Candidates Get Real at Local Diner

With black and white checkered tables and red seats dressing the floor, white ceiling fans turned every day this week as the Central Business District Breakfast Series was held at Steve’s Diner.


With one speaker, one microphone, and no stage or podium, every candidate from the city’s runoff elections came to interact with New Orleanians once more before votes were cast Saturday. The setting was not one of a debate, but a question and answer forum.


Raquel Singleton, a public relations person for Ebonetworks, the marketing firm that sponsored the event, said she picked the diner because it was one of the first restaurants to open in New Orleans.


Singleton said the breakfast series gave candidates the opportunity to tell constituents things they were not able to say on television and in press conferences.


Before he sat down to talk with me, Steve Gundlach, the diner’s owner, got a quick hug and kiss from his daughters, Grace, 7, and Emily, 12, before they went off to school. His wife Peggy, who is also his business partner, also caught a goodbye kiss.


“I knew immediately that the series would have nothing but a positive outcome,” said Gundlach about having his diner as the hosting place for the series. He also said the series brought his restaurant great exposure and let the community know that the restaurant is open.


Steve’s Diner, which is nearing its fourth anniversary in August, reopened business in September, even though he was not yet able to look at his Gravier St. location. Gundlach said he purchased a mobile kitchen in September and drove it from New York to New Orleans.


“We had to get food to the people who were here first,” Gundlach said as he explained his reasoning for returning to the city so soon after the storm. He served food from the mobile kitchen until he was able to refurbish his diner.


The original Gravier Street location opened seven weeks ago, and now he leases out his mobile kitchen. He said he had many holdups before reopening the diner; everything from having a foot and a half of flood water to the destroyed rood that leaked 6 times after being fixed.


To get business regenerated, the diner needed a new additions, Gundlach said. The diner now offers everything from its original breakfast and lunch menus, plus new additions from the in-house coffee shop that serves espressos and lattes.


“He is here everyday cooking right beside us,” said Betty Barnes when describing Gundlach. An employee of Gundlach’s for 17 years, Barnes added, “He is tremendous and he is a great boss.”


“Well, I have to go get the gumbo ready for lunch,” said Gundlach as he closed out the interview.