Bakery Bolsters a Long-Neglected Corner of New Orleans

August 25, 2015
By: Andrew Nelson, National Geographic
Photo: Andrew Nelson

Can food evoke both tradition and bestow an identity upon a new New Orleans neighborhood, rising not from ashes but from asphalt parking lots?

That’s a lot of pressure to put on buttermilk honey biscuits, but Willa Jean, a bakery and café opened just a few steamy weeks ago (August 6) in the northern reaches of the Crescent City’s Central Business District (CBD), is aiming to try.  New Orleans’ restaurant emperor, chef John Besh, and his executive pastry chefs Kelly Fields and Lisa White, have conspired to bring back the notion of the corner bakery to a corner that, two years ago, didn’t even exist. But it’s so much more than a bakery.

The area of the CBD, just below the Superdome, was once called South Rampart, or the “Black Storyville.” In the 1910s, it was a bustling, lively destination where Louis Armstrong roamed as a child. Packed with honky-tonks, saloons, and bordellos, the crowded streets were seminal in the creation of jazz before time and indifference led to the decay and destruction of the entire community.