Sure, sometimes it seems that way -- that all talented and ambitious young sons and daughters of New Orleans and its environs have left or are leaving as fast as they could or can because there are no jobs to hold them here and more than a few crooks or incompetents to drive them away. And we who stay behind weep for them and ourselves and wait for their calls asking us to mail them some Zatarain's seasoning or Blue Runner beans.
It happens too much of the time. But not all.
Listen to Julie Noto between bites of her veal grillades. The inflection, the outlook, are deeply local. "I'm walking through the lobby, and I hear someone yelling across the room, Noto! Where y'at! I read aboutcha in the papers!'"
The yeller was a sister alum of St. James the Major and what she read was how Julie Noto had made the long climb to the mountaintop and was now general manager of the Omni Royal Orleans, all 346 rooms and long history of it, all the mirrored walls and cherub-hugged chandeliers of it.
Quite a spot for a girl from Gentilly. She thinks about it all in the hotel's famed Rib Room, under whose soaring ceilings and in whose oversized armchairs gather local icons of glamour and celebrity. Many have come to their favorite table in the marble-and-mahogany room since it opened 44 years ago and have been waited on by maitre d' Dalton Milton, who's been here since day one, or maybe by auburn-haired Leona Falgout, who calls herself "The House Red."
Over all this and more presides Julie, daughter of St. Roch's Peter and Gayle Noto. The Notos had all five kids graduate from college, but Julie admits her mama was upset when she traded her diploma for an entry-level job at the hotel on Royal and St. Louis.
"Well, remember the TV show Hotel? James Brolin? And Connie Selleca? I wanted to be her."
She's now that and more and in a great spot to act as interpreter of all things local to the suits at headquarters. "I've got a trainee here, wanted to know about working in this town. I told him to get ready to get called honey and sugar and hugged a lot.
"Look, there's plenty of customers that stay here over the years and they ask for particular housemaids. It's that kind of town. You make choices in life. I've made mine."
More proof? Follow the plates now-empty of their strawberries Esplanade and eggs Bayou Lafourche from the Rib Room backstage and then downstairs past the deepfreeze of the garde manger and through some catacombs to the office of Anthony Spizale.
"I have the best of both worlds here," Anthony says. "I got all the catered events on one hand, and on the other, I've got the Rib Room and all the regulars."
The regular customers get served with regularity. Roy Flock has been pastry chef for more than 40 years, and his wife Lorena has been around the pantry for 40 years. Sylvia Jones is the breakfast chef now and has come to work here for more than 40 years, as has Emmanuel Jones, sous chef.
"When he's out, my regular customers can tell by tasting things," Anthony claims. "Not that it happens much. I can count on one hand the times I've been called to hear that some chef isn't showing up."
Anthony grew up in Kenner, where both his parents' families made their way from Ponchatoula by way of Sicily. He went to Bonnabel, then worked as an oiler and ironworker on places like the New Orleans Center. On weekends, he started working at Dibella's Catering. Joey Dibella entreated him to get into the food business, so he enrolled at Delgado.
He's 39 now and spent most of the years between then and now at the hotel. First, long days as pastry cook, then as a line chef, "a job I begged from Executive Chef Raymond Toups." When Toups retired, Anthony replaced him.
"I could move within the Omni system," he says. "But why? I have a quality of life here. I've got a camp at Shell Beach, where I go fishing or duck-hunting on my days off. Man, such a relaxation time! That and my wife ... my two daughters.
"And what a city! You're in beauty all the time. As of right now, I stay."
He's quick to say that having fellow native Julie Noto around helps, too. "There's a sense of security here. You walk in, it's like having a sister here."
It all works for the continuity. Mondays are always red beans at the Rib Room and it'll always be that way as long as Anthony Spizale's there. "We're getting grandchildren of regulars here now," he says. "They'll have to pull me out of here." See? They don't all leave.