Booty’s Street Food is likely a familiar name to you. But what you may not know is the popular Bywater restaurant’s backstory, which, in fact, begins over 2,000 miles away from the Big Easy, in Seattle.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Kevin Farrell, co-owner and founder of Booty’s, was living in New Orleans, attending Loyola University. Like so many other pre-Katrina New Orleanians, the hurricane ravaged Farrell’s local life -- causing him to lose his dog, clothing, car, and home. Subsequently, Farrell evacuated to Seattle where, as luck would have it, he met Swiss-Raised Nick Vivion, who just happened to also have a strong attachment to the South, where his mother is from.
Vivion says he developed an attraction to New Orleans in 2010, when, while working as a travel writer, Vivion was sent on assignment to cover Gay Halloween in NOLA. Naturally, Vivion brought NOLA-sick Farrell along for the assignment.
During their trip, the two stayed at Bywater B&B Maison Macarty, which led the pair to explore the neighborhood. When Vivion an Farrell paid a visit to the original Satsuma in the Bywater, the cafe’s community-oriented, homey vibes sparked a mutual interest in opening their own Bywater eatery.
Seven months later, with a plan to relocate to NOLA, the duo found themselves looking at a Bywater apartment for rent when the landlord told them there was retail space below the unit. When they told the landlord about their roughly formulated plan to open a local restaurant, the landlord asked what type of cuisine they would serve. “Global street food” the two almost instantly agreed -- since, as a travel writer, one of Vivion’s main concentrations has been street food from locations across the world. And just like that Booty’s Street Food was born.
In addition to the edible aspects of their restaurant, Vivion and Farrell agreed that consistently top-notch customer service would be a top priority in their business plan. The two agree that maintaing loyal customers is essential to guarantee a restaurant’s future.
“The only way I have a future is if I’m serving customers well and consistently. That is an enormous challenge, and we don't always get it right - but it's exciting to work it out. If you do it well, you get to keep going,” Vivion says. “Service is just like sex, everyone wants it done differently. To be good you have to be a good listener. It is a two-way street, and you have to work for it. There are so many external factors that affect a food business, so it's the greatest puzzle each day.”
But customer satisfaction is only half of the picture Vivion and Farrell wanted to create for their community-driven restaurant. The staff is just as much a part of the community as the customer; thus It is equally important to ensure that their staff is happy and sufficiently compensated for their work. Subsequently, the duo has been sure to provide their staff with living wages.
“We are proud of the way we take care of our staff,” Vivion says. “Working to get our staff to a living wage is one of our contributions to the community. It is not easy and it takes a village. We still have a long way to go, and we're going to keep at it.”
Booty’s provides a $9 starting minimum wage to their kitchen staff (with plans to increase that wage by one dollar each year), including dishwashers. They also furnish their staff with annual inflation-based raises so that their employees can maintain the same quality of life, health insurance for full-time workers, and they send one staff member every quarter on "street food sabbaticals" -- a trip funded by Booty’s that each staff member drafts a proposal for, presents to the team, and then votes on which employee gets to explore/research the street food and culture in their proposed foreign city.
Check back Friday for an original Booty's recipe.
This series of stories about New Orleans food trucks, pop-ups and culinary entrepreneurs is made possible through a partnership with My House Nola, a production planning company for culinary events in New Orleans.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the wrong year that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This has been fixed.