After Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, Michael Bordelon had his hands full rebuilding Liuzza's Restaurant & Bar, the Mid-City restaurant he and his sister Shanette Edler operated together. But through it all, Bordelon took time to encourage his friend Scot Craig to reopen his business, Katie's Restaurant & Bar, another neighborhood joint a block down the street.
"Mike is as good as it gets," Craig says. "He worked his tail off getting Liuzza's back open, and when he wasn't doing that he was helping me. We're neighbors, not competitors."
So when Bordelon was severely injured in a car crash earlier this year, Craig got involved organizing a benefit for his friend, and many others were just as eager to help.
The result is a mini-festival called Liuzza Palooza planned for Sunday, May 15, in a large lot across Bienville Street from Liuzza's. Restaurants will sell special dishes and bands including zydeco player Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and y'at rockers the Creole String Beans will perform. There also will be auctions, kids activities and Louisiana seafood cooking demonstrations.
"We initially planned this as maybe a block party, but as soon as word got around and people started getting on board we knew it was going to be a lot bigger than that," says Greg Reggio, a partner in the restaurant management company the Taste Buds, which is producing Liuzza Palooza. "In the restaurant business, we get calls to do food for events all the time. But when it's one of your own it really resonates and makes people want to step up."
The list of participating restaurants includes the Taste Buds' Zea Rotisserie Grill, Ruth's Chris Steak House, crawfish caterer Mr. Mudbug, iconic wienie vendor Lucky Dogs, Broussard's, Galatoire's and others. Drago's Seafood Restaurant will deploy its "charbroiling engine," an old fire truck converted to a mobile grill for its famous oysters. Most dishes will sell for $5 each.
All proceeds from the day will help defray Bordelon's medical costs as he recovers from the accident. On the night of Feb. 5, after closing Liuzza's, Bordelon was waiting in his car at a traffic signal on Canal Street when he was struck by a speeding drunk driver, according to his family members. He spent a week in a coma and a month in the hospital and today rehabilitation continues for the brain trauma he suffered. Treatment has already exhausted his insurance coverage, his family says. This calamity was quickly followed by another tragedy for the family. A week after the wreck, his sister Shanette died of cancer at age 59. Her husband Raymond Edler is running the restaurant while Bordelon recovers.
In 2006, Liuzza's reopened after its post-flood repairs to once again stand as that classic New Orleans neighborhood restaurant so many people conjure in their hungry imaginations, whether they live in the neighborhood, across town or across the country. This Sunday, supporters from just as wide a range will converge for Liuzza Palooza to rally for the man who made it so.