, then you’re left with plenty of options for restaurants open in the city on Thanksgiving Day, leaving you more time to celebrate and less time coordinating, stressing, and planning.

It should definitely be noted that most of the city’s finer hotels offer excellent meals on Thanksgiving, but for those of us who want to enjoy a great meal “in-house,” then the following restaurants are set to be open on Thanksgiving and are recommended for a pleasant, decadent, and well-rounded experience.

Uptown/Garden District

Central Business District/ Downtown

The French Quarter

 Greater New Orleans Area

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New Orleans Entrepreneur Week to Return in Spring 2022

An event that is normally considered to be a vital part of Crescent City business culture, the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is set to return in March 2022, according to Nola.com.

New Orleans’s premier event for established and emerging businesses, the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, is set to return in accordance with all public health guidelines over March 21-25, and its return is being attributed to Idea Village, a self-described “accelerator” of small businesses. Idea Village provides a wide range of support for start-up and emerging businesses in the New Orleans area. In fact, they report a total of 286 companies participating in their accelerator program, and those firms have so far earned an estimated $367 million in combined revenue just in the past year alone.

The last in-person New Orleans Entrepreneur Week was held in 2019 when approximately 2,000 people gathered in the city’s downtown Ace Hotel to hear presentations on topics designed to inspire and create a new wave of successful South Louisiana business owners. The following year, the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but if all goes according to plan, then the decade-old NOLA event will return once more to an in-person gathering, offering local business owners the chance to learn from and network with local industry leaders.

CEO of Idea Village, Jon Atkinson, said of the event’s projected return, “not being able to convene in person for the last two years has been heartbreaking and we are optimistic about the opportunity to start getting people back together while also embracing all we have learned about hybrid and digital communication this spring.”

During a normally scheduled New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, Idea Village offers businesses several opportunities to advance the stake they hold in industry success by calling upon curious entrepreneurs to apply for the latest version of their accelerator program, as Idea Village is also known for choosing several early-stage technology-enabled companies each year that show high growth potential. After they’re selected, these companies participate in an intensive four-month program wherein they are taught financing and marketing lessons, mentored by industry leaders, and given the opportunity to network with potential funders.

The four-month program ultimately culminates in a “pitch competition” among the top three finalists with the overall winner receiving $50,000. The winner of the last NOEW pitch competition, RentCheck, the developer of an app that aims to smooth tenant-landlord relations, is now sitting alongside previous successful startups on Idea Village’s list of the “10 Companies to Watch.”

Though, if recent Accelerator program pitch competitions are any metric to go by, the most successful start-ups completing the program aren’t always the winners of the competitive pitch component.

One such company benefiting from Idea Village’s accelerator program was Levelset, a Louisiana start-up tech company that assisted people in the construction industry with contracts and bill collection. Last month, the 10-year-old company sold for a record $500 million to a California tech company, setting a new record sale for a Louisiana start-up company. CEO and founder of Levelset, Scott Wolfe, attributed part of his company’s success to Idea Village, saying, “after The Idea Village accelerator program, our company was unrecognizable. We became a more mature business post-program, with a clear understanding of our vision, mission, and values.”

Even though no in-person Entrepreneur Week was in session this past year, the accelerator program moved forward with an approximate dozen participating companies. These participants ranged from the eco-friendly company Youni Co. to the Bywater-based Culturalyst, which is an online network designed for creative types in the New Orleans area.

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Artists Stay Afloat with Mardi Gras House Floats

When New Orleans transitioned from traditional parades to house floats in an effort to celebrate Mardi Gras safely and responsibly, it created opportunities for Crescent City artists to find work in a year where that’s been hard to comeby, according to an article from The Times-Picayune and Nola.com.

One such group of artists thankful for the creative outlet is Stronghold Studios, as they’ve recently finished an extensive stint of building house float props for customers across New Orleans. Stronghold Studios is a perfect example of a quintessentially creative section of New Orleans, and this recent phenomenon of creating house floats has given a community of float builders, sculptors, painters, carpenters, and others craftspeople steady opportunities to work in a less than ideal (or profitable) year.

Stronghold Studios is owned by Coco Darrow and her husband Ian, and while they never intended to end up in the business of decorating house floats, they are more-than-thankful for the opportunity. While the studio typically produces movie props and party decor, their “bread and butter” is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Studio, located in Mid-City and founded by Coco Darrow’s father-in-law Bill Darrow produces the signage over the food booths at Jazz Fest as well as the musician sculptures that adorn the stages and festival environment.

The team of artists at Stronghold has also been behind some of the most impressive house float examples. Two iconic examples of the studio’s work are the St. Charles Avenue mansion that features a cutout of a vaccine syringe-yielding Dolly Parton as well as the second story cutout of Chef Lea Chase stirring a giant gumbo pot in Mid-City.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cancelation of Jazz Fest, parties, movies, and all other events that would normally supply the artists with work, Darrow and her husband began to consider closing the studio in December 2020. Then, just after thanksgiving, the studio received a call from the Krewe of House Floats, and they were given an opportunity to sell their leftover props and begin working on outfitting houses as if they were themed floats.

Darrow told The Times-Picayune that the unexpected flow of commission requests “was like getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor. We were really hurting. The Krewe of House floats saved us. We knew all the spring events were canceled. This place holder gave us solid ground to stand on.”

In no time at all, the studio was booked up with countless house float projects with homeowners coming to Stronghold with ideas, and the studio bringing them to life with their materials and expertise. In an unexpected miracle, the Darrows were able to rehire the nine artists who had previously been out of work since the cancellation of Jazz Fest. Many of the artists had been out of work since the start of the pandemic, but the house float phenomenon had brought them back into the game in January.

While building iconic house floats was a surprise this year, the Darrows reported that they wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t stick around and be an important part of the studio’s calendar in the future. Ian Darrow had said, “This was never a season for us, we were usually just waiting around for Jazz Fest.”

Coco Darrow said that Stronghold is already booking float jobs for 2022, and she’s quite confident that this newfound custom of house floats will continue. She even went on to propose that the city declare a sub-holiday called “Skinny Tuesday” wherein citizens can tour house floats on the Tuesday preceding Mardi Gras.

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Thousands Help Community Grocery

Burnell’s Market is a community grocery store located in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward; in fact it’s the 9th Ward’s only grocery store, and as told in a profile in The Louisiana Weekly, thousands have donated over $350,000 for its owner’s hardships.

The market’s owner, Burnell Colton, had told his story of his neighborhood’s struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic on NPR, which inspired James Carder from Colorado, who had never lived in New Orleans, to set up a GoFundMe fundraiser so that he could donate to Colton. Word spread quickly among friends, communities, and media outlets such as the Washington Post, allowing hundreds of thousands of dollars to be donated to this small community grocery store.

When asked about the reason for his donation, Carder stated, “what touched me was he made this place (Burnell’s Market) a focal point for his community. I think his story touched the soul of America. We want to help in times of trouble.”

In 2014, Colton spent his life savings to open Burnell’s Market, a local community grocery store, where it’s stood as a neighborhood oasis. Colton, a U.S. Army veteran understands the struggles of his neighbordhood’s residents, many of whom have been economically struck by the national pandemic. Making it easier for his community, the owner now lets customers buy necessities on credit and even gives away food for those in need.

“Before I opened, this part of the city was a food desert. The easiest way to get fresh produce was to take three buses to the Walmart in Chalmette,” Cotlon told The Washington Post. “I’m running out of some things now because it’s getting so tight. I’m low on rice and sugar, but I hustle to fill this store. I say to my customers, ‘Tell me what you want and I’ll stock it’.”

In another interview with PBS News Hour, Colton elaborated on his outpour of love and duty for his neighborhood. He described a scene of him hugging a grandmother who was brought to tears when her credit card was declined as she was purchasing food for her grandchildren. Colton simply record her amount owed and send her on her way with the groceries, no questions asked.

“This is my community…I can’t turn them down because there’s nowhere else for them to go,” Cotlon said. “I found my purpose and my purpose is service.”

Obviously this positive, supportive message struck a chord with Americans nationwide, as over 4,000 people have donated to the cause and shared the GoFundMe page on social media. SCrolling through the page, many positive, supportive messages from donors can be found.

One suporter, Claudia Santino wrote, Mr. Burnell is a living example of how this country and world will be a better place if we just cared a little more for one another.”

Another, Jerry Wilkes wrote, “Burnell’s selfless devotion to his community, his bravery in taking on this daunting task, and his never back down attitude made me proud to be an American – something I haven’t felt very often since 2016.”

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Five Unusual Things to do in New Orleans

In Louisiana, New Orleans is the place to go to experience a city that truly captures the essence of Louisiana’s culture and history. You’ll find jazz music at the corner of every street, epic gumbo festivals, tons of museums, haunted cemeteries, and of course, Mardi Gras.

But not everyone wants to check out the usual spots, or maybe they aren’t a fan of the crowds that usually populate local favorites. Thanks to Louisiana Travel, here is a list of unusual things to do in New Orleans.

Located in one of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods, you’ll find an arrangement of artist shacks and tiny homes, all built with recycled materials. If you go inside one of these shacks, you’ll find an assortment of handmade musical instruments built into the building themselves.

Their website states “The Music Box Village is a place where play, imagination, experimentation, collaboration, community and hard work come together as a whimsical village of artist-made interactive “musical houses.” Each installation is inspired by the unique musical and architectural culture of our home city of New Orleans, and represents a collaborative process between artists based here and abroad. Our one-of-a-kind art site hosts intensive artist residencies, performances, panels, and welcomes visitors for exploration and play.”

Established in 1772, this shop is named for Pierre Lafitte, a blacksmith and a brother of Jean Lafitte, a pirate, and hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The brothers used their shop to plan their many exploits. In the 1940s, the shop became a popular cafe with local artists.

Their website claims Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop to be “a gumbo of truth and French, Spanish, African, Cajun and American embellishments.”

So make sure to stop by and soak up some history when you’re in the French Quarter.

Have you ever been curious about Voodoo and its roots? If so, make sure to stop by this museum!

At the Historic Voodoo Museum, you will learn about the real history of Voodoo and experience Voodoo related artifacts and objects. The museum was founded in 1972 as a designated place for all things Voodoo to live. They claim they took “all the mysteries, the secrets, the history, and the folklores of rituals, zombies, of gris-gris, of Voodoo Queens and all that jazz, and put it all in one place at the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter.”

This warehouse-converted-art gallery features 35,000 feet of gallery space and is home to the up-and-coming artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums. Contrary to tradtional canvases, Odums paints powerful and hopeful murals on exterior and interior walls.

“Studio Be features “Ephemeral Eternal,” his first solo exhibition that includes over a dozen original murals, several room-sized installations, and reconstructed murals salvaged from #ProjectBe before the Florida Housing Development’s demolition in 2014. The studio is open to the public 4 days a week, and welcomes hundreds of visitors from near and far weekly.”

Located in the historic Tremé neighborhood, this museum is the only one of its kind in the world. Dedicated to the contributions of the city’s African Americans to New Orleans culture, the museum has become a collection of priceless artifacts from Mardi Gras Indians and jazz funerals, and has archived images of more than 500 related cultural events.

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Seven Tours You Can Take In New Orleans

What better way to get to know New Orleans than to take one of these tours? New Orleans is filled with rich culture and heavy history, so using a tour guide who is well versed with all the ins and outs of the city, coupled with a hefty knowledge of all the ‘ghosts of New Orlean’s past’, is a great way to see the sites.

Louisiana Travel put together these tours in New Orleans so you can get better acquainted with the Crescent City.

Step Back in Time: History Tours

New Orleans doesn’t have just any old history. This city has experienced it all – massive fires, cultural melting pots, a few spells, mischievous personalities, and so much more. If you know the right places to look, you’ll find that New Orlean’s past is represented all around you. Finding the perfect guide to enlighten you on the stories that are (literally) under your nose.

Eat Your Way Through New Orleans: Culinary Tours

Is it even truly New Orlean’s if there isn’t food? You can take one of many culinary tours that will take you to a few classic New Orleans restaurants and learning the history behind it. If you want a more hands-on experience, check out one of the city’s cooking schools, where you can try your hand at making jambalaya, corn and crab bisque, or barbecued shrimp.

Ride in Style: Carriage Tours

What better way to see the city than a carriage tour? Call for your carriage to pick you up from your hotel or head down to the Decatur Street side of Jackson Square and hop in! All you have to do is sit back in awe as your driver narrates stories from the French Quarter or Jackson Square.

Choose to Cruise: Riverboat Tours

Choose between the Creole Queen or the Steamboat Natchez and experience New Orleans history at it’s smoothest. Pick between a relaxing evening with dinner and a side of Jazz from the Dukes of Dixieland while cruising up the Mississippi River, or dive into history with the Chalmette Battlefield cruise, which starts at the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and visits other historical combat sites.

Spook Yourself Silly: Ghost Tours

Get prepared to have a spookingly good time, because New Orlean’s has lots of ghosts. These nighttime adventures will take you to French Quarter locations best known for their paranormal activity. If you want to tour an actual haunted house, check out the Mystère Mansion/Haunted Mortuarya neoclassical mansion built in 1912 with nine resident ghosts.

Walk Among the Dead: Cemetery Tours

Between cowboys, African slaves, and plenty of voodoo, New Orleans definitely doesn’t have a shortage of cemeteries. On one of these tours, you can wander historic cemeteries, visit graves, and learn about voodoo, including its root in West African cultures, Catholic influences, and its modern-day practices.

Distinguishing Designs: Architecture Tours

Mixed in with New Orlean’s rich and dynamic culture, you’ll find colorful houses, plant-filled balconies, and wistful courtyards. You will see influences from French, Caribbean, and Southern American styles and architectures, resulting in a unique style known from New Orleans. On one of these tours, you’ll see structures that range from modern to the late colonial era.

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