City: New Orleans, LA
Entrepreneur: Sam Stephens and Will Stoudt, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana is home to Bourbon Street, Jazz Music, and an endless list of culinary concoctions. What ties all of this together is the infectious energy and spirit of the New Orleans people. They celebrate both weddings AND funerals with “second line” parades. It is this culture of community and optimism throughout both good and bad times that is deeply woven into the fabric of New Orleans. With this culture as their backdrop, it is no surprise that an organization like Youth Rebuilding New Orleans exists.
The non-profit organization is one of many groups helping to rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. YRNO purchases blighted homes, rebuilds them with the help of high school and college aged volunteers, employs “opportunity youth” from New Orleans to train the high school and college volunteers, and then sells the homes to teachers at a significant – around 20% – discount from market value. Their business model creates a virtuous cycle that improves New Orleans neighborhoods one house at a time, supplies teachers with affordable housing, provides local New Orleans youth with valuable employment opportunities, and provides high school and college students around the country with a quality volunteering experience.
William Stoudt, executive director of YRNO brought MBAs Across America in to help him think about potential commercial uses for a newly acquired home. For the first time in YRNO history, they had acquired a home that had the potential for commercial use as it had once included a corner store. After years of rebuilding homes and communities one house at a time, William and the rest of his team at YRNO, saw this commercial space as an opportunity to positively affect the character of a neighborhood beyond simply building a home and selling it to a great and deserving owner; they could create a community hub that served both students and teachers alike, and fundamentally altered the feel of an entire neighborhood.
Over the course of our two weeks in New Orleans we helped William and YRNO think about which commercial uses would be best for the space (we settled on a coffee shop) and then further investigated the ins and outs of building and running a coffee shop in New Orleans. As we did our research, chatting with successful café owners and coffee roasters, we were struck by the overwhelming willingness of these very successful and very busy business owners to take time out of their days and share some of their tricks of the trade. Their generous and warm spirit is really a testament to the community values of New Orleans as a whole.
In a town full of fantastic food, amazing music, fun bars, and intriguing culture, it was the people that set New Orleans apart. They are the reason that through good times and bad, New Orleans will always be “The Big Easy”.