“This place has got it going on,” said entrepreneur Sean Meenan while speaking about New Orleans last week.
Meenan is at the center of controversy over the approval of his proposed restaurant, Habana Outpost, on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and N. Rampart Street. Yesterday, his modified plans were presented again to the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC), which exists to protect and maintain the distinct architectural, historic character, and zoning integrity of the Vieux Carré neighborhood.
With only one of the eight voting committee members in opposition, Meenan’s plans, which gained approval to move forward from the Architectural Review Committee last week, were given the green light.
After over a year of modifications to plans and opposition from some members of the community, Meenan still stands by his statement that he is not mad at the process at all. “While democracy can be messy, the VCC has treated me well and given me professional opinions. The architectural committee has helped me make the project better.”
In a Silicon Bayou News article last week, Adriana Lopez wrote about how Habana Outpost could bring positive benefits to the area. “Besides the obvious fact that it brings purpose to property that has been abandoned for several decades. The restaurant would create commerce, safety, and encourage new development to the neglected intersection. However, Meenan’s ultimate goal, and more philosophical approach, is to create a dining establishment that brings together people from the community.”
Meenan, a fifth-generation New Yorker, is enthusiastic about his future in New Orleans, both in regards to Habana Outpost and the fact that he has officially moved to the city with his wife and son.
“New Orleans is authentically and distinctly its own place,” Meenan said. “Within the United States and within the entire world, there is only one New Orleans. And part of what makes New Orleans so unique and so rich, is its culture and people.”
The Cuban-influenced restaurant will likely fit in well with the overall vibe of the city. “If the Caribbean and Brooklyn had a baby it would look something like New Orleans,” Meenan told the crowd at a Launch Pad event last week.
Brooklyn is the site of the original Habana Outpost, a venture launched by Meenan in 2005, and it’s no secret there is a strong connection between New Orleans and New York.
Louisiana Buyout Fund owner Ron Bienvenu, a recent transplant from New York City, spoke on Meenan’s behalf yesterday afternoon. He wanted the VCC to know that turning down Meenan’s plans could send the wrong message to entrepreneurs outside of Louisiana. “Two weeks ago I was in New York trying to convince 100 employees whose average pay is $80,000 to relocate to Louisiana,” Bienvenue said. “This issue kept coming up over and over again: Does Louisiana welcome outsiders? I assured them it does. People are watching, and I encourage you to support this project because it sends a very positive message to the country.”
Attracting and retaining entrepreneurs who want to improve New Orleans is key. Tim Williamson, CEO and Co-founder at Idea Village, wants to send a message that New Orleans is open to new ideas, new people and progress. “Since 2000, organizations like the Idea Village — along with other economic development groups and countless business and civic leaders — have worked tirelessly to build New Orleans…Meenan is an example of this hard work. He could have chosen any city in the world, but decided New Orleans was the best place to grow his business and raise his son.”
“Entrepreneurs like Meenan are not only economic engines, generating revenue and jobs for the local economy,” Williamson continued, “but they are also magnets of talent and capital.”
Before yesterday’s ruling, new New Orleanian and Venture for America fellow Alexander Bea tweeted that a win would be one small step for an entrepreneur and one giant leap for entrepreneurship.
Learn more about Meenan’s entrepreneurial journey and Habana Outpost NOLA by clicking here.