Cooking Up New Business

Hurricane Katrina hit Loretta Harrison hard. The founder of the 12-employee, $450,000 Loretta's Authentic Pralines lost her home. Her store in the French Quarter, from which she sold pralines, cookies, and sauces, was looted. A leak in the roof damaged the warehouse in Faubourg Marigny where she did most of her baking. Neither location had electricity, water, or gas for weeks. Says Harrison: "If you're shut down for five weeks, a larger business may be in the intensive care unit, but a small business is probably in the morgue."

Harrison isn't one to go down without a fight. She has been driving almost every day from her second home in Folsom, La., to New Orleans -- 50 miles each way -- to clean up and wait in line to apply for aid and loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. She was ready to work long before she was able to. "When you enjoy your job as much as I do, it's stressful to not be able to do it," she says.

Harrison reopened on Oct. 29. During the week she makes pralines in the warehouse and whips up breakfasts and lunches for locals gathering in the small café at the front of the store. "The house is full every day," she says. On weekends she sells to the FEMA workers who have replaced tourists in the French Quarter.

None of Harrison's employees has returned to the city, so for now she is relying on her three sons and her aunt for help. "They're free labor!" she says, only half-joking. Harrison estimates she lost about $80,000 in revenues in the two months she was closed. She has yet to receive an SBA loan or payment on her business interruption insurance claim.

If sales this holiday season aren't enough to sustain her, she'll consider relocating to Atlanta. But not before she gives her all to rebuilding in New Orleans. "New Orleans is my home," says Harrison. "I need New Orleans like she needs me."

By Sarah Breckenridge

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